The heart in Chinese medicine

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I thought it would be nice to write a little bit about the heart in Chinese medicine.

The emperor of the yin organs

The heart is considered the most important (the ‘emperor) of the 5 yin organs in Chinese medicine, the other yin organs being; the liver, lung, spleen and kidneys.  When we talk about organs in Chinese medicine we include, as in allopathic medicine, a whole host of different functions and associations.  From a Chinese medicine perspective, the heart is an organ that:

  • Is paired with the small intestines
  • Strengthens the digestive system (spleen/earth)
  • Controls the lungs (metal)
  • Is controlled by the kidneys (water)
  • Flares upwards
  • Is most likely to be overactive in summer and most likely to be weak in winter
  • Emotion is joy (too much and too little are damaging)
  • Taste is bitter (too much and too little are damaging)
  • Tissue is the vessels
  • Shows in the complexion

Functions of the heart in Chinese medicine

  • Pumping the blood around the body
  • Controlling the blood vessels
  • Being the psychological and emotional centre for the body (shen)
  • Controls sweating
  • Opens to the tongue, controls speech

Imbalances of the heart cause these issues

  • Issues with moving the blood around the body (arrhythmia, thrombosis, palpitations)
  • Hardening of the blood vessels (atherosclerosis)
  • The heart always has a role in mental ill health conditions (depression, anxiety, insomnia, psychosis)
  • Spontaneous sweating, particularly during the day
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort
  • Changes in complexion
  • Coldness in the extremities
  • Poor memory
  • Aphasia and speech issues

Emotions and the heart

The heart is also considered quite a deep organ.  It is therefore, not directly affected by external factors such as wind-cold (see previous blog posts on this).  The main pathogenic factors that affect the heart are the emotions.  Sadness and grief weaken the heart qi and can cause tiredness and depression, while excessive joy can lead to manic states, although this is rarer.  Anger creates heat and can cause agitation and insomnia, and worry stagnates the heart qi and causes distention in the chest, depression and cold hands.

A happy heart in Chinese medicine

Therefore, to have a happy heart one has to cultivate a happy body and a calm mind.  The best ways to keep the body happy and the mind calm are to eat well, exercise regularly, and practise meditation and mindfulness.

Wishing you all a happy and love-full Valentine’s Day!

Joe