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.
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:
- How Traditional Chinese Medicine Works
- How to Treat Common Ailments with Traditional Chinese Medicine
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Coughs, Colds, Flu, and Allergies
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for the Digestive System
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Pain Relief
- Traditional Chinese Medicine for Overall Health