blood and the vital substances in traditional chinese medicine

In Chinese Medicine, the body and the mind are seen as a dynamic interaction of Blood, Qi, Body Fluids, and Essence.  This matter and energy are collectively referred to as the “Vital Substances“.

Blood (known in Chinese as “Xue”) has a slightly different meaning in Traditional Chinese Medicine than it does in bio-medicine.  While they both represent the red liquid that courses through our vessels, the Chinese version is a dense material which is intimately connected to (and inseparable from) its energetic counterpart (Qi).  There is an important saying in Chinese Medicine:

“Xue is the mother of Qi, and Qi is the commander of Xue”

This means that Blood nourishes and anchors the Qi, providing a material basis which prevents Qi from floating away.  However, without its energetic component, Blood would be an inert substance which did not provide the body with any nourishment.

The quality of the Blood is an important component of health and fertility in Chinese Medicine theory, and can be interpreted by characteristics of the menstrual flow.  There are three main pathologies which can negatively affect this vital substance.  If Blood is not circulating properly, it can become stagnant or static.  This can manifest as sharp menstrual pain or as clots in the menstrual flow.  If it becomes hot (which can arise from improper diet or chronic emotional distress) it can start to “boil over” from the vessels, manifesting as heavy menstrual flow.  If there is not enough Blood (similar but not identical to the concept of anemia in bio-medicine), it can manifest as scanty menstrual flow, pale skin, and generalized fatigue.

The characteristics of a person’s Qi are also an important indicator of health and fertility.  If energy is not circulating properly it becomes stagnant, and can result in menstrual cramps, irregularity, or PMS.  If not enough energy is produced (or, if its supply has been exhausted by overwork) generalized fatigue can be the result. If energy gets weak and starts to fall, called “Qi sinking”, we can see prolapse of the uterus or heavy menstrual flow.  Energy can circulate in the opposite, or a “rebellious” way from which it is intended.  For example, if the energy of the Stomach is not flowing the way it should, nausea or vomiting is the result.

The third important vital substance of the body are the Body Fluids.  Known as “Jin-Ye” in Chinese, it actually represents two different kinds of fluids in the body.  The Jin is the watery, clear, lighter liquids that move quickly and help nourish the skin and muscles (sweat, tears, saliva and mucus).  The Ye, in contrast, are the thicker, possibly turbid, and heavier fluids that move more slowly.  They function to lubricate the deeper parts of the body such as the joints (synovial fluid), spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid), and bone marrow.  Ye also lubricates the sense organs such as the eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

There are two main ways that the Body Fluids can become out of balance – not enough, or too much. When there is not enough, symptoms which take the characteristics of deficiency of Yin develop. Dry eyes, mouth, skin, lips, or tongue are examples, as are feelings of heat due to a lack of cooling fluids. When there are too much fluids, the imbalance will display as edema, or phlegm.

The fourth Vital Substance is known as Essence, or “Jing”.  This is considered to be the most refined, distilled, and precious substance of our bodies.  In some ways it can be compared to our genetic constitution (heredity), and the expression of our genetic potential (epi-genetics).  We obtain our Jing from two main sources – our “pre-heaven Essence” is obtained from our parents. Those people who are born to healthy, strong parents with a strong genetic complement receive the best form of this important material.

Our “post-heaven Essence” is derived after we are born from the food and drink we consume, and the air we breathe.  This reflects the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting proper amounts of exercise throughout our entire life.

The two kinds of Jing are collectively referred to as the Kidney Essence, and their supply and quality are a very important factor for fertility.  Kidney Essence represents the vitality of the sperm and eggs, growth, development, sexual maturation, conception and pregnancy.  It also represents generalized health and longevity, as it is the fundamental “stock” of energy and matter which we consume during the course of our lives.

A healthy and balanced state of the Vital Substances are important foundations of vitality, fertility, and longevity.

One thought on “blood and the vital substances in traditional chinese medicine

  1. Pingback: acupuncture and traditional chinese medicine for breast health | Natural Breast Health

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