Five Zang Organs
In Chinese medicine, the five Zang organs form part of the overall Zang-Fu Organ theory, which is a collective term for the internal organs of the body, along with what Chinese medicine considers to be the Extraordinary organs. Zang-Fu organ theory focuses on the study of the physiological functions and pathological changes of the Zang-Fu organs and somatic tissues as well as the mutual relationships between them. It forms the core of the theoretical system of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
The main functions of the five Zang organs are to produce and store Jing-Qi or Essence, which is refined from food. This makes them responsible for the maintenance of life activities. Each organ has its own physiological function within the body, and each one governs a particular orifice or sensory organ. They are all Yin in nature. The organs are:
- Heart + Pericardium*
Located in the chest between the lobes of the lungs. It occupies the first place amongst the five zang organs as it governs the life activities of the whole body. In the Huangdi Neijing, the Heart is described as “…like the Monarch and it governs the Mind…”.
- Governing Blood
- Controlling the blood vessels
- Related to the production of Blood
- Houses the Mind or Shen
- Manifests in the complexion
- Opens into the tongue
- Controls sweating.
The Heart is most susceptible to Heat, however, external pathogenic factors generally do not invade the Heart directly. Instead they usually attack the Pericardium as it is intimately related to the Heart.
* Appendix: The Pericardium:
The Pericardium is a fascial tissue which surrounds the Heart to protect it. TCM theory holds that the Heart cannot be attacked directly, for if pathogenic factors invade the Heart, it will disturb the spirit and threaten life. When pathogenic factors do strike, they do so first at the Pericardium.
Located in the chest. It is often compared to a “canopy” as it holds the highest location in the body of all the organs. The Lungs govern Qi and are in charge of respiration. As they influence the skin, they are considered to be the intermediary organ between the body and the environment.
- Governing Qi and respiration
- Controlling the channels and blood vessels
- Controlling dispersing and descending
- Regulating the Water passages
- Controlling the skin and hair
- Open into the nose
- House the Corporeal Soul.
The Lungs influence the skin and Wei Qi, and as such are easily invaded by exterior pathogenic factors, particularly Cold.
Located below the diaphragm on the right side of the rib cage. The nature of the five Zang organs is Yin, and the Liver pertains to Yin as it is the organ responsible for storing Blood. It also takes responsibility for our capacity to recover energy and it contributes to the body’s resistance to exterior pathogenic factors. In Chinese medicine, it is compared to an army general because it is responsible for overall planning of the body’s functions, by ensuring the smooth and proper flow of Qi.
- Stores Blood
- Ensures the smooth flow of Qi
- Controls the sinews
- Manifests in the nails
- Opens into the eyes
- Houses the Ethereal Soul.
Of all the five Zang organs, the Liver is the main one which maintains a relationship with both interior and exterior in terms of how it is affected by pathogenic factors. The Liver is affected by Wind and this concerns both the interior and exterior. For example, it is common to hear patients suffering from Liver disharmony complain of headaches and stiffness of the neck after exposure to windy weather.
Located in the abdomen. Its primary function is to assist the Stomach digestion through transporting and transforming food essence or Gu Qi. As a source of Qi, Blood and Body Fluid, the Spleen plays a vital role in maintaining life activities.
- Governs transformation and transportation
- Controls the Blood
- Controls the muscles and four limbs
- Manifests in the lips
- Opens into the mouth
- Controls the “raising Qi”
- House Thought.
In terms of pathology, the Spleen is most affected by Dampness, which causes dysfunction of transformation and transportation.
Located in the waist. They are often referred to as the “Root of Life”, due to their role in storing the Essence. This is reference to the Ming Men or “Gate of Life” in Chinese medicine theory. The Kidneys are unique among the five Zang organs as they are the foundation for all Yin and Yang energy within the body, and also because they are the origin of Water and Fire.
- Storing the Essence and governing birth, growth, reproduction and development
- Governing Water
- Controlling the reception of Qi
- Manifest in the hair
- Open into the ears
- Controlling the two lower orifices
- House the Will Power.
As the Kidneys are the source of Water, they loath Dryness, occurring as dry weather or internal Dryness. TCM theory also holds that the Kidneys dislike Cold. Here they share a common aversion to pathological factors with the Lungs, which are also said to dislike Cold and Dryness.
In Zang-Fu organ theory, each of the five Zang organs is paired with its corresponding Fu organ to complete a Yin-Yang organ pair. They are:
- Lung-Large Intestine
- Heart-Small Intestine
- Liver-Gall Bladder
- Pericardium-San Jiao (Triple Burner)