Scientific Qi Exploration. Part 17a (part 2)
Meridians and Organs – Yin Organs
by Marty Eisen Ph.D.
The Kidneys (Shen)
The Kidneys are the foundation of Yin and Yang of all the other Organs. Kidney Yin provides the material foundation of Kidney Yang and Kidney Yang provides the Heat necessary for all Kidney functions. Deficiency of one of these implies the deficiency of the other, because they rely on each other for their existence.
The following are the main functions of the Kidneys.
a) Store Essence (Jing)
The Kidneys store both Pre-Heaven and Post-Heaven Essence.
(i) Pre-Heaven (Congenital, Original) Essence
This is the inherited Essence, which before birth nourishes the fetus. After birth, it controls growth and development. Insufficient Essence may cause physical or mental underdevelopment in children, retarded growth and premature senility. Chapter 1 of Simple Questions describes the maturation stages of life, which occur every 7 years for women and every 8 years for men. It also controls sexuality and is the material basis for producing ova in women and sperm in men. Insufficient Essence can lead to infertility and impotence.
(ii) Post-Heaven (Acquired) Essence
This is the refined essence extracted from food through the transforming function of the internal Organs. After birth, it is very difficult to replace the Original Essence using the Acquired Essence. There are forms of Qigong, which are helpful.
b) Kidney Yin and Yang
Kidney Yin has the function of nourishing and moistening the body, while Kidney Yang supplies heat to the body. They are the root and also maintain the relative balance of Yin and Yang in every organ. Conversely, an imbalance of Yin and Yang in other Organs can cause an imbalance of Yin and Yang in the Kidneys. A Chinese medical saying is that “Prolonged diseases disturb the Kidneys.”
Kidney Yin and Yang both rely upon Kidney Essence. In fact, both Kidney Yin deficiency and Kidney Yang deficiency result from Kidney Essence deficiency.
If Kidney Yin reaches a certain level of deficiency, then a Kidney Yang deficiency occurs and this process is known as “Yin injury disturbing Yang.” Analogously, the process called “Yang injury disturbing Yin” occurs when Kidney Yang is relatively deficient and also results in both Kidney Yin and Yang becoming deficient.
Kidney Yin deficiency presents with such symptoms as: fever, dizziness, tinnitus, weakness or soreness of the lower back or knees, spermatorrhea and a red tongue body with a scanty coating.
Kidney Yang deficiency presents with such symptoms as: chills, cold limbs, cold pain and weakness of the lower back or knees, lassitude, clear and profuse urination or enuresis, urinary incontinence, sexual dysfunction, edema and a pale, flabby tongue body, with a thin, white coat.
An imbalance of Kidney Yin or Yang can cause a Ying or Yang imbalance in other Organs. For example, if Kidney Yin doesn’t nourish the Lungs, then there is both a Kidney Yin and Lung Yin deficiency. There will be symptoms such as sore throat, tidal fever, dry cough and feverish sensations.
c) Produces Marrow
Marrow does not correspond to bone marrow of Western Medicine. Marrow is produced by the Kidney Essence. Marrow is the common substance of the bones, bone marrow, spinal cord and brain.
The Marrow is said to “fill up” the brain. Hence, in Chinese Medicine the brain is physiologically related to the Kidney and it states that “the Kidneys are the origin of intelligence and skill”. Strong Kidney Essence nourishes the brain and if it is strong, concentration, memory, thinking and sight will be sharp. These faculties may be dull if the brain is inadequately nourished by the Kidney Essence. The spinal cord and brain are designated as the “Sea of Marrow”.
The Kidneys also govern the bone marrow and bones, since the Marrow forms bone marrow, which nourishes the bones. The bones will be strong and the teeth firm if the Kidney Essence is strong; otherwise, the bones will be brittle and the teeth loose. In children, a weak Kidney Essence will cause the fontanels to remain open, poor bone development and other developmental problems.
Chapter 8 in Simple Questions states that the Kidneys are the strong official from whom ingenuity is derived. This can be interpreted as the Kidneys determine one’s physical and mental strength. They also determine will power, as explained next.
d) House Will Power (Zhi)
The Kidneys determine will power as stated in Chapter 23 of Simple Questions, “The Kidneys house will power.” If the Kidneys are weak, then will power will be weak and one will be easily discouraged and swayed from one’s goals. Will power and motivation are often important factors in mental depressions. Tonifying the Kidneys can often improve depression.
e) Control Strength and Skill
The Kidneys control the capacity for purposeful, hard work for long periods of time. A Kidney disharmony can sometimes drive a person to become a ‘workaholic”. The Kidneys also influence the capacity for skilled and delicate activities. The Kidneys are responsible for short-term memory.
f) Participate in Blood Production
Blood is produced in two ways: by the Post-Heaven Cycle, as discussed above in Heart Blood, and by the Pre-Heaven Cycle governed by the Kidneys. The Kidneys produce Marrow, which forms bone marrow. Original (Yuan) or Pre-Heaven Qi acts on the Kidneys and Marrow causing the bone marrow to produce Blood. Original Qi also aids in the Post-Heaven Cycle.
It is interesting to note that the Chinese account of the bone marrow forming blood was formulated before the introduction of Western Medicine in China. During the Qing dynasty, Dr. Lin Pei Qin postulated that the Liver and Kidneys have the same source and that Blood is formed from the Kidney Essence.
g) Govern Water
The Kidneys govern the transformation and transportation of Body Fluids in the following ways.
(i) The Kidneys are like a “gate”, which opens and closes to control the flow of Body Fluids. Normally, Kidney Yin and Yang are balanced and correctly regulate the opening and closing of the “gate” and urination will be normal in quantity and color. If there is a deficiency of Kidney Yang, this gate will be too open resulting in pale and profuse urine flow. A deficiency in Kidney Yin causes dark and scanty urination.
(ii) The Kidneys provide Qi to the Bladder for storing, transformation of Fluids and excretion of urine.
(iii) The Lower Burner, containing the Small and Large Intestines, participates in separating clean from dirty Fluids. This function is controlled by Kidney Yang.
(iv) The Kidneys receive Fluids from the Lungs. Some of the parts of these Fluids are excreted and some are vaporized and returned to the Lungs to moisten them.
(v) Kidney Yang provides the required Heat to the Spleen for transformation and transportation of Fluids.
h) Control Opening and Closing
The Kidneys function as a “gate”, controlling urination, as described above in g (i). The Kidneys also influence the anus and defecation. A Kidney Yang deficiency can produce diarrhea. Hence, the Kidneys influence the opening and closing of both Yin lower orifices – namely, the urethra and anus.
i) Are the Gate of the Stomach
The Stomach receives Fluids, if the Kidneys don’t excrete Fluids properly, they will stagnate in the Stomach. On the other hand, a lack of Stomach fluids can result in a Kidney Yin deficiency.
j) Control the Reception of Qi
The Kidneys receive the clear Qi inhaled by the Lungs. The Lungs descend the Qi to the Kidneys and the Kidneys respond by “holding” the Qi down.
If the Kidneys cannot hold the Qi, it “rebels” upward. This decreases the Lungs depth of respiration and shallow breathing will occur with more exhaling than inhaling. In more severe situations breathlessness and asthma can occur. Chronic asthma is often caused by the failure of the Kidneys to receive Qi.
k) Open into the Ears
The proper functioning of the Ears depends on nourishment by Essence and so the Ears are related to the Kidneys. Weak Kidneys can result in poor hearing or tinnitus.
l) Manifest in the Hair
The growth of the hair depends on the Kidney Essence for nourishment. If the Kidney essence is weak, the hair will become brittle, lusterless, thin or all fallout.
The color and quality of the head hair also relate to the state of the Kidney Essence. If it becomes weak, the hair will become gray and thin.
m) The Kidneys are the Root of Pre-Heaven or Original Qi
The above statement follows from the fact that the Kidneys store Essence, inherited from the parents. Pre- Heaven Qi is just the Pre-Heaven Essence transformed into Qi.
n) Fluid is Urine
The Kidneys participate in the process of urination.
Chapter 80 of Simple Questions states that if the Kidneys are weak, one dreams of swimming after a shipwreck and in the wintertime, one dreams of plunging into water and being scared.
Chapter 43 of the Spiritual axis states that if the Kidneys are in excess, one dreams that the spine is detached from the body and if weak, one dreams of being immersed in water.
p) Loathe Dryness
Internal dryness or dry weather can injure Kidney Yin. Internal dryness can occur if there is profuse fluid loss from sweating, vomiting or diarrhea. Smoking or the use of tobacco dries the Blood and Essence and so can injure Kidney Yin, according to Chinese medical thought.
Note on the Gate of Vitality (Ming Men)
Chinese Medicine asserts that the Ming Men provides Heat for all bodily functions and for the Kidney Essence. Before the Ming dynasty, the Ming Men was considered to be the right Kidney and the left Kidney was considered as the Kidney proper. With the beginning of the Ming dynasty research on the theory of the Gate of Vitality increased tremendously. The Ming Men was placed between the two Kidneys. A brief history appears in (2).
The Kidneys are regarded as the origin of Fire and Water of the body, the Primary Yin and Yang. The Ming Men is the embodiment of the Fire within the Kidneys.
According to the 5-element theory, Fire is derived from the Heart and not from the Ming Men. The two theories developed form different perspectives and clinical experience and both are reasonable. However, regarding the origin of Fire to the Ming Men and hence the Kidneys has wider clinical applications.
The following summarizes the main functions of the Ming Men.
(i) It is the Root of Original Qi
Original Qi requires Heat, which is supplied by Ming Men Fire, in order to act. One of its functions is to aid in the production of Blood in both the Pre- and Post-Heaven Cycles – see (f). If the Ming Men Fire is deficient, then Original Qi will become deficient, which will lead to a deficiency of Qi and Blood.
(ii) It is the Source of Fire for all the Internal Organs
Decline of the Ming Men Fire will impair the activity of all organs. This produces lack of vitality, tiredness, negativity, mental depression and cold feeling.
(iii) It Warms the Lower Burner and Bladder
The Ming Men Fire’s Heat is required to transform and excrete Fluids in the Lower Burner aided by its included Organ, the Bladder. Otherwise, these Fluids will accumulate leading to dampness and edema.
(iv) Warms the Spleen and Stomach to Aid Digestion
Heat supplied by the Ming men fire is required by the Spleen and Stomach for transformation and transportation. Otherwise, food cannot be digested properly leading to tiredness, feeling of cold and cold limbs, and diarrhea.
(v) Harmonizes the Sexual Function and Warms the Uterus and Essence
Puberty, menstruation, fertility and sexual performance all depend on Heat from the Ming Fen Fire. If the Ming Men Fire weakens men’s Essence will turn cold causing impotence and infertility and women’s uterus will become cold causing infertility and leucorrhea.
(vi) Assists the Kidney Function of Qi Reception
Reception of Qi requires Kidney Yang, which depends on Ming Men Fire for its action. The proper functioning of Kidney Yang requires the communication between the Gathering Qi of the chest and the lower abdominal Original Qi, which needs Heat from the Ming Men Fire to function. If Qi reception is sufficiently impaired because of a deficiency of Ming Men Fire, there will be breathlessness, chest stuffiness, asthma or cold hands.
(vii) Assists the Heart in Housing the Mind
Ming Men Fire must ascend from the Kidneys and communicate with Heart, to provide the necessary Heat for its functions, in particular, of Housing the Mind. Thus, the Ming men fire has a strong influence on people’s mental state. Deficiency of Ming Men Fire can result in unhappiness, depression or lack of vitality.
Western Functions of the Kidneys
The kidneys are bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist. They are symmetrically located near the middle of the back, just below the rib cage, one on each side of the spine. The kidneys process about 200 quarts of blood to filter out about 2 quarts of waste products and extra water every day. The wastes and extra water become urine, which flows to the bladder through tubes called ureters.
Waste products in the blood come from the normal breakdown of active tissues, such as muscles, and from food. If the kidneys didn’t remove these wastes, they would build up in the blood and damage the body.
The actual removal of wastes occurs in tiny units inside the kidneys called nephrons. Each kidney has about a million nephrons. The nephron consists of glomerulus, which has tiny afferent, intertwined capillaries and an efferent tiny urine-collecting tube, called a tubule. The glomerulus acts as a filtering unit, retaining normal proteins and cells in the bloodstream, but allowing extra fluid and wastes to pass through.
The tubules receive a combination of waste materials and chemicals the body can still use. The kidneys measure out chemicals like sodium, phosphorus, and potassium and by a series of chemical reactions release these back into the blood to return to the body. In this way, the kidneys regulate the body’s level of these substances.
The kidneys also release three important hormones:
(i) erythropoietin (EPO), which stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells,
(ii) renin, which regulates blood pressure;
(iii) calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D, which helps maintain calcium for bones and for normal chemical balance in the body.
The Liver (Gan)
Two of the most important of the functions of the Liver are storing Blood and moving Qi smoothly through the body. These two functions contribute to the body’s energy and resistance to External Pathogenic Factors. In chapter 8 of the Simple Questions it is stated that the Liver is like an army general from whom strategy is derived. This can be interpreted as the Liver influences the capacity if planning our life.
The following gives more details about the Liver’s functions.
(i) Regulates the Blood’s Volume According to Physical Activity
During activity, Blood is sent to the muscles and during rest, the extra Blood volume returns to the Liver. This regulation of Blood volume has an important effect on the body’s energy. The Blood returning to the Liver, when at rest, contribute to restoring one’s energy and when it flows to the muscles during activity, it nourishes and moistens the muscles to enable them to work.
If this Liver function is normal, the muscles and skin will be well nourished and so help contribute to the resistance of attacks by External Pathogenic Factors. However, Defensive and Lung Qi are the major defensive factors.
If the Liver is abnormal, it can affect the Blood’s quality, leading to skin diseases, such as psoriasis or eczema. Conversely, if the Blood is abnormal (hot or deficient) it can affect the Liver’s function.
The Liver Blood also moistens the eyes and tendons as discussed below in (e) and (c).
(ii) Regulates Menstruation
Menstruation will be normal if the Liver stores Blood normally. Liver Blood deficiency causes oligomenorrhea or amenorrhea.
Liver Blood and Qi play important roles in the physiology and pathology of women. Stagnant Liver Q can lead to stagnant liver Blood causing premenstrual tension, painful periods with dark, clotted blood.
The storage of Blood by the Liver also affects the Penetrating or Thrusting Vessel (Chong Mai) and the Directing or Conception Vessel (Ren Mai). These two Extraordinary Vessels originate from the Uterus and provide Blood to it. A Liver problem can cause imbalances in these Vessels which can affect menstruation, conception and pregnancy.
b) Ensures Smooth Qi Flow
The Liver ensures the smooth flow of Qi to the whole body, in all organs and in every direction. Each Organ has a normal direction of flow – for example, the Qi of the Lung and Stomach flow downward and the Spleen’s Qi flows upwards. Liver Qi flows upwards and outwards in all directions to ensure smooth, unimpeded Qi flow everywhere. This is the most important function of the Liver, since it can affect all Organs and parts of the body as well as the mental state. Its effects on the emotions, digestion and bile secretion are discussed below.
If Qi flows normally there will be a content emotional life. If the smooth flow of Qi is impaired, it will lead to repressed anger, frustration or depressions with accompanying physical symptoms (feeling of a lump in the throat, chest oppression, hypochondriac pain or abdominal distention). Women may also suffer from pre-menstrual tension, irritability and distention of the breasts.
Conversely, an emotional life filled with anger or repressed frustrations will impair the smooth flow of Liver Qi.
The smooth flow of Liver Qi aids the Stomach’s digestive function of “ripening” and “rotting” food, the Spleen to extract Food Qi and that their Qi moves in the proper direction. If there is stagnation of Liver Qi, it may invade the Stomach and prevent the downward movement of Stomach Qi causing nausea, belching, sour regurgitation or vomiting. If it invades the Spleen, it hinders transportation and transformation of food and also the upward movement of Spleen Qi, causing diarrhea.
(iii) Bile Flow
The smooth flow of Liver Qi aids bile flow. Liver Qi stagnation can lead to obstruction of bile flow resulting in belching, a bitter taste or jaundice.
c) Controls the Sinews or Tendons
The Chinese character for Jin is frequently translated as Tendons, but also refers to tendons, ligaments and muscles of Western Medicine. Here tendons will refer to the contractile aspects of muscles, while Muscles associated with the Spleen refers more to their bulk and strength.
Abundant Liver Blood nourishes and moistens both the muscles and Sinews, which include the tendons. This ensures smooth muscle action and movement of the joints. Chapter 1 of Simple Questions states that if Liver Qi declines, the sinews cannot move. Deficient Liver Blood can cause lack of limb strength, impaired flexion or extension, muscle cramps, numb limbs, contractions or spasms, tremors or tetany.
There is also a neurological effect of the Liver on the Sinews. A high fever can cause Heat, which stirs Liver Wind. The interior wind of the Liver causes contraction and tremors of the Sinews leading to convulsions.
d) Manifests in the Nails
The nails are considered as extensions of the Sinews in Chinese Medicine and so are influenced by Liver Blood. If Liver Blood is deficient the nails will become dry, dark, indented and cracked.
e) Opens into the Eyes
The Liver Blood nourishes and moistens the eyes providing the capacity for good vision. Deficiency of Liver Blood can result in dry eyes, floaters, blurred vision, color blindness or myopia.
Internal Liver Wind can turn the eyeballs upwards and cause nystagmus. Liver Heat can result in bloodshot, painful and burning eyes.
Other Organs also affect the eyes. Chapter 80 of the Spiritual Axis states that the Essence from the 5 Yin and 6 Yang Organs flows upwards to nourish the eyes. The Kidney has an important relation to the eyes. The decline of Kidney Essence is the cause many chronic eye diseases. Kidney Yin deficiency can promote dryness and failing eyesight.
Chapter 81 of Simple questions states that the Heart concentrates the essence of the 5 Yin organs and manifests in the eyes. Heart Fire can cause dry eyes and poor eyesight. Chapter 80 of the Spiritual axis says that the eyes mirror the state of the Heart, which houses the Mind. Thus, the eyes reflect the state of the Mind.
f) Fluid is Tears
This follows from e).
g) Houses the Ethereal Soul (Po)
Chapter 9 in Simple Questions states that the Liver is the residence of Po. Recall that the Corporeal Soul (Hun) is firmly attached to the body and upon death returns to the earth with the body. At death, the Po survives, leaves the body and returns to the world of subtle, non-material energies.
Po influences planning and finding a sense of direction in life. Mental confusion and a lack of a sense of direction in life is said to be wandering of Po. This can occur if Liver Blood is weak and so Po will not be rooted. Po may also temporarily leave the body before going to sleep or during sleep if Liver Blood or Yin is very weak. People who have a severe Yin deficiency may feel as if they were floating before falling asleep. This is termed the “floating” of Po not rooted in Blood and Yin. The Discussion on Blood Diseases says that if Liver Blood is deficient, Fire disturbs Po resulting in nocturnal emissions with dreams. This also illustrates that Po can become uprooted at night by a Liver Blood or Yin deficiency.
Being determined or unwavering is also related to Po. A feeling of fright before falling asleep is said to occur because of a lack of rooting of Po.
(h) Is a Resolute Organ
Liver Yang flares up easily, causing anger or irritability and Liver Qi easily becomes excessive and stagnant in a diseased state. In health, the same type of Liver energy can make one very creative and resolute.
(i) Influences Rising and Growth
The correspondence of the Liver to Wood is used to symbolize that, energetically, the Liver promotes rising and growth. Recall that Liver Qi rises upwards and in all directions to smooth the flow of Qi to all parts of the body promoting growth and repair.
Loss of control of the rising of Liver Qi can occur in disease. This results in the excessive rising of Liver Yang or Fire, which causes a red face, irritability, outbursts of anger, tinnitus, dizziness and anger.
(j) Arises from the Left Side
The Liver is related to the left side of the body in several ways, even though the liver is located on the right side.
Sometimes left-sided headaches are related to the Liver, while those on the right relate to the Gall Bladder.
The right side of the tongue reflects more of the Gall Bladder’s state, while the left side reflects the Liver’s state.
The Liver’s energy is felt on the left side in Pulse diagnosis.
(k) Loathes Wind
This property is related to both Interior and exterior Wind. Patients suffering from a Liver disharmony frequently complain about headaches and a stiff neck appearing after exposure to windy weather.
(l) Can Cause Convulsions
A convulsion is a defining symptom of Interior Wind, which is always related to the Liver.
m) Controls Planning
This was discussed in g). A lack of direction and an inability to plan life can be a consequence of a diseased Liver.
n) Harmonizes and Regulates
These properties refer to the Liver’s regulation of Blood, discussed in a) (i). If the Liver’s Blood is deficient one cannot recover energy by resting or have enough energy to move efficiently.
Chapter 17 in Simple questions states that if the Liver is in Excess, dreams of being angry will occur. Chapter 80 states that if the Liver is Deficient, dreams of fragrant mushrooms will occur; if the dreams occur in the spring, they will be about lying under a tree without being able to rise.
Chapter 43 of the Spiritual Axis states that if the Liver is Deficient dreams of forests in the mountains will occur.
Western Functions of the Liver
The liver performs hundreds of functions, but only a brief discussion of some of these will be presented.
One of its most important functions is the conversion of food into substances and energy required by the body. It has several roles in carbohydrate metabolism. The liver synthesizes glucose from certain amino acids, lactate or glycerol (gluconeogenesis). It forms glycogen from glucose (glycogenesis) and stores it. Muscle tissues can also do this. When energy is required it breaks down the stored glycogen into glucose (glycogenolysis) and releases it into the blood. People with liver damage may sometimes lose the ability to control glucose concentration in the blood and need a regular supply of sugar.
The liver plays a significant role in protein metabolism, synthesis as well as degradation into amino acids. It produces albumin, the major osmolar component of blood serum.
Lipid metabolism, such as: cholesterol synthesis, the production of (fats) triglycerides (lipogenesis,) and the synthesis of many lipoproteins.
It plays an important role in fighting infections, particularly those arising in the intestines. The liver contains more than 50% of the body’s supply of macrophages, called Kuppfer cells.
The liver makes enzymes and proteins which are responsible for many biochemical reactions in the body – for example, those involved in blood clotting and repair of damaged tissues.
It produces red blood cells production up to the 32nd week of gestation; then the bone marrow almost completely takes over. The liver is a major producer of thrombopoietin, a glycoprotein hormone that regulates the production of platelets by bone marrow.
It produces and excretes bile for emulsifying fats. Some of the bile is secreted into the duodenum and some is stored in the gallbladder.
The liver also produces an insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a polypeptide protein hormone that plays an important role in childhood growth and continues to have anabolic effects in adults.
It breaks down and regulating numerous hormones such as, sex hormones and insulin. It synthesizes others, such as angiotensinogen, responsible for raising the blood pressure when activated by renin, an enzyme that is released if the kidney senses low blood pressure.
The liver neutralizes and destroys drugs and toxins and helps the body to get rid of waste products. Waste products, which are not excreted by the kidneys, are removed from the blood by the liver.
It stores iron, vitamins and other essential chemicals.
The liver converts ammonia to urea via the urea cycle.
It is clear upon comparing the western understanding of the functions of these organs and the “corresponding” Chinese Organs that they are different. An interesting research project would be to get western physiological and anatomical functions in terms of hormones, the parts of the brain and nervous, system, etc., that would correspond to each Organ and mimic its functions.
- Johnson, J.A. Chinese Medical Qigong Therapy. Int. Institute of Medical Qigong, Pacific Grove, CA, 2000.
- Maciocia, G. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Churchill Livngstone, New York, 1989.
- Zu Bing andWang Hongcai, Eds. Basic Theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Singing Dragon, Philadelphia, PA, 2010.
- Guyton, A.C. Textbook of Medical Physiology, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, PA, 1971.
[Dr. Eisen is a retired scientist, who constructed mathematical models in medicine. He has studied and taught Judo, Shotokan Karate, Aikido, Qigong, Praying Mantis Kung Fu, and Tai Chi in different places. He took correspondence courses in Chinese herbology and studied other branches of Chinese medicine with a traditional Chinese medical doctor. He was the Director of Education of the Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Institute in Upper Darby, P.A. http://home.comcast.net/~carolezak]
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