The Five Viscera (Yin Organs) and Six Bowels (Yang Organs)

In Chinese medicine, the internal organs in a human body can be classified into five viscera organs (Wu Zang) and six bowel organs (Liu Fu).

The five zang organs are:

  • heart,
  • liver,
  • spleen,
  • lungs and
  • kidneys.

The six fu organs are:

  • stomach,
  • small intestine,
  • large intestine,
  • gallbladder,
  • urinary bladder and
  • Triple Energiser (San Jiao).

Each of these organs is affiliated to one of the Five Elements, and is either Yin or Yang. Yin organs have a corresponding Yang organ, and vice versa.

The following table illustrate their association.

The Five Viscera and Six Bowels - Five Elements Table

Five Zang (Yin) Six Fu (Yang) Element
Small intestine
Gall bladder
Large intestine
Kidneys, Urinary bladder
Pericardium with its blood vessels - Triple Energiser

Functions of the Five Viscera and Six Bowels Organs

Heart and Small Intestines
... the Five Viscera and Six Bowels Organs

The heart controls all activity and function of viscera. It circulates blood and qi in the body. It transports nutrients to other parts of the body. As for the small intestine, it separates pure from impure after digestion.

The facial blood vessels can show the condition of the heart:

  • When the heart functions well, and there is ample blood and fluids, the person would have rosy cheeks;
  • When there is deficiency of blood and fluids, the face turns pale;
  • When there is blood stagnation, the face turns blue-purple.

The heart also regulates the flow of qi, which affects the emotions. The symptoms of disharmony include cold hands, lack of vigour or tiredness.

The heart is closely linked with emotions and mental activities, and also with the Shen, or Spirit. In time of disharmony, the person will display some of these symptoms:

  • Depression,
  • anxiety,
  • poor memory,
  • insomnia,
  • palpitations,
  • indecision,
  • circulation problems,
  • and thread veins.

Liver and Gall Bladder
... the Five Viscera and Six Bowels Organs

The western views liver as the body’s chemical factory. However, in Chinese medicine theory, the liver is credited with many more properties.

The liver stores and regulates blood volume. It is closely linked to menstruation, the eyes, tendons and sinews, and nails. The nails reflect the health of the Liver.

The symptoms of disharmony include:

  • Irregular / painful / no / heavy periods, Stagnation of Blood.
  • Poor vision, dry / gritty / bloodshot eyes, floaters, photophobia.
  • Spasms, cramps, stiffness, tremors and tics.
  • Nails dry, cracked, indented, dark or pale.

The soul and the spirit have the blood as their foundation. The Chinese believes that, as the liver stores blood, it also stores the soul.

Deficiency of yin and blood in the liver or excess of yang in the liver will cause irritability in a person.

Sufficient blood in the liver will show in strong and pink nails; insufficient blood in the liver will show in thin, soft and pale nails.

Spleen and Stomach
... the Five Viscera and Six Bowels Organs

The spleen controls digestion and transport. Together with the stomach, it helps to digest and extract nutrients from food.

The symptoms of disharmony are: Bloating, poor appetite, tiredness, loose stools, weight gain, food intolerance, nausea, high or low thirst.

It also transports bodily fluids and maintains fluid balance.

The spleen regulates the flow of blood in the blood vessels. It helps to nourish the limbs and muscles. A healthy spleen will mean strong limbs and muscles. A weak spleen will mean heaviness and weakness of arms and legs, poor muscle tone and atrophy.

It also controls the flow of blood in the arteries and veins, and prevents bleeding, prolapse, diarrhea and spontaneous brusing.

The mouth and Spleen are related through the muscles, therefore the health of the Spleen is reflected in the lips. Ample qi and blood will show in red and lustrous lips; deficiency of blood in the spleen will result in pale lips, and problem with sense of taste.

Intellect resides in the Spleen. Poor Spleen energy can cause mental confusion, poor concentration, muzzy-headedness and forgetfulness.

Lung and Large Intestine
... the Five Viscera and Six Bowels Organs

The lung takes in fresh air and expels carbon dioxide and other gases to maintain metabolism. They are linked to the large intestine, which expels solid waste from the body.

The lung regulates the movement of fluids and qi in the body; a fall directs qi downwards to the kidneys and urinary bladder to maintain the normal flow and expulsion of bodily fluids. It also disperses the Wei Qi (defence energy) through the body and to the skin and muscle. In sending the Wei Qi to the skin, the lung also influence the pores. Healthy skin reflects good lung function and is more resistant to pathogens.

Breathing massages the colon via the diaphragm and helps to ensure regular bowel movement. Disharmony of lung could lead to constipation.

Kidneys and Bladder
... the Five Viscera and Six Bowels Organs

The kidneys store the essence of the five zang and six fu organs. It is the basis of life that keeps life activity going. The kidneys play a central role in controlling the body fluid. They regulate water metabolism and control the distribution and expulsion of water and maintain water metabolism within the body. Poor kidneys could lead to profuse pale urination, scanty dark urination, the need to urinate at night, incontinence, cystitis and stones.

Through the blood, hair is nourished by kidney king. Therefore, thick and glossy hairs reflect young and healthy kidneys, while hair loss, premature balding and greying reflect weak and old kidneys.

The Kidneys store reproductive Qi, which is linked to inherited Qi. Some symptoms of disharmony include: Infertility, impotence, retarded development, premature ageing, menarche to menopause.

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