What are the 5 internal organs and what are their characteristics?

The five internal organs are namely: Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lung and Kidney. The main functions of these internal organs are to manufacture and store the basic physiological substances, including the qi, blood, body fluids, and essence. Many people confuse the five internal organs in Chinese medicine with similarly named organs in Modern medicine, but there are actually vast differences. Let's learn more about the various characteristics of the five internal organs of TCM together!

1. Heart
  • Rules the blood and blood vessels
The Heart is in charge of pumping blood around the body and regulating blood flow which provides nutrition for the body. The strength of the Heart qi determines if the pumping action is strong and healthy, which is reflected in the rhythm and rate of the pulse. A healthy individual will appear energetic with a rosy complexion and a rhythmic forceful pulse. Any imbalances in the Heart qi, yin, yang or blood in an individual can be displayed in a series of symptoms such as pale complexion, a thin and weak pulse, heart palpitations, chest tightness and/or chest pain.

  • Houses the spirit
In TCM, the heart is the location where the “spirit” (shen) resides. In general, the “spirit” is tantamount to the overall vitality of an individual, which is often observed through the complexion, eyes and responses. When your shen is healthy, you are able to think clearly and rationally, remain calm and peaceful, and cultivate healthy relationships with others. When the shen is disturbed, it manifests itself in symptoms such as poor concentration, memory loss, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, and other signs of mental and emotional disorders.


How should we take care of our heart?

Taking care of our heart involves protecting our mental health thereby improving our physical health. By calming our heart and mind through adjusting our mentality and letting go of our worries, here are 4 other ways that we can help boost our heart’s health:

  • Engage in aerobic exercises
Being physically active is an important step toward good heart health. It is recommended that we engage in 150 minutes of aerobic exercises (moderate intensity) a week. Some examples of aerobic exercises include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, dancing and tai-chi.
  • Take a nap between 11am-1pm
According to the Chinese body clock, the heart’s function peaks between 11am-1pm. Taking a nap during this period can help to relax and calm our mind.
  • Apply acupressure on the pericardium meridian
Applying pressure on acupoints along the pericardium meridian can help to regulate blood flow thereby boosting heart function. Use a thumb to massage each acupoint for 3-5 minutes a day.

1) Nei Guan

Location: 3 fingers above the middle of the inner wrist

2) Lao Gong

Location: Tip of middle finger when fist is clenched

  • Consume red-coloured food
As the heart is associated with the colour red, eating red foods such as red dates, red beans, cherries, tomatoes and carrots can be beneficial for the heart health.

2. Liver
  • Stores blood
The liver stores blood and is responsible in controlling the volume and flow of blood in your blood vessels. During rest, blood requirement in organs and structures is less, so excess blood is channeled to the liver for storage. When there is activity, demand for blood increases and the liver transports blood to the respective organs to meet these needs. Symptoms of liver blood deficiency can manifest as giddiness, weakness or cramps in limbs, dryness in eyes, insomnia, and scanty or even absence of menstrual period in women.
  • Regulates the movement of qi
A smooth flow of liver qi regulates the circulation of blood and metabolism of water in the body. A stagnation of liver qi can result in blood stasis in the body, causing symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, headaches, pain in chest and flanks and irregular menstrual periods.

How should we take care of our liver?

Bad lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking, pulling an all-nighter, drug abuse and poor eating habits can cause varying degrees of liver damage. TCM  believes that by having a healthy lifestyle, we can protect our liver and maintain its good health. Here are 4 ways on how to do so:
  • Do not burn midnight oil
According to TCM body clock theory, 11pm -3am is when the gallbladder and liver's functions are at their peak. Being in deep sleep during this time allows blood to flow to the liver and remove toxins from the body.
  • Control alcohol intake
Alcohol is metabolised mainly by the liver. Excessive alcohol intake over long periods will overburden the liver.
  • Maintain a good mood and relieve stress
The liver has a major role to play when it comes to managing emotions. TCM believes that "anger hurts the liver". By maintaining a good mood, it can help the liver to regulate the movement of qi effectively. Try these ways if you feel depressed or stressed:
  1. Talk to family or friends
  2. Exercise to relieve stress
  3. Embrace nature by taking slow deep breaths
  4. Place potted plants around the home
  • Consume green-coloured food
The liver is associated with the colour green. Bulking on green leafy vegetables and fruits can help to support the function of the liver.

  3. Spleen
  • Rules transformation and transportation
Spleen from the TCM perspective is entirely different from the Western medicine perspective. The spleen is commonly mentioned with the stomach as they are the main organs at helm of the digestion and assimilation processes in our body. Their main function is to transform food into qi and blood. If the spleen is dysfunctional, symptoms such as bloating, loose stools, poor appetite, sallow skin, lethargy can arise.

How should we take care of our spleen?

Our spleen is central to digestion and is considered a vital organ for overall good health. In today’s busy society, many people do not have a deep understanding of healthy living habits. Junk food binges and irregular eating patterns can have detrimental effects on our spleen health. Take charge and prioritise healthy living now! Learn these 4 ways to help boost spleen’s health:
  • Cultivate good eating habits
    1. Take regular meals in moderation.
    2. Chew your food well.
    3. Eat mindfully and avoid distractions.
    4. Do not lie down immediately after eating.
    5. Take a slow walk of 10-15min after eating.
    6. Avoid taking food that irritates the stomach or are difficult to digest such as chilled, raw, sour, spicy, oily, hard or sticky foods.
  • Avoid overthinking
The emotion of the spleen is worry. Excessive worrying and overthinking can result in spleen deficiency, overburdening our digestive function over time. It is alright to worry but quit obsessing over it! Focus on solutions instead of your worries.
  • Abdominal massage
A stomach massage can help to ease indigestion and relax your abdominal muscles for better digestive health. Warm your hands by rubbing them together before placing onto your stomach. Massage in a circular motion in the clockwise direction for 10-20 rounds.
  • Consume yellow-coloured food
The spleen is associated with the colour yellow. Eating yellow-coloured food such as corns, pumpkins and soybeans can help to protect our spleen health.

  4. Lung
  • Dominates qi in the body
The lung dominates the overall ‘qi’ of the body by maintaining an unobstructed circulation of ‘qi’ around the body. It is also the location where the exchange of ‘qi’ takes place. The dispersing function of lung ‘qi’ ensures that carbon dioxide is exhaled from the lungs; whereas the descending function allows fresh air to be inhaled into the lungs. The complementary actions of the lung ‘qi’ coordinate the smooth exchange of gases. When lung function is dysfunctional, symptoms such as cough and breathlessness would be observed.

How should we take care of our lungs?

The lung occupies the uppermost position among the five organs. Being delicate in character and attributing to its connection to the external environment, the lung is most susceptible to invasion by foreign pathogens. Let us look at the 4 ways which can help care for our lung:
  • Avoid smoking
Cigarettes contain many chemicals that are harmful for the lungs. We recommend visiting green spaces for exercises and to take in fresh air to allow the lungs to expel toxins from our body.
  • Engage in abdominal breathing
Engaging in abdominal breathing 5-10mins per day can help the lungs fill more efficiently and improve one’s overall wellbeing. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly just below the ribs. Breathe in deeply through the nose, with the hand on your chest remain still, while the one on your belly rises. Breathe out through pursed lips, feeling the hand on your belly move back to its initial position.
  • Maintain regular bowel movements
The lung and the large intestine are partner organs that are dependent on each other. When the lung is well and functional, bowel movements are regular and smooth. Conversely, if the movement of lung Qi is dysfunctional, it can result in constipation.
  • Consume white-coloured food
The lung is associated with the colour white. Incorporating white-coloured food like white fungus, pear, lily bulbs, chinese yam, lotus root and mushrooms can keep our lung nourished and moisturised.

  5. Kidney
  • Governs water
The kidney governs water by regulating its distribution and excretion through its vaporizing function. Under normal circumstances, fluids will first enter the stomach, which can then be transformed by the spleen and lung. The final step involves the kidney transporting fluids to all parts of the body. Excess fluids will be excreted in the form of sweat or urine. Clinically, a dysfunctional kidney could result in swelling in limbs or changes in urine output.
  • Dominates human reproduction
In TCM, kidney stores essence (jing). This is the substance needed for reproduction, growth development and maturation. The abundance of kidney essence drives the maturation of reproductive capabilities. During adolescent years, females face the onset of menstruation and males undergo an increase in size of their genitals and experience their first ejaculation. These changes provide humans with the capacity to reproduce. As one advances in age, the kidney essence depletes and the function of the kidney declines, diminishing the ability to conceive.

How should we take care of our kidneys?

TCM regards the kidney as the “congenital constitution” and origin of life. The kidney is also the source of primordial yin and yang, hence it is viewed as an essential organ for the production of fundamental substances required for life activities. Here are 4 ways we can protect our kidneys:
  • Soak feet in warm water bath
Keeping your feet warm is a way to nourish your kidneys. As the kidney meridian originates from the soles of the feet, soaking your feet in warm water an hour before going to bed, can induce the downward movement of blood, replenish kidney qi, calm your mind, and help you sleep peacefully. Each footbath should last about 20-30 minutes or until the body breaks out in sweat. Keep the temperature of the foot bath water  between 35-40°C. After removing your feet from the water, dry them immediately. You may want to massage your feet at the Yong Quan acupoint to strengthen the kidney essence.


*Take note: Those suffering from feet infection, skin problems, open wound or burned skin, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, diabetes, and varicose veins of the lower extremities are not suitable for foot bathing.

  • Stay hydrated
A decrease in urine output and an increase in the concentration of waste and toxins in the urine are signs of dehydration which can overburden our kidney functions. Remember to drink plenty of fluids!
  • Avoid overindulgence in sexual activities
Excessive sexual activities deplete the kidney essence and may result in symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, low back pain, sore knees, frequent urination.
  • Consume black-coloured food
The kidney is associated with the colour black. Consuming black-coloured foods such as black beans, black fungus, black sesame and black rice can help in nourishing the kidney.

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