EXPLORE THE WORLD OF CHINESE MEDICINE
CHINESE MEDICINE 101 & Glossary
Welcome to Zilch Formulas' glossary of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terms. We designed this go-to resource to help you navigate Chinese Medicine terminology when learning and exploring about this exciting and new-to-most space.
We believe in empowerment through education, so we’re so glad that you’re here. We hope this helps you in your wellness journey.
CHINESE MEDICINE GLOSSARY
When referencing Chinese Medicine terms, it is common practice to capitalise terms that either have no real translation (such as Qi), or that mean something different in Chinese medicine than they might more commonly mean. Eg: If Spleen is referenced with a capital ‘S’ it means the Chinese Medicine function of the Spleen that transforms food into nutrients and waste, not the physical organ in body as referenced in Western science.
Qi (pronounced ch-ee) is the Chinese word for ‘energy’; a vital life force that circulates the body to support and nourish the body systems.
Good Qi means health and vitality, and some indicators include good energy, appetite, and bright skin. Having dull skin, constant fatigue, and a poor appetite might mean poor Qi and illness.
In Western science, blood is often referred to on a cellular level like red and white cells, platelets, and plasma, and the quantity and quality of blood is often analysed. Blood in Chinese medicine refers to the vital fluid that transports nutrients through the vessels, with a focus on its function of nourishing and healing.
A Chinese Medicine concept to describe opposite but interconnected forces. Their interaction with each other maintains balance and harmony.
Yin embodies: Cool/cold, night time, water & fluids, darkness, passive, soft, nourishing, rest, feminine.
Yang pertains to: Hot, daytime, fire, bright, energy, active, strong, masculine.
The concept of Heat and Cold is very important in Chinese Medicine theory. Think about it more like an inner balance of temperature as opposed to a thermometer reading.
Eg: Peppermint tea is 'hot' to touch, but has a 'cool' property.
Heat: Having excessive Heat can lead to symptoms like feeling warm, inflammation, red eyes, thirst and dry mouth. Picture it as the body's inner thermostat running too high.
Cold: a lack of internal warmth, leading to excessive Cold in the body and its systems. This can lead to discomfort, poor circulation, and lingering “cold sensations” in the body.
Note: Hot, Heat, Heatiness; and Cold and Cool can be used interchangeably.
Dampness is likened to excess moisture or phlegm trapped in the body- the body's version of sticky and humid weather. Dampness is a Chinese Medicine pattern that is responsible for “heavy” and “sluggish” symptoms that can often linger, because Damp has a sticky, cloying nature which makes it difficult to completely resolve.
Some of these symptoms include physical lethargy, brain fog, bloating, loose stools and water retention.
Toxicity refers to unwated substances or "toxins" that can accumulate within our systems. Just as pollution affects our environment, these internal toxins can lead to imbalances, illnesses, or general feelings of being unwell.
Picture a stream of water, but it’s not flowing as it should; that's stagnation. Or, it could be a puddle of water, stuck in uneven ground with no where to go.
When Qi or Blood becomes stagnant, it does not flow freely and nourish the body and its systems, often resulting in imbalances and discomfort.
Blood stagnation can refer to blood clots during menstruation, or poor/sluggish blood circulation through the body.
Deficiency: When there's a lack or insufficiency in some aspect of the body and its functions, it can make one feel weak or tired. Eg: Digestive deficiency means a weakened digestive system, or Qi deficiency means a lack of energy.
Excess is about having too much of a particular element.. Think of it as the body's way of saying "it's more than it should be," which can lead to various imbalances or health concerns. Eg: Excess Heat is often behind inflammation in the body.
In Chinese Medicine, Fire doesn't refer to a flame, but rather an intense, active energy. It can represent a fierce Heat, or a heightened state of activity in the body. Eg: Nourishing digestive ‘Fire’ means supporting digestive energy to digest food.
Jing is often described as the body's essential reservoir of vitality. Think of it as the energy you were born with, and that energy being consumed through life. It plays a key role in growth, development, and overall vitality, much like a precious tank of fuel that keeps the engine that is life running smoothly.
ORGANS AND SYSTEMS
The concept of organs in Chinese medicine can sometimes be a confusing topic.
In a Western science, an organ refers to the physical organ in the body.
Chinese Medicine references organs as the system and its function or role in the body, not the tissue, or cells or physical organ.
In Chinese Medicine, the Spleen is responsible for transforming the food we eat into energy (Qi) and ensuring it's transported to where it's needed. It plays a role in digestion and maintaining overall balance.
Working hand in hand with the Spleen, the Stomach breaks down the food and drink we consume. It's the beginning of the digestion process, turning what we eat into energy and nourishment.
More than just a detoxifying organ, the Liver in Chinese Medicine ensures the smooth flow of Qi and regulates the balance of emotions. A healthy Liver means emotions, especially anger, are in check, and the body's energy moves freely.
The Kidneys are like the body's batteries in Chinese Medicine. They store our essence (known as "Jing"), govern growth and reproduction, and are linked to our vitality and longevity.
The Lungs govern the Qi from the air we breathe and distribute it throughout the body. They also play a part in our immune system, helping shield us from external factors like the cold or flu.
HAVING A HARD TIME BELIEVING?
Lets demystify Chinese Medicine.
While Chinese Medicine boasts thousands of years of proven success, some still view it as ancient medicine unsuited for the modern age– the real irony is that it’s precisely tailored to today’s times. Chinese Medicine practice was developed for healing the human body in its most natural state, long before modern interventions and its theories remain unchanged. Its timeless principles remain as valid today as they were millennia ago, addressing and healing today's ailments.
When Chinese Medicine originated, its learnings were documented through experience. Had it not demonstrated genuine efficacy, it would've been lost in history, rather than evolving into the comprehensive medical system we know today. This is called 'Emperical Evidence' or 'Time-tested Efficacy.'
So if its so good, why does a stigma still surround it?
The unfamiliarity of Chinese Medicine often arises from cultural diversity, limited education, or lack of exposure to this health system, rather than any questions about its efficacy.
In numerous Asian countries, Chinese Medicine isn't alternative but primary health care- meaning major hospitals integrate both Chinese and Western conventional treatments for their patients.
In the West, our understanding of medicine is often tied to studies, trials, and scientific explanations. We dissect medicines into molecules and actives, demanding precise "scientific" explanations. If something doesn't fit within this framework, we may dismiss it as a myth. But why assume this is the only valid proof of efficacy?
Take the common belief: "Being in the cold can't cause a cold." Though it's hard to offer a precise scientific rationale, many of us have felt the brunt of a cold or flu after spending a cold day underdressed at an outdoor event. Chinese Medicine recognises such experiences, and even has a dedicated pattern for it, termed "exogenous wind".
It's often a case of, "I can't trust it because I don't grasp it," and that's entirely fair – how can we expect people to believe in something they don't understand?
This is why Zilch Formulas exist. Our mission is to break down the world of Chinese Medicine, making it accessible for everyone to learn, comprehend, and embrace.