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Zang and Fu Organs

The zang and fu organs are the internal visible organs of the body. The zang organs are of paramount importance in the body. They co-ordinate with the fu organs and connect with the five tissues (channels, jin1 muscles, skin-hair, bones), and the nine openings (eyes, nose, ears, mouth, tongue, anus and external genitalia), to form the system of the Five Zang. The pericardium is not considered to be an important zang organ.

The Functions of the Zang Organs

The xin-heart
The xin-heart dominates the circulation of blood. When it functions properly the tissues and organs are well perfused and nourished, but when it malfunctions there is precordial pain, cyanosis and ischaemia. This disease is due to 'stagnation of the blood of xin-heart'. The xin-heart 'keeps' the mind. Normally there is a clear mind, normal mentality, normal sleep and a good memory. When this fails there is coma, insomnia or somnolence, amnesia and mental derangement, because the xin-heart is failing to 'keep' the mind.

The gan-liver
The gan-liver is the main yang organ of the body. The gan-liver stores blood. Normally there is sufficient blood supply to all tissues. When this fails there is ischaemia, dizziness, malaise, abnormal menstruation and hemorrhage. The gan-liver takes charge of freeing. Freeing really means the free flow of blood and qi through the body, especially digestion and the discharge of bile. When this is impaired there is irritability, mental depression, anorexia, abdominal distension and jaundice. The gan-liver controls the jin which governs the muscle tone. When this function is disturbed there is muscle spasm, twitching, opisthotonos and convulsions. This is due to an 'insufficiency of yin and blood of the gan-liver, resulting in the malnutrition of the jin'.

The pi-spleen
The pi-spleen governs the transportation and transformation of food, i.e. digestion. When digestion is abnormal there is anorexia, distension of the abdomen, diarrhea, emaciation, lassitude and oedema. This is due to 'a deficiency of the qi of pi-spleen'. The pi-spleen commands the blood. Normally the blood circulates within the blood vessels but when this function fails there is extravasation of blood, chronic recurrent hemorrhage and bruising. The pi-spleen dominates the muscles. This really means controlling the muscle bulk. Normally there is no muscle wasting, but when there is malnutrition of the muscles they are weak and wasted. In addition the qi of pi-spleen lifts and fixes the internal organs in their normal position.

The fei-lung
The fei-lung takes charge of respiration. Normally respiration is even and the tissues are well oxygenated. When this function fails breathing is uneven, there is a cough, dyspnoea, shallow respiration and anoxia. This is due to 'a deficiency of qi of fei-lung which causes an impairment of dissipation and descent of clean qi (oxygen).

The fei-lung frees and regulates the water passage. This function covers the transportation and distribution of nutrients and water, the secretion of sweat and the excretion of urine. Abnormally there will be hyperhydrosis or hypohydrosis, oedema and difficulty in urination due to 'obstruction of the water passage'. The fei-lung dominates the hair and skin. Normally the skin is lubricious, the hair lustrous, and sweating is normal. Abnormally the skin is rough, the hair dry and withered and the skin is 'loose'. This looseness opens the pores and increases the susceptibility to invasion by pathogenic factors.

The shen-kidney
The shen-kidney is the main yin organ of the body. The shen-kidney dominates growth, reproduction and development. When this function fails there is a loss of reproductive function, retardation of growth, failure to thrive, and premature senility due to 'an insufficiency of the qi of shen-kidney'. The shen-kidney produces marrow, filling the brain with marrow, dominating the bones and producing blood. Normally the spinal cord and the brain are fully developed, the bones are strong and the blood sufficient. Abnormally there will be dizziness, tinnitus, insomnia, poor memory and lassitude. The bones will be weak and brittle and the blood will be insufficient. This is due to 'an insufficiency of the essence of shen-kidney'. The shen-kidney controls body water. This entails normal urine production and micturition. Abnormally there will be oliguria or anuria, oedema, difficult or dribbling micturition, polyuria, enuresis and incontinence. This is due to 'an insufficiency of yang of the shen-kidney failing to control body water'. The shen-kidney controls the intake of clean qi (air). Abnormally there will be wheezing due to 'the failure of the shen-kidney to control the intake of clean air'.

The pericardium
t encloses and protects the xin-heart and the diseases of the pericardium result in dysfunction of the xin-heart.

The Functions of the Fu Organs

In general the traditional functions of the fu organs are very similar to their functions in Western medicine.

The small intestine
The small intestine connects with the xin-heart. The small intestine receives and digests food from the stomach. It absorbs the pure part and distributes it to the whole body, the impure part going on to the large intestine. This function of the small intestine belongs to the transforming and transporting function of the pi-spleen.

The gall-bladder
The gall-bladder connects with the gan-liver. It stores and discharges bile. The expulsion of bile from the gall-bladder is closely related to the freeing function of the gan-liver. The gan-liver and the gall-bladder take charge of freeing together, and jaundice results when this function is deranged.

The stomach
The stomach connects with the pi-spleen. The stomach stores and digests food, passing it on to the small intestine. A deficiency of qi of the stomach causes indigestion, epigastric pain and sour regurgitation When the qi of the stomach ascends then nausea, heartburn, vomiting, hiccoughs and flatulence occur.

The large intestine
The large intestine connects with the fei-lung. The large intestine absorbs the residue of water and turns the rest of the food into feces. Disturbance of this function results in diarrhea or constipation due to the 'descent of qi'.

The urinary bladder
The urinary bladder connects with the shen-kidney. The bladder stores and then discharges urine from the body

The sanjiao
In Chinese the sanjiao means the three cavities. The xin-heart and the fei-lung are in the upper jiao (the chest), and they transport qi and blood to all parts of the body in order to nourish the body. The pi-spleen and stomach are in the middle jiao (the epiastrium) and they digest and absorb food. The shen-kidney and bladder are in the lower jiao (the hypogastrium) and they control water metabolism and the storage and excretion of water. The sanjiao is also sometimes called the triple warmer organ. This is because the three body cavities are intended to control the body temperature.

Extra Organs

The brain
The brain is a sea of marrow, i.e. it is an enlarged part of the spinal cord. The shen-kidney produces the marrow that fills the brain. If the essence of shen-kidney is absent then there is inadequate marrow for the brain. In traditional Chinese medicine the function of the mind is included in that of the xin-heart.

The uterus
The function of the uterus is to control the menstrual cycle, develop the embryo and nourish the foetus. The qi and blood of the channels pass into the uterus through the chong and the ren channels, so that the qi of the body is able to influence the flow and regularity of the menstrual cycle.