Understanding the Basics of TCM: TCM Organs

by Physician Lee Hui Min
05 April 2023

The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) organs known as 脏腑 zàng fǔ are functional entities that conceptualised TCM. There are 2 components of this concept. The 脏 zàng comprises of the 肝 Liver, 心Heart, 脾Spleen, 肺Lung, 肾Kidney. The 腑 fǔ comprises of the 小肠small intestine, 大肠large intestine, 胆gall bladder, 膀胱urinary bladder, 胃stomach and 三焦Sān Jiao/Triple Burner. A simplified description of the functions of each component are as follows:


1)      Liver – It stores blood and governs the qi flow in the body.

2)      Heart – It stores the soul/mind and governs all blood and the blood vessels in the body.

3)      Spleen – It governs the transportation and absorption of the clear (essence from food and water intake) and ensure that it distributes to the other Zang. The spleen is where qi and blood are produced.

4)      Lung – It descend and disperse the qi throughout the body and governs the exterior (immunity) of the body.

5)      Kidney – it stores the essence of the body which governs the body growth development and reproduction.


1)      Small Intestine – It connects to the stomach and assist in separation of the clear (essence of water and grain) from the turbid (waste).

2)      Large Intestine – It receive waste from small intestine and absorbs the fluid content to form stools which will be excreted from the body.

3)      Gallbladder – It supports the liver and transform the liver qi to bile and aid its release.

4)      Urinary Bladder – It stores and discharge turbid fluids from the small intestines as urine.

5)      Stomach – Its transform food and water ingested to nutrients which will be passed to the spleen. The remainder which is known as turbid will then be passed to the small intestine.

6)      Sān Jiao/Triple Burner –Helps metabolize and distribute nutrients.

In TCM, the organs are viewed not only as physical structures, but also as energetic and functional systems. For example, the heart in TCM is not only responsible for pumping blood, but it is also seen as the organ that governs emotions, spirit, and consciousness. The TCM Zang Fu organs are not exactly the same as the anatomical organs that are recognized in Western medicine. While there is some overlap between the two systems, the TCM organs have a more holistic and functional understanding. In ancient times, it was a taboo to dissect the dead body hence TCM physicians mainly focus on understanding the functions rather than the anatomical structure of each organ.  

The TCM Zang Fu organs are also interconnected and interdependent. This means that a dysfunction in one organ can affect the other organs and systems in the body. For example is the relationship between the liver and the spleen. The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi and blood throughout the body, while the spleen is responsible for transforming food into Qi and blood. If the liver is not functioning properly, it can cause Qi stagnation and blood deficiency, which can in turn affect the spleen's ability to transform food and lead to digestive problems.

The TCM Zang Fu theory plays an important role in TCM diagnosis and treatment. TCM diagnosis and treatment are focused on identifying and addressing imbalances and dysfunctions within the Zang Fu systems, in order to restore overall health and wellbeing.  When the body malfunction, TCM physicians use the symptoms presented by a patient to identify which zang fu is affected and create a treatment plan to address the issue. Through the use of various techniques, such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary therapy, to balance the Qi of the Zang Fu organs and restore overall health and wellbeing.

It is also worth noting that TCM and Western medicine have different ways of understanding and treating health and disease. While Western medicine tends to focus on the physical and anatomical aspects of the body, TCM takes a more holistic approach that considers the interconnections between various systems in the body, including the Zang Fu organs and meridian system. Both medicines are equally effective, and the effectiveness of each depends on the specific circumstances of the patient and treatment. 

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