Zang Fu – The Vital Organs

In the previous part, we have discussed the holistic view of how TCM views the body as an overall system, and illnesses are the way body’s qi, or life energy, has gone out of balance in the form of the “five vital substances.” In this part, we will discuss the “Zang Fu,” or the vital organs, on how each of the principal organs of the body affects production and storage of the five vital substances (jing, qi, shen, xue, jinye).


Zang fu is actually two words in Chinese, describing two types of organs in the body, five in Zang group, and six in Fu group. Each of the Zang organs has a matching Fu organ. They are interconnected and needed to be in balance.

Zang organs are yin in nature. They manufacture and store vital substances. Each of the zang organs matches a body opening as well. For example, lack of appetite or strange taste in mouth is generally diagnosed as a spleen obstruction, while a pale tongue may indicate a weak heart.

  • Spleen: governs the transformation of nutrition and water into qi and xue, its counterpart is the stomach, opens onto mouth and lip
  • Heart: regulates blood and creation of shen, its counterpart is small intestines, opens onto the tongue
  • Lungs: governs actuation of qi from the chest, its counterpart is the large intestines, opens onto nose and throat
  • Kidneys: governs the containment of qi, creation of jinye. Its counterpart is the bladder, opens onto the ears and reproductive organs
  • Liver: looks after the flow of qi around the body, and storage of xue. Its counterpart is the gallbladder, opens onto the eyes
  • Pericardium: technically, this is not a Zang organ, but a membrane surrounding the heart, protecting it. Its counterpart is the triple burner.

Fu organs separate and purify ingredients to be passed onto their zang counterparts, and leaves the waste to be expelled. They are the yin counterpart to the zang organs’ yang :

  • Stomach: transforms food and water, passes nutrients to the spleen, remainder to small intestines.
  • Small intestine: purifies food, moves nutrients to the spleen, rest to large intestines
  • Large Intestine: receives “turbid food” from small intestines, expels as faeces
  • Bladder: receives “turbid water” from kidneys, expel as urine
  • Gallbladder: transform liver qi into bile, releases bile and aids liver as needed
  • Triple Burner (san jiao): this has no corresponding physical organ(s), but can be thought of as three organs that metabolise and distribute nutrients through xue, qi, and jinye. Its counterpart is the pericardium.

Those that know Eastern philosophy may recognise the “Five Phases” (wu xing): earth, fire, metal, water, and wood also correspond to the organs (in the order as given). Pericardium and Triple Burner belong to the fire phase.

Once the various organs have created the vital substances, they are then transported around the body via “jing luo,” or the twelve meridian channels (that’s why we have 5 zangand 6 fu organs, plus pericardium).

The channels can be affected by external influences such as disease, and the channels can be modified as acupuncture points. Jing luo and acupuncture will be discussed in Part 3.

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