The five elements in Chinese medicine

The five elements in Chinese medicine

The Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water) form the basis of traditional Chinese medicine theory.

The theory of the Five Elements has many different facets. It represents the different qualities and functions of the body as well as natural phenomena, such as climate, season, taste and emotions.

Each element has a corresponding Yin and Yang organ, for example the Water element’s Yin organ is the Kidneys and the Yang organ is the Bladder.

The Five Elements theory is frequently used in clinical practice and diagnosis. It provides a model of relationships between the organs and various tissues, senses and tastes etc, and also between the organs and various external factors, such as climates and seasons.

As an example we will discuss the Wood Element, its associated characteristics and how they apply in clinical practice.

The internal organs that correspond to the Wood Element are the Liver and Gall bladder. Other correspondences include:

The season related to Wood is Spring. In practice it is common for a Liver imbalance to be aggravated in Springtime because the Liver energy is very active and flows upwards. In Spring the growing energy is bursting forward and rising, causing Liver energy to rise excessively.

Wind is the climate of the Wood Element. It can easily affect people who suffer from a Liver imbalance, often associated with headaches and stiff necks.

Anger is the emotion that is connected to Wood and the Liver. If the Liver energy stagnates and moves upwards the person may feel irritable and be prone to outbursts of anger.

Chinese medicine practitioners mostly observe the colour of the face in diagnosis. A greenish colour of the face indicates an imbalance in Wood and the Liver organ.

A small amount of sour taste in the diet is beneficial to the Liver, however when there is a disorder of the Liver there may be an excessive sour taste in the mouth.

The Wood Element corresponds to the eyes. The Liver moistens and nourishes the eyes. When a Liver disharmony is present, it is associated with symptoms such as blurred vision, dry eyes and headaches behind the eye.

The Liver is responsible for nourishing the tendons in the body. For example, if the tendons are tight and stiff, this can indicate a Liver or Gallbladder problem.

Shouting, usually in anger, corresponds to a Liver imbalance.

Chinese medicine practitioners use these signs and symptoms to diagnose the body’s internal organ imbalances and to focus their treatments on particular organ systems.

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Dr Ping Wang is the clinic founder and senior practitioner of Ping Ming Health. She has over 30 years of experience in traditional Chinese medicine teaching and practice. Dr Ping especially enjoys sharing her knowledge of Chinese medicine through our popular clinic articles, seminars and clinical training of students and practitioners.