The internal organs of the body (called the ZangFu) in Traditional Chinese Medicine theory are a little different from their biomedical counterparts. Anatomy in Traditional Chinese Medicine results from classifying organs and their functions as viewed from the outside of the body. In contrast, biology’s anatomy is a result of dissecting the body and cataloging its internal parts. The ZangFu organs of Chinese Medicine represent not only the body parts themselves, but they also correspond to a related tissue, sense organ, aspect of emotion, flavour, colour, and more.
The Zang organs are the Yin organs, which store vital substances (Heart, Pericardium, Lungs, Liver, Spleen, and Kidneys). The Fu organs are the Yang organs, which transform food and drink to produce Qi and Blood for the body (Stomach, Large Intestine, Gallbladder, Small Intestine, Triple Burner, and Urinary Bladder). Their state of balance is analyzed extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis.
The Heart is considered to be the most important of the ZangFu. Its primary job is to govern the Blood, its vessels and circulation. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart is where the mind resides, and it opens into the tongue, manifesting as speech and laughter. It is said to have influence on the sweat of the body, a substance intimately connected to the Blood in TCM theory. The Pericardium is considered to be an extension of the Heart. They are associated with the Fire element.
The Lungs govern the Qi, in particular through the actions of respiration. The Lungs are seen as an extension of the skin and hair, as they together represent the continuum between the inside of a human and its external surface. The Lung open into the nose, and are responsible for the circulation of the body fluids. They are associated with the Metal element.
The Liver’s primary responsibility in TCM theory is to ensure smooth circulation throughout the body. The Liver is also said in Traditional Chinese Medicine to store the Blood. The effect of stress in our lives has a particular effect on this organ’s function, often manifesting as stagnant circulation of energy and Blood. The Liver is said to open into the eyes. It is associated with the Wood element.
The Spleen’s main job is to assist the Stomach with the digestion of food. Sometimes it is translated as Spleen/Pancreas, because of its role in regulating metabolism (and, by extension, blood sugar). It is considered to be in control of the muscles, opens into the mouth, and manifests on the lips. The Spleen’s balance is most influenced by the dietary choices we make. It is associated with the Earth element.
The Kidneys are sometimes called the “root of life”, because they store the Essence. They are the source of all of the Yin, and all of the Yang, of the body. Since the Essence is in charge of reproduction, growth, and development, the balance of the Kidneys is of particular importance for both fertility and longevity. The Kidneys govern all water, and are said to open into the ears. They are associated with the Water element.
The Stomach is the partner of the Spleen, and together they digest food. The Large Intestine is related to the Lungs, as both represent a continuation of the inside of the body with the outside of the body. The Small Intestine is the Yang to the Yin of the Heart, but that relationship is perhaps the least obvious. They are both closely related to the Fire element. The Gallbladder assists the Liver with the smooth flow of circulation, mimicked by its flow of bile through the Liver and into the digestive process. The Urinary Bladder works with the Kidneys to govern water, by removing the waste. The Triple Burner represents the functioning of water metabolism of the entire body, and is paired to the Pericardium, most particularly through the Meridian system.
In addition to the ZangFu organs, there are Six Extra-Ordinary Organs. They are considered to be special in that they have posses both Yin and Yang function. They store a precious substance (Yin), yet they have the hollow shape (Yang). These Six Extra-Ordinary are the Brain, Marrow, Bones, Blood Vessels, Gall-Bladder, and Uterus. Note that the Gall-Bladder is both a Fu organ, and an Extra-Ordinary organ, which further typifies just how complicated TCM theory can sometimes get!