The Five Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Together with the Yin-Yang theory, the Five Element Theory forms the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, diagnosis, and treatment.  

Traditional Chinese medicine was based on an observation of man in his environment.  In early times Chinese doctors identified patterns of continuous change and transformation in the universe and how these changes also occurred within the human body.  The concept of chi, the vital energy of the body and the Yin-Yang theory, which views the relationships between things as complementary to the whole, are integral to the master blueprint of the Five Element Theory.  This blueprint organizes all natural phenomena into five master groups or patterns in nature.

The five groups include: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each of these elements includes many “categories such as a season, a direction, climate, stage of growth and development, internal organ, body tissue, emotion, aspect of the soul, taste, color, sound…” the list is seemingly endless.  This theory gives a template to show “how nature interacts with the body and how the different dimensions of our being impact each other.” It gives a multidimensional view and provides a diagnostic framework to identify where imbalances lie.

We are in the season of spring which is the Wood Element.

  • The Liver and Gallbladder are associated organs
  • Eyes and tendons are associated body parts
  • The emotion of anger
  • The color green
  • Wind
  • Calling sound
  • Sour taste
  • The direction is east
  • 11pm – 3am -time

When the Wood chi is weak, indecision and a feeling of being stuck can occur. People who have a strong wood energy have clear goals and vision and can manifest their goals. Planning and decision making are their forte.

www.tcmworld.org/what-is-tcm/five-elements

Navigating the Energies of Spring

Photo by Andrea Reiman on Unsplash

During this beautiful time of year when nature is awakening and sending its energy up and outward, the energies most active play an important role in our modern world. The Gallbladder Meridian, which begins in the head and ends between the 4th and 5th toes, is responsible for decision making and overcoming obstacles. It’s partner, the Liver Meridian, controls our ability to plan our lives.

It is said that the gallbladder energy carries out the plans of the liver. The emotions connected with the Liver Meridian are anger, resentment, and frustration.

In our present-day society of deadlines and responsibilities, a healthy gallbladder and liver energy is essential to good decision making. Difficulty with procrastination or frustration level are symptoms of gallbladder and liver imbalance.

Diets which are high in processed carbs, fried food, trans fats dairy and fructose can lead to gallbladder imbalance. Some pre-disposing factors to liver disease include diabetes, alcoholism, drug abuse, malnutrition, and viral liver infection.

To improve gallbladder and liver health:

  • Juice a combination of beets, apples, lemon, carrots, and dandelion greens.
  • Eat more leafy greens, walnuts, olive oil, asparagus, garlic, turmeric, cauliflower, tart cherries, broccoli, and kale
  • Get some type of exercise every day

www.energeticsynthesis.com/Gallbladder Meridian

The Springtime Meridians

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

During spring the life force in our bodies is most active in the Liver and Gallbladder Meridians (energy pathways). These meridians are responsible for the liver and gallbladder organs as well as the eyes, blood, tendons, and ligaments.

We’ve spoken about the liver meridian, among other functions it stores and filters blood, regulates chi and prana, rules the health of muscles, tendons, nails, hands, and feet and is responsible for balancing emotions.

The major functions of the Gallbladder Meridian are:

  • Secretes digestive enzymes to break down fat
  • Gives us the ability to follow our path in life
  • Helps with our capacity to regain equilibrium aftershock
  • These meridians also affect anger, frustration, and courage. The liver controls the ability to plan one’s life, while the gallbladder controls the capacity to make decisions.

Some symptoms of impaired Gallbladder function are:

  • Pain over the eyes
  • Gas, bloating
  • Pain along IT band
  • Cramping at the 4th toe, knees, and thigh

Some symptoms of a congested liver are:

  • Skin problems; rashes, brown skin spots
  • Difficulty losing body fat
  • Distended stomach on a thin body
  • Ringing in the ears

Tips for supporting and rejuvenating your Liver and Gallbladder:

  • Start your day with a cup of lemon water
  • Juice or blend beets, apples, lemon, carrots, and dandelion greens
  • Eat more sulfur-rich foods: garlic and onions, and vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards, and cabbage
  • Have your energy balanced

Springtime and the Gallbladder Meridian

In Traditional Chinese Medicine each of the twelve meridians has a specific two-hour time period when the Qi (energy) is at its peak in that meridian. The Gallbladder Meridian is most active between 11:00 pm and 1:00 am. Its partner meridian, Liver, is most active between 1:00 am and 3:00 am. If you are consistently waking during these hours, it is an indication of imbalance in these energy pathways.

When the energy of a meridian is blocked and not flowing freely due to an overload of stress, poor eating habits or overexertion, physical symptoms appear.

Causes of Gallbladder dysfunction include:

  • Excessive consumption of processed, greasy and fatty foods
  • Anger, frustration and bottled up resentment
  • Excessive consumption of dairy products
  • Insufficient water intake

To support a healthy Gallbladder Meridian:

  • Exercise (yoga is especially helpful)
  • Start your day with a glass of lemon water
  • Identify food sensitivities
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruit and smaller portions of antibiotic-free protein

The Energy of Spring – Liver Meridian

In Chinese Medicine, man is seen as part of the natural world.  Therefore, in order to experience optimum health and wellbeing and prevent disease living in harmony with the seasons of nature is of utmost importance.  Spring is a season of new life and growth.

The energies associated with spring are liver and gallbladder.  Liver Meridian carries the energizing and expansive energy of spring in our bodies.

Last week I spoke about the associations of liver and symptoms of imbalanced liver energy.  Today I want to expand on that.
The most common symptoms of liver imbalance are:

  • Anger or irritation
  • Depression
  • Shoulder and neck tension
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Menstrual disorders (PMS, irregular or painful menses)
  • Digestive problems (IBS, indigestion)

In spring there is an increase in these symptoms because our energy is most active in Liver Meridian. To help harmonize liver energy:

  • Get enough rest and wake early
  • Increase intake of greens: sprouts, arugula, kale, watercress – help purify the liver and gallbladder.
  • Add the sour flavor to your diet- lemon water or apple cider vinegar in water in the morning.
  • I can’t emphasize exercise enough, especially for depression.  Walking in nature 20- 30 minutes 3 times a week is very helpful.
  • Include downtime in your schedule.
  • Have your energy balanced with acupuncture or acupressure.

The Liver Meridian in Spring

The energy of spring is powerful enough to push crocus flowers up and outward through the hardened soil and snow. As we are part of nature this same energy is beginning to ignite in our bodies. This time of year, many people are interested in walking outside and starting or gearing up an exercise program.

The energy meridians most active in spring are Liver and Gallbladder. Today I want to discuss Liver Meridian. As the springtime energy awakens in our bodies, if our liver energy is unbalanced, we will feel out of sorts.

The liver is responsible for maintaining the smooth flow of qi and blood. It also plays a role in aiding the smooth flow of emotions. Other associations of the Liver Meridian are: ligaments and tendons, the eyes, the color green, the emotion of anger and frustration, and the sour flavor.

A stagnated liver energy can result in headaches, eye problems (i.e. blurry vision), high blood pressure, tendon problems, dry or itchy eyes, bloating and indigestion. To support the liver:

  • get outside to walk in nature
  • drink alcohol in moderation
  • have a practice to de-stress (i.e. yoga, meditation, any type of exercise)
  • Have your energy balanced with acupressure or acupuncture

The Renewal of Spring


Although there is still snow on the ground, the air has a feeling of lightness with the coming of spring. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, spring is the time of renewal, cleansing, creating, activity, growth, and movement.

Spring is associated with the wood element and Gall Bladder and Liver Meridians. This is the perfect time to release emotions that no longer serve us; specifically, anger, resentment, frustration, and lethargy. Many people spring clean their homes; it is also desirable to clean our internal environment to create mental clarity, optimum health, and emotional wellbeing.

Today I want to focus on emotional spring-cleaning strategies. Liver Meridian is the energy pathway most active in spring. The emotions associated with Liver are anger, frustration, and resentment. The liver is also “the organ most affected by stagnant emotions and stress.” Gall Bladder the partner of Liver “is responsible for storing and excreting bile and governs decision making, planning, dreaming, inspiration, and assertiveness.”

Supporting these meridians, especially this time of year, can help to make changes to inspire a spiritual or emotional breakthrough. To aid in emotional balancing and de-stressing:

  • Get outside to exercise and meditate as much as you can.
  • Add to your exercise program or if sedentary, begin some type of physical exercise.
  • Spend time with friends.
  • Walk in nature.
  • Spring clean your home.
  • Enjoy a sauna, steam or soak to aid detoxification
  • Laugh
  • “Forgive as much and as often as you can.”

Herbs that Support a Strong Immune System

Last week I spoke about the importance of a strong immune system to prevent illness and maintain good health. To continue with that theme, there are eight herbs that Chinese Medicine considers invaluable to bring balance and boost the immune system.
They are:

  • Echinacea- anti-viral and anti-bacterial
  • Astragalus- fights stress and can improve blood count
  • Honeysuckle Forsythia- good for lungs and stomach
  • Garlic- anti-oxidant
  • Elderberry-good anti-inflammatory
  • Andrographis-fights infection
  • Ginger- antihistamine, and decongestant
  • Medicinal Mushrooms- i.e. shitake, reishi, maitake

When taking any herbs, it’s always good to consult with an acupuncturist or herbalist to get the correct formulation.

You can read more here: www.mindbodygreen.com/Essential herbs to boost immunity

Boosting the Immune System with Traditional Chinese Medicine

In Chinese Medicine, good health is associated with free-flowing energy or qi.  Every organ of the body has its own energy flow, but there are three types of qi which are most important for the immune system.  These are: wei qi, ying qi and yuan qi.

The wei qi is our outer protective energy, it circulates both inside and outside the blood vessels and protects the surface of the body from harmful pathogens which cause disease.  Keeping the skin hydrated during winter with water and lotions will prevent cracking and risk of infection.

Ying qi is the energy we derive from food.  Good nutrition is vital for a strong immune system.

Yuan qi is “a mix of energy that comes from the kidneys which activate the liquids and the essence of our blood.” It is important to get adequate rest to support kidney energy.

A strong immune system is the best defense against illness; and a healthy diet full of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables will strengthen it.

During winter, foods such as garlic, onions, ginger, and mushrooms are great diet staples. It is also important to drink plenty of water and exercise in nature to get the qi moving.  Breathing in fresh air is great for the lungs and circulation.  Exercise is also a good way to balance stress, which if prolonged is harmful to the immune system.

A qi imbalance in the body can lead to muscle pain, lethargy, high stress and a tendency to catch a cold or flu.
Keeping your energy balanced with acupressure or acupuncture helps boost the immune system.

Treating Shingles with Chinese Medicine

I have a friend who is suffering from complications from shingles, so I wanted to research what Chinese Medicine has to offer for this condition.

Shingles is an infection of a nerve and the skin surrounding it, which is caused by the same virus as chicken pox. Shingles usually occur in people over fifty but can appear at any age.

The areas of the body usually affected are the neck, upper back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and sometimes even the face or eyes. It appears with a tingling sensation followed by a painful rash which develops into itchy blisters. Many times, the symptoms can include severe nerve pain that can last long after the rash is gone.

Many people who have had chickenpox as children, may be left with the virus dormant in their nervous system. Certain conditions in later life can reactivate this virus to cause shingles.

Possible causes of this reactivation are:

  • Lowered immune system
  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Aging
  • Conditions such as HIV, AIDS, cancer
  • Chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments
  • Injury of the skin where the rash appears

“It is not possible to catch shingles from someone with this condition; however, you can catch chickenpox if you’ve never had it before.” The usual duration for a case of shingles is 2-4 weeks. The tingling sensation will be followed by a band of localized pain in the affected area. The continuous pain can range from dull to burning and mild to severe. Some people cannot bear to have the area touched; not even by clothing.

A rash will develop several days after the pain appears. Red spots will become itchy blisters and then dry out yellowish and flat. They may leave minor scars on the skin.

People with weakened immune systems or the elderly may experience complications due to shingles. The most common of these is Post-herpetic neuralgia which can create severe pain if the nerves are damaged. This pain may last for months or possibly years.

In Chinese Medicine, shingles is seen as an imbalance in gall bladder and liver meridians. It is considered a condition of damp, heat and wind.

If a person presents mostly symptoms of dampness, lesions will usually appear in the lower part of the body with fluid discharge from the blisters. If a person presents more with heat symptoms, the blisters will be very hot and red and the pain more severe. A person who presents mostly with a wind condition will likely have an itchy rash on the upper part of their body.

The most common acute shingles pattern is either damp-heat or wind-fire in the liver and gallbladder meridians. Damp heat in the spleen meridian is also found. These patterns can create stagnation of blood and energy, which is also a component of post-herpetic neuralgia.

The most common pattern for chronic shingles is a more deficient condition of kidney yin energy and blood along with stagnation of chi(energy) and blood.

Chinese Medicine can effectively treat shingles with acupuncture and herbs. There is no cookie cutter recipe; treatment will depend on the patient’s inner environment and energy imbalance. It is best to be treated early, but treatment during an acute case can help prevent post-herpetic neuralgia.

The frailer the person, the longer the duration of the condition or complications. The underlying condition or imbalance must be treated to avoid relapse; therefore, acupuncture can also help during late stages of shingles. Avoiding spicy, hot and fried foods and alcohol is recommended during a shingles outbreak.