Six Fu Organs
In Chinese medicine, the six Fu 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 physiological functions of the six Fu organs are to “transform” and “transport” food. Specifically this relates to the multiple digestive functions of receiving food and digesting food, extracting their nutrients, Gu Qi, and extracting waste. TCM theory holds that the overall function of the six Fu organs is to descend, and that they function at their optimum when they are unobstructed.
The six Fu organs are Yang in nature and they are:
- Gall Bladder
- Small Intestine
- Large Intestine
- San Jiao (Triple Burner)
Located under the right hypochondrium, attaching between the short lobes of the liver. The primary function of the Gall Bladder is to store and excrete bile. It occupies a special place amongst the Yang organs, as it is the only one that doesn’t directly deal with food, drink or waste products. Additionally, it neither communicates with the exterior directly nor does it receive food or transport nourishment. Due to its function of storing bile, which is a refined substance, the Gall Bladder resembles a Yin organ.
Functions of the Gall Bladder:
- It stores and excretes bile
- Controls judgement
- Controls the sinews (ligaments and tendons)
- Influences the length and quality of sleep.
Located in the upper abdomen. It connects superiorly with the oesophagus and inferiorly to the Small Intestine. The primary functions of the Stomach are to receive and decompose food. It is considered to be the most important of the six Fu organs. In conjunction with the Spleen, it is known as the “Root of Post-Heaven Qi” because it is the origin of all Qi and Blood produced after birth.
- Controls the “rotting and ripening” of food
- Controls the transportation of food essence or Gu Qi
- Controls the descending of Qi
- It is the origin of body fluids.
It is located in the abdomen. Superiorly it connects with the stomach, while its lower end connects with the Large Intestine. The main function of the Small Intestine is to receive food and drink following digestion by the Stomach and Spleen. It also works to separate “dirty” fluids passed down from the Stomach. The “clean” fluids are transported to the Large Intestine for re-absorption, while the “dirty” fluids are sent to the Bladder for excretion. The Small Intestine also has a psychological component to its function as it has an influence on mental clarity and judgement.
Functions of the Small Intestine:
- It controls receiving and transforming
- It separates fluids.
Located in the abdomen. It is connected superiorly with the Small Intestine and inferiorly with the anus. The primary function of the Large Intestine is transform and move waste products. It receives food and drink from the Small Intestine, re-absorbing some of the fluids and through this process, it excretes the stools. In Chinese medicine theory, many of the functions attributed to the Large Intestine by Western bio-medicine are actually controlled by the Spleen. As such, many of the pathological signs and symptoms such as loose stool, diarrhoea, abdominal distension and pain are usually attributed to Spleen disharmony.
The Bladder is located in the lower abdomen. Its upper outlets communicate with the Kidneys through the ureters and its lower outlet connects with the urethra. In Chinese medicine it has a wider range of activity than in Western bio-medicine. It stores and excretes urine, but also participates in the transformation of fluids necessary for urine production. It receives “dirty” fluids from the Small Intestine which are further transformed. It is assisted in these functions by the San Jiao, in particular, the Lower Jiao.
The Bladder also functions partially on the mental level, in that any imbalance in the Bladder can lead to negative emotions such as jealousy and suspicion.
San Jiao (Triple Burner)
The term San Jiao is a collective one for the Upper-, Middle- and Lower-Jiao. It is one of the most elusive aspects of Chinese medicine and is often the subject of controversy. It is “officially” considered to be one of the six Fu organs, however, it provokes debate amongst Chinese medicine doctors as to whether or not it posses “form”, i.e. if it is an actual organ or an abstract construct.
The term San Jiao essentially refers to three regions of the body:
- Upper Jiao – The region located above the diaphragm
- Middle Jiao – The region from the diaphragm to the umbilicus
- Lower Jiao – The region below the umbilicus.
Each of the regions, by anatomical classification is related to or houses the five Zang and six Fu organs. As such, the physiological functions of each region have a relationship to the organs contained within them.
- Upper Jiao – Heart, Lungs, head and face. It controls the distribution of fluids throughout the body via the Lungs as a fine vapour. This comes from the dispersing function of the Lung. As such, the Upper Jiao is compared to a “Mist”.
- Middle Jiao – Spleen, Stomach, Liver and Gall Bladder. It functions to control digestion of food and drink, absorption and the distribution of Gu Qi to produce Qi and Blood. For these reasons, the Middle Jiao is likened to a “Fermentation Tun” or “Maceration Chamber”.
- Lower Jiao – Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Kidneys and Bladder. The Lower Jiao functions to dominate the discharge of waste and urine. It separates the “clean” and “dirty” essences, transporting the “clean” away and excreting the “dirty”. It is due to this function that is described as a drain.
For a more detailed analysis and explanation of the nature and functions of the San Jiao, please refer to: The Foundations of Chinese Medicine – A Comprehensive Text by Giovanni Maciocia.
In Zang-Fu organ theory, each of the six Fu organs is paired with its corresponding Zang organ to complete a Yin-Yang organ pair. They are:
- Lung-Large Intestine
- Heart-Small Intestine
- Liver-Gall Bladder
- Pericardium-San Jiao (Triple Burner)