Yang Organs Overview


The six yang organs separate                                      impure substances from food                              and drain them from the body.
The six yang organs separate impure substances from food and drain them from the body.

The yang organs, or hollow (fu) organs, separate impure substances from food and drain them out of the body as waste. The six yang organs are the stomach, the small intestine, the large intestine, the urinary bladder, the gallbladder, and the "triple burner."

Traditional Eastern organ theory was developed during Confucian times (559-479 b.c.), when it was considered a violation of the sanctity of life to perform dissections.

Instead of using surgical approaches, the Taoists developed their understanding of human physiology based on careful observations of how the body functions.

For this reason, Chinese medical theory tends to focus more on the relationship of one organ to another. Each yang organ is paired with a yin organ: the spleen and stomach, for instance, work together during the digestive process. While this approach has some analogues to the Western understanding of internal organs, it is important to view the Eastern tradition on its own terms.

Go to the next page to learn about the role of the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine in traditional Chinese medicine.

For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatment, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see:

Stomach, Small Intestine and Large Intestine

In traditional Chinese medicine, hot spices                                      are thought to overheat the stomach.
In traditional Chinese medicine, hot spices are thought to overheat the stomach.

The stomach (wei), small intestine (xiao chang), and large intestine (da chang) all work together during the digestive process. Each of these yang organs is paired with a yin organ, and each is essential to good health and balance.

Stomach (Wei)

The stomach is paired with the spleen. It is the beginning of the digestive process, and its functions act as a yang complement to the spleen's yin functions. Symptoms of stomach dysfunction include excessive or impaired appetite, nausea, vomiting, excessive or insufficient thirst, and mouth sores.

The stomach is responsible for receiving and ripening food. The stomach functions as a cauldron in "rotting and ripening" food to prepare it for the spleen's extraction of its essence. Considered the "middle burner" when paired with the spleen, its proper functioning is essential for health and vitality.

The stomach controls digestion of food and water. If the stomach is weak in its ability to prepare food for digestion, the spleen is unable to create sufficient qi and blood, resulting in weakness or impairment in other organs. The stomach also begins the process of "separating the pure from the impure." It sends the pure essence of food and fluids onward to the next yin organ for storage and transformation; the impure waste is sent to the next yang organ to be further processed or eliminated from the body.

Stomach qi moves downward. When the stomach qi functions properly, it has a downward movement. After the stomach separates the pure essence and transfers it to the spleen, the "rotted and ripened" (digested) food is sent downward to the small intestine for further processing.

If this downward energy is disrupted, however, the stomach qi moves upward. Known as rebellious stomach qi, this upward movement produces symptoms of nausea, vomiting, belching, hiccups, and acid regurgitation (often called acid reflux in the West). The stomach likes dampness and dislikes dryness. Since the stomach is a yang organ, it tends to overheat when it is out of balance.

Maintain­­ing a moist atmosphere with sufficient fluids in the stomach helps to ward off stomach yin deficiency. This can be achieved by avoiding alcohol, excessive spices, and dry foods (such as popcorn, bread, crackers, and dried fruit) that are consumed without fluids.

Small Intestine (Xiao Chang)

The small intestine is paired with the heart in a yin/yang relationship. Symptoms of imbalance in the small intestine are lower abdominal pain, bloating, indigestion, gas, diarrhea, dark, burning urine, or blood in the urine.

The small intestine separates the clear and dirty aspects of food and produces urine. After the stomach sends the pure essence of food to the spleen, it sends the rest of the food to the small intestine, where further processing takes place. The spleen once again receives the "clear" aspect of the digested food (the nutrients), while the "dirty" part (the waste) is sent down to the large intestine.

After food has been further processed, any impure fluids remaining are sent to the kidneys and bladder, where they are excreted as urine.

Large Intestine (Da Chang)

The large intestine continues the process of digestion: it receives waste, absorbs fluids, and excretes feces. It is paired with the lungs. Disorders of the large intestine can lead to constipation, diarrhea, or lower abdominal pain.

The large intestine passes dirty qi and waste out of the body. After receiving the turbid material from the small intestine, the large intestine is the final stage of processing digested food. The final waste products of digestion are formed into stools and passed from the body.

The large intestine controls body fluids. As the final stage of fluid metabolism, the large intestine absorbs water from the products of digestion while forming stools. A disruption in this function can lead to diarrhea (too much fluid) or constipation (insufficient fluid).

Go to the next page to learn about the role of the urinary bladder, gallbladder, "triple burner," and "curious organs" in traditional Chinese medicine.

For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatment, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see:

Urinary Bladder, Gallbladder, Triple Burner and Curious Organs

The urinary bladder (pang guang), gallbladder (dan), triple burner (san jiao), and the curious organs are the second group of yang organs in traditional Chinese medicine. Like the first group, these organs contribute to the digestive process. Some of these organs, like the gall bladder, are also thought to influence emotions and personality.

Urinary Bladder (Pang Guang)

The urinary bladder's role is the same as it is in the West, storing urine and discharging it periodically. It is paired with the kidneys. Symptoms of bladder dysfunction include difficulty urinating, with burning, pain, urgency, bleeding, and retention. The urinary bladder receives and excretes urine.

After receiving turbid fluids from the lungs, small intestine, and large intestine, the kidneys extract the last of the pure essence. The turbid remnants are then sent to the bladder, where they are stored until they are excreted from the body through urination.

Gallbladder (Dan)

The gallbladder is paired with the liver; liver disharmonies often affect the gallbladder and vice versa. Disharmonies of the gallbladder can produce symptoms such as intercostal pain (pain between the ribs), anger, rash decisions, timidity, digestive problems, and emotional disturbances.

The gallbladder stores and secretes bile. The liver produces bile and the gallbladder stores it. When you eat fatty foods, the gallbladder contracts and pours bile into the small intestine to assist in digestion.

Overconsumption of fatty foods can adversely affect the function of the liver and gallbladder. The gallbladder rules decisions. An indecisive, timid person is said to have a weak gallbladder. A person who acts impulsively or out of anger, on the other hand, could be suffering from an excess yang condition in the gallbladder.

Triple Burner (San Jiao)

The triple burner is not an organ per se, but rather it is a grouping of organs by function and location. The triple burner is paired with the pericardium in a yin/yang relationship. The primary function of the triple burner organs is water metabolism, and the organs are grouped as follows:

Upper Burner: Comprising the heart and lungs, the upper burner is described as a "fog" or "mist." It disperses the essence of food and qi throughout the body. Illness usually attacks this burner first, then it proceeds to the middle and lower burners.

Middle Burner: The spleen and stomach function together as the middle burner, acting as a "foam." Metabolism in this burner involves churning food and water into a digestible, souplike consistency. Digestive disorders are often described as middle burner imbalances.

Lower Burner: The lower burner encompasses the organs below the navel: the intestines, kidneys, and bladder. It is considered a "swamp," since it is the sewage system of the body, excreting waste.

The Extra or "Curious" Organs

The curious organs are so named because their existence can be confirmed through observation, but they don't fall into any particular category. They are the marrow, bones, blood vessels, brain, uterus, and gallbladder.

Although the gallbladder is classified as a yang organ, it is also considered a curious organ since it is the only yang organ that stores a vital substance (bile). The marrow is a vital essence stored by the kidneys. It is related to growth and development and nourishes the brain. The functions of the other organs parallel their Western counterparts.

For more about traditional Chinese medicine, treatment, cures, beliefs, and other interesting topics, see:

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Bill Schoenbart has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since 1991, when he earned a Masters degree in TCM. He teaches TCM medical theory and herbalism at an acupuncture school in California, and also maintains a clinical practice.

Ellen Shefi is a licensed massage technician, licensed acupuncturist, and registered dietitian. She is a member of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the American Herb Association, and the Oregon Acupuncture Association.