Five Elements and Traditional Chinese Healing
Dietary healing, herbal tonics, and traditional Chinese herbal medicine are three important applications in TCM, while the Five-element theory is the core of Traditional Chinese health philosophy and a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that believes nature and every object in nature all work around these five elements :
Intricate relationship among these Five Elements through the excitatory and inhibitory cycle creates or destroys harmony within the body. Any internal or external factor that disturbs this balance will lead to illness and disease. By carefully observing the subtle changes in our mind and body, one may be able to understand the point of disturbance in both cycles. Using the principles of the Five-Element theory, we can recreate the balance and achieve optimum health.
In this world, the exhibitory and inhibitory interactions in Five Elements of all the things exhibit in varied interactions, consisted of an intertwined meshwork. Corresponding to a lot of factors, each element plays a fundamental role. In Chinese health philosophy, every healing application is based on the Five Element theory. However, in this blog, we will see how the five-element theory can be used to create a balanced diet to achieve perfect health.
Ingredients in Traditional Chinese Healing.
Each of the five elements represents specific Organs, food, color, seasons, etc. Using specific foods according to the body types, seasons requirements, and subtle changes of mind and body balance, all three applications, dietary healing, herbal tonics, and traditional Chinese herbal medicine are all in the scope of traditional Chinese health philosophy.
There are some differences though. Dietary healing is used as an application to resolve mild, especially chronic imbalances. Food ingredients in diet healing sometimes are also the ingredients of herbal tonics and herbal medicines, whereas sometimes they are categorized separately. In southern China, Herbal Tonics is popular which has its position in the middle of the gradience from food to herbal medicines. However, most of the ingredients in all of these three TCM applications, are all specifically acting on one or a few Organs, accordingly, attributed to one or several elements as well. Therefore, every ingredient has its natural balance as a foundation or the imbalance as the strengths to be applied in the herbal holistic health prescription.
However, rarely do these natural ingredients span over half of the exhibitory or inhibitory cycle of Five Elements which makes them become a “modulation ingredient”. Because the strength of one element or its natural imbalance can make it become an aggressive ingredient to cure, but on the contrary too balanced on all the Five Elements, will only make it lose its functions as holistic medicine.
Licorice is a very common herb in all three TCM applications. It can help on Spleen and Stomach as well as Lung meridians. Spleen is Earth and Lung is Metal. While Earth nurtures Metal well in the exhibitory cycle, therefore, it needs a little more percentage on volume to utilize licorice to nurture digestion balance than to cure the imbalance of the lungs.
Nonetheless, herbs used in all these three TCM applications have to use in combination. There is no single herb that can cure the imbalances in the body. In TCM, long-term use of any single herbal ingredient will all become toxins to the balance of body homeostasis. This is amazingly resonant to the new-age cell lab tests but can be never reflected in the conventional medical lab tests.
According to Chinese Tradition, food can be used before or persistently after herbal medicines to pacify imbalances. Herbal tonics are more like diluted herbal medicine and sometimes may share food-healing ingredients that are seldom used in medicinal prescriptions. Therefore, it is important to have a basic understanding of the traditional Chinese health philosophy and Five Elements to use all three applications.
Basic Principle of Chinese Traditional Healing
As per the Five-Element theory, the TCM diet, tonics, and herbal medicinal prescriptions should be balanced in the following way:
- According to the Season:
Each element represents a specific season. Water represents winter, and metal represents fall. Therefore, according to the season variation, one must use food accordingly.
For example, in the water season (winter), we require foods to provide warmth, energy, and nourishment, and hence, one should consume Earth foods (sweet and starchy foods) that are nourishing, comforting, and building, such as pumpkin, carrots, banana, coconut, lentils, honey, etc.
During early summer (Fire season), we should consume Water foods that are moisturizing and calming, such as fish, caviar, blueberries, blackberries, and eggs, to cool down the heat of long summer days.
- Geography environment
Seasons should have represented their typical attributes. However, some places are not, which are extremely imbalanced geographic environments. This is not changeable but only be adjusted.
According to the predominant season of a particular geographical region, one should be able to better understand and modify the imbalance according to the requirements. For example, if the summer season is the predominant season, Water foods consumption should be increased and in those geographical regions where winter is predominant, Earth foods should be consumed more. But keep in mind, excessive intake could disturb the balance which should be dealt with accordingly.
- According to Taste:
Every flavor has a different function in the body, being represented by a specific element. A blend of moderate amounts of foods with different tastes should be consumed for a healthy life. In both TCM and ayurveda, tastes possess healing functions to consist of part of the integrative herbal prescriptions. The following fundamental rules apply:
Salty- Water: remove strong and excessive yang, hardness, and dissolve stagnation.
Hot spicy - Metal: diverges and evaporates fire. That is to expel wind and cold from the body.
Bitterness – Fire: detoxification, cleaning, release inflammation fire, clear heat.
Sweet - Earth: Harmonizes, nurtures, and tones the body.
Sour - Wood: solidify, gather, turn Chi into Blood, calm the body.
- According to Organs:
As per the symptoms of the body that point towards imbalance, we can customize our diet according to symptoms.
For example, pungent foods (metal) tone the decreasing function of the lungs. They energize and promote circulation as well as disperse pathogens from the body like cold and flu (4). Therefore these foods can be helpful in painful menstruation, tumours, local pain, etc.
Salty foods (water) function in softening and dissolving hard masses. Therefore, they can be used for goiter, constipation, etc. However, excessive consumption of any food can lead to problems as well. Excessive salt intake can lead to hypertension and heart disease.
The five elements theory is essential in all food healing, herbal tonics, and herbal medicine. They can be utilized interactively to help in the balance of mind and body to achieve holistic health. Nonetheless, the concept of food nutrition can not only provide energy to live, work and grow, but also cure imbalance and prevent diseases, is originated in TCM thousands of years ago
1. Mayer BA. What the five elements can teach you about your personality and health [Internet]. Healthline. 2021. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/mind-body/what-are-the-five-elements
2.Five guiding elements to Balance Your Nutrition. Edible Silicon Valley. Available from: https://ediblesiliconvalley.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/five-guiding-elements-balance-your-nutrition
3.TCM Nutrition – Five Element Theory TCM Theory [Internet]. Yin Yang House. Available from: https://yinyanghouse.com/theory/theory/chinese/five_element_nutrition_theory/
4.Five Element Theory & Chinese Dietary Therapy – Carahealth [Internet]. www.carahealth.com. [cited 2023 Aug 8]. Available from: https://www.carahealth.com/health-articles/traditional-chinese-medicine/5-element-theory-chinese-dietary-therapy
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