The Fundamental Substances Qi, Blood and Body Fluids
Understanding Blood, Qi and Body Fluid
The West’s scientific approach medicine is often less holistic and more focused on a particular disease or organ than the Eastern methodologies. The “building block” approach dissects the body and emphasizes physical structures surrounded by different organic and inorganic substances protecting tissues and cells. These substances form the physiological basis of humans. Blood is composed of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, nutrients, other proteins, electrolytes and water. Its functions are based on the characteristics of these individual components or building blocks. Some of these functions include distributing hormones, carrying oxygen and energy (glucose) and supporting the immune system.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) sees life in an energetic way. The body is seen as a whole entity with connecting organs that work together to sustain life. Your energy, or Qi (pronounced chee), uses blood and body fluids to move life throughout your body and are the most important fundamental substances necessary for life. The nutrients transported by blood are not restricted to physical materials. Its meaning can be extended to anything that provides nourishment to the body.
The Body Qi (vital energy)
The West’s scientific approach medicine is often less holistic and more focused on a particular disease or organ than the Eastern methodologies. That is why you encounter so many medical specialists in the West. The “building block” approach dissects the body and emphasizes physical structures surrounded by different organic and inorganic substances protecting tissues and cells. These substances form the physiological basis of humans. Often, if an organ is failing it is removed or replaced (transplanted). Medicines treat a disease without regard for side effects than can harm surrounding organs.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) sees life in an energetic way. The body is seen as a whole entity with connecting organs that work together to sustain life. There are parts of you that have more energy related properties while others have more material characteristics. The interaction between the different parts is vital to your well being and is often referred to as fundamental substances. Your energy, or Qi (pronounced chee), uses blood and body fluids to move life through out your body and are the most important fundamental substances necessary for life.
Ancient Chinese peoples believed most fundamental element or force making up the world is Qi. Everything in the universe resulted from the movement and change of Qi. The Chinese character for "Qi" is the same word used for air, gas, or energy and it is thought to have the same properties as these substances. Qi is difficult term to translate and id often interpreted as the "life energy" or "life force," which flows within us. Another term that is commonly used is "vital energy" of the body.
In TCM theory, Qi is the most vital substance in the human body. It also refers to the physiological functions of organs and meridians. Because it is difficult to find one equivalent English word or phrase that completely describes the nature of Qi, Westerners often perceive it a mystical when in fact it is simply the universal spark of life we feel daily. Most often, Qi is best defined according to its functions and properties.
The Source of Qi
Human Qi comes from two main sources:
- The first source of Qi is inherited from our parents at conception. It is known as the "innate vital substance" or prenatal Qi.
- The second source is derived from essential substances in nature like the air we breathe, food and water.
The Vital Nature of Qi
1. Promoting Nature of Qi
Just as the water flowing in a river powers the water wheel in a mill, Qi provides the active and vital energy necessary for the growth and development of the human body. This flowing energy is used to perform the physiological functions of the organs, meridians and tissues. Qi has multiple functions. It also promotes the formation and circulation of blood and supports the metabolism of body fluid. If there is a deficiency of Qi, its promoting functions are weakened. As a result;
- Growth and development can be affected or delayed
- The organs and meridians cannot function properly
- Blood formation is hampered which all leads to a series of health problems.
2. Bringing the Heat
Solid substances, like ice, contain less molecular movement or kinetic energy than water or steam. Yet they are all the essentially water. Like water, Qi also contains heat energy for the body. Being a heat source, Qi warms the body and keeps it at a constant temperature so normal physiological functions can take place. Deficiency of Qi can lead to a lowered body temperature, intolerance of cold and cold hands and feet and low circulation.
3. Qi’s Defensive Properties
TCM proposes that one of the main causes of disease is the invasion of "Evils". These "Evils" are not spirits but environmental factors that lead to illness. They are classified as wind, summer heat, dampness, dryness, cold and fire. By resisting the entry of ' illness evils" into the body, Qi defends against their attack and maintains healthy physiological functions. In western terms, this Qi defensive quality acts like the immune system.
4. Retention and Consolidation Functions
- Qi is a force that consolidates and retains the body's substances and first, Qi keeps the blood flowing within the vessels and prevents it leaking out into the tissues.
- Second, Qi controls and adjusts the secretion and excretion of sweat, urine and saliva, and keeps body fluids from escaping the body.
- Third, Qi consolidates and stores sperm to prevent premature ejaculation.
- Lastly, Qi consolidates the organs and stops them from descending into a position where they cannot function properly.
The consolidating function is weakened if your Qi is has been lowered. Low Qi leads to various kinds of health problems such as hemorrhage; frequent urination, premature ejaculation and stomach or kidney prolepses (where the organ sinks).
The promoting and consolidating functions work in a symbiotic manner. For example, Qi promotes blood circulation and the distribution of body fluids, but it also controls and adjusts the secretion of fluid substances. The balance between these two functions is essential for maintaining a healthy blood circulation and water metabolism. Low Qi or being out of balance (Qi is both Yin and Yang) are essential to good health.
5. Transforming functions
Qi also has a vaporization function or the ability to change or transform substances. Without this power we would be unable to metabolize fundamental substance. Qi can "vaporize" substances in the body and transform them into essence or vital energy. For example, certain actions of Qi allow food to be changed into food essence, which is in turn transformed into different types of Qi and blood. Indigestible food and waste are also transformed by Qi into urine and stools and expelled from the body.
Qi on the Move
Qi moves in four directions; up, down, outward and inward. If the movement of your Qi is blocked, Qi can no longer travel in these directions and life will come to an end.
Each organ has different specialized movements.
- Up - spleen Qi ascends the pure part of digested food from the stomach for transformation into nutritional essence.
- Down - stomach Qi pushes food downwards in order to remove its impurities.
- Other organs, like the lungs, perform movements in all four directions. Lung Qi moves in and out during breathing. However, when disseminating nutritional essence to the body, lung Qi ascends and then descends when liquefying waste to be sent to the kidneys.
The different movements of Qi work in a coordinated manner to maintain a harmonious balance. The yin/yang, balanced nature of Qi must be maintained. The ascending balances the descending movement while the outward balances the inward movement. Balanced movement is important for promoting the physiological functions of different tissues, organs and meridians. Disharmonious or unbalanced movement of Qi leads to health problems. For example;
- Insufficient downward movement of lung Qi causes a cough
- When stomach Qi cannot descend nausea and vomiting occurs.
Types of Qi
As we stated earlier Qi has the ability to transform in order to perform certain health functions. The four types of Qi are:
1. Inborn Qi
Inborn Qi is the most original, essential and vital type found in the human body. It possesses both prenatal and congenital properties. After conception, "congenital essence" (an essential vital substance inherited from parents) is stored in the kidney, the place from which inborn Qi originates. Inborn qi is further nourished by "acquired essence" (food essence derived from digestion) of the spleen and stomach. After this process is complete, inborn qi is ready to travel to the entire body to exert its effects. Originating in the area between the two kidneys, known as the "vital gate", your Qi moves through the triple burner and circulates through the organs, muscles, skin and meridians providing the power source for all of life's activities.
2. Pectoral Qi
Your chest or Pectoral region is where Qi is stored. This type of Qi energy is formed by combining fresh air inhaled by the lungs with food essence taken from the spleen and the stomach. Because pectoral Qi concentrates in the chest, it can penetrate the blood vessels of the heart and lungs and move outward during expiration and inward during inspiration. By flowing through the respiratory tract, it supports the breathing function of the lungs and affects how loud the voice can be. Its ability to flow through the blood vessels and the heart is important in regulating the heartbeat and supporting the circulation of other types of Qi and blood. Pectoral Qi also plays a role in keeping the body warm and influences the activities of the limbs.
3. Nutritive Qi
Nutritive Qi provides nourishment to the body. It mainly circulates through the blood vessels with the blood. Sometimes this combination of nutritive Qi and blood is referred to collectively as "nutritive blood". Nutritive Qi mainly is created from food essence extracted by the spleen and stomach's transformation and transportation properties. Starting from themiddle burner, nutritive Qi is routed to the lungs where it enters the body’s main circulation paths. Nutritive Qi has yin properties so it can form into materials needed by other parts of the body. For example, its close relationship with blood allows it to provide some of the necessary substances needed to produce new blood. In addition, nutritive Qi also provides the needed nutrients to support the physiological functions of the organs.
4. Protective Qi
Protective Qi is the main line of defense against the Evils mentioned earlier. These environmental factors often lead to illness. In western terms, protective Qi functions like the immune system that stops disease from occurring or spreading. Because protective Qi has more functional characteristics it has yang properties, unlike nutritive Qi for example.
Protective Qi is also derived from food essence removed by the spleen and stomach. It moves outside the blood vessels and circulates in different areas from nutritive Qi.
- Internally, it will be distributed to the diaphragm and scattered around the chest and abdominal cavities.
- Externally, it moves between the skin and muscles providing protection.
Protective Qi not only guards against illness and disease but also regulates the sweat glands and pores and provides nourishment for the skin, hair and muscles.
Although nutritive and protective Qi share the same origin, their flow directions, as previously described, are opposite to one another. By balancing their nutritive (Yin) and protective (Yang) functions, healthy sweating, temperature control and defense functions are maintained.
The Body Blood
When you eat, the digested food is turned into food essence by the stomach and spleen's transforming functions. It is then transported upwards by the spleen to the lungs where it turns into blood with the help of the heart and lungs. Eating a balanced and healthy diet is extremely important, because of the spleen's role in the production of Qi and blood.
- Blood mainly originates from food essence and Jing (the essence of life associated with the growth and development of the body).
- A second source of blood comes from Jing, which is stored in the kidneys. Jing travels to the bones where its turns into healthy and strong marrow. The marrow in turn produces the blood.
- Jing also goes to the liver to be transformed into clear blood.
The Purpose of Blood
Blood is mostly responsible for keeping the body moist and nourishment.
- Internally - it circulates to the organs
- Externally - it flows to skin, flesh, bones and muscles.
1. Maintaining healthy body movement and sensation
The blood is vital in that it supports healthy muscle movement and sensation. If blood is deficient, dizziness, vertigo, ringing in the ears (tinnitus) or limb weakness can occur.
The Huang Di Nei Jing, a famous Chinese medicine text from the Han dynasty, says,
"Having received sufficient blood, the liver can support healthy eyesight. Having received sufficient blood, feet can walk. Having received sufficient blood, the palm can grasp hold of things. Having received sufficient blood, the fingers can pick up things."
2. Providing nutrients for organs, tissues and meridians
Organs and tissues function normally resulting in a healthy glow in the skin, cheeks, and hair with sufficient nourishment from the blood Nails, muscles and bones also rely on blood nourishment to remain strong and healthy.
3. Aiding the mind and mental activities
When you have sufficient blood nourishment, a clear mind, good spirit, fast thought processes and swift reaction times are all functioning. Deficiency of the blood leads to poor memory, insomnia, and in serious cases causes mental disorders and psychiatric diseases. A good blood supply is also important for mental health.
The Body’s Fluids
One of the more important parts of the body is not an organ. There are fundamental substances or body fluids that are essential to life's activities. Body fluids refer to the different kinds of physiological fluids found in the body, including fluids in the organs and tissues, gastric fluid, intestinal fluid, semen and tears.
The Origin, Excretion, and Distribution of Body Fluids
Body fluids originate from food and water, according to TCM theory. They are formed during digestion in the stomach and by transformation in the spleen.
- The small intestine extracts body fluids by further separating the pure fluids from the impure fluids contained in the food.
- The large intestine contributes to the formation of body fluids by absorbing water from the stool.
Body fluids are distributed and excreted via different pathways.
- They are distributed through the spleen's transportation function to the lungs.
- In the lungs they are disseminated to the rest of the body. The lungs descend fluids that become impure while circulating through the body to the kidneys.
- The kidneys "vaporize" the body fluids and regulate their metabolism by sending the impure wastes to the bladder to be excreted. The triple burner also acts as a distribution pathway for body fluids.
Bodies fluids help excrete metabolic waste and toxins produced through the metabolic functions of various organs. These fluids are usually excreted as sweat and urine. The body fluids maintain a clean and healthy environment for organs, meridians and tissues.
Functions of Body Fluids
Body fluids are mainly responsible for providing moisture and nourishment to the tissues. Additionally, they transport Qi throughout the body.
When distributed to the surface of the body, they moisten the skin and hair and maintain the smooth and elastic texture of the skin.
- It moistens, nourishes and protects different orifices in the body. For example, body fluids allow the eyes to blink smoothly, the nasal cavity to maintain an open airway without blockage and the lips and mouth to remain moist without becoming dry.
- Internal body fluids also penetrate different organs, tissues and even bone marrow to provide moisture and nourishment. The spinal cord and brain are examples of organs surrounded by body fluid that protects and nourishes them.
Disharmony of body fluids is will show up in two ways.
- If your body fluids can no longer nourish and provide moisture to the body, symptoms such as dry skin, flaccid muscles, brittle hair, dry eyes, parched lips and a dry nose or throat occur.
- When there is dysfunction of distribution or excretion of body fluids symptoms can present as swollen eyelids, edema (retention of fluid in the tissues), obesity or other conditions.