By Jingduan Yang
Modern life can be exhilarating—but living at a fast pace also brings worries, stress, tension, and mental exhaustion. In today’s chaotic world, many are looking for a sense of peace and good health. A psychiatrist in Philadelphia, I launched a series of lectures titled “The Three Tiers of Doctors Forum” to share my insights into spiritual and physical health. The following is a transcript of my lecture.
Qi and Meridians
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a unique and comprehensive theoretical framework regarding the body’s energy levels. From TCM’s perspective, examining energy levels is particularly important regarding liver cancer. This is because the energy level represents the most microscopic dimension, and the earliest origin of diseases is believed to occur at this level. Looking at the disease’s origin at the energetic level is an effective place to start.
The term “energy” is frequently used in our daily lives and is not significantly different from the concept of qi in TCM. It is believed there is an energy system in the human body that sustains life. One can liken this to a car: Having a structure, oil, and water alone is insufficient; there also must be an engine and electrical circuits to set it in motion. Similarly, a person may have a skeletal structure along with biochemical activities, but without qi, you could consider them lifeless. When a person possesses qi, they can begin to breathe, live, eat, continuously replenish energy, and maintain the processes of life. Therefore, qi is exceptionally important for human health and plays a crucial role in the occurrence of diseases. The various physiological functions and mental activities in a person’s life are all possible because of qi.
Exploring the concept of qi naturally brings us to the idea of meridians in TCM. Meridians are a concept relatively challenging for modern people to understand, primarily due to a visual limitation—similarly to air, you cannot see them, but they exist. The meridians in the body serve as channels for the flow of qi, constituting a structure that cannot be seen but is believed to exist. Ancient Chinese medicine has provided detailed descriptions of the structure and pathways of meridians, leaving us with valuable insights.
Many people believe that meridians must be located deep inside the body, which is why they cannot be seen. However, their invisibility is not due to depth; instead, they exist at a microscopic form at every level of the body. For example, meridians are present on the skin, in the muscles and skeletal structure, between internal organs, and even in areas without blood vessels and nerves. In other words, meridians constitute a more complex and microscopic system than the various anatomical structures and physiological systems we currently observe.
TCM is indeed extensive and profound. Modern individuals’ challenge in comprehending it stems from the limitations of our human eyes and technology, which cannot see or detect many concepts described in TCM. Acupuncture points, familiar to many, can be considered windows or gateways of the meridian system on the body’s surface, serving as entry points for treatment. However, these acupoints are also not visible or detectable. If a day comes when we can observe meridians, more people may gain a better understanding of TCM.
Types of Energy and Their Pathogenic Mechanisms
Every action we take expends a certain amount of qi. Among the qi we expend, a significant portion (acquired qi) is replenished through eating and drinking. This highlights the importance of nutritional replenishment. Interestingly, some of the qi we expend comes from the innate essence inherited from our parents, referred to as congenital qi in TCM.
Acquired qi is continuously replenished in our daily lives. However, congenital qi is extremely limited and wholly gone once depleted. When congenital qi is exhausted, a person’s life ends. This is manifested in daily life as the gradual weakening of bodily functions due to the consumption of congenital qi, leading to aging and, eventually, death. When we observe a deceased person, we see the body and various biochemical components, but the vital qi is no longer present. It is common for qi to be deficient in our everyday lives, posing a significant health concern.
Additionally, the flow of qi must not be chaotic. From the perspective of TCM, the liver functions like a traffic police officer, overseeing the coordination of the movement, ascent, descent, entry, and exit of all qi. Qi that should ascend should not descend, and vice versa. Similarly, qi that should move outward should not move inward; maintaining this order is crucial.
For example, common issues such as gastric acid reflux, bloating, nausea, and vomiting occur when the stomach’s qi reverses its flow and moves upward, disrupting its natural descent for the digestion and absorption of food. This reversal results in symptoms like acid reflux, nausea, and eventually vomiting. Another peculiar phenomenon is hiatal hernia, where the stomach can protrude through the diaphragm. Following the principles of gravity, the stomach should naturally move downward, given that humans are upright and the stomach has weight. Therefore, what force is pushing the stomach upward? This peculiar phenomenon is essentially what TCM refers to as the upward reversal of stomach qi.
Similarly, in the lungs, oxygen is transported by the heart through the blood vessels and distributed throughout the body. The qi of the lungs should naturally descend. If it ascends or moves upward, problems may arise, leading to conditions like asthma and coughing.
The next common issue involves the obstructed flow of qi; problems may arise if qi gets blocked in a particular area. For instance, as blood circulates through the vessels, any blockage in the qi flow can lead to various issues. In minor cases, it may cause pain, while more severe instances can result in vessel blockages, damaging organs or areas supplied with blood. Conditions such as heart attacks or coronary artery disease occur when the arteries are blocked. Before an artery becomes fully obstructed, many individuals may experience chest pain that often goes undetected in medical tests. A blockage in the qi pathway causes these symptoms. When the qi pathway is blocked, the immediate symptom is pain.
TCM emphasizes the concept of “stagnation causes pain.” This indicates that blockages in the meridians or pathways can disrupt the smooth flow of qi and blood, leading to pain. If this pain and obstruction are not addressed, various substances, such as heat, phlegm dampness, and blood, can gradually accumulate. Eventually, initially unseen disruptions may develop progressively into tangible conditions, including cancer and tumors.
The obstruction of qi is a common yet severe issue. Almost every patient with tumors or cancer experiences obstructed qi and meridians, forming a pathological foundation for the patient’s condition. This underscores the significance of maintaining a smooth flow of qi.
The Role of Qi in Liver Cancer
TCM does not just see the liver as a physical organ; it views it as an energy center, often referred to as “liver qi.” Therefore, the liver is considered highly vital in TCM.
The liver is not only the largest organ in the human body, but it also plays a crucial role in connecting and regulating the functions of various organs. It is responsible for detoxification, blood circulation, and other essential processes.
One crucial function of the liver is overseeing the body’s overall energy circulation. In patients with liver cancer, a prevalent symptom is termed “qi stagnation and blood stasis.” This implies a disruption in the smooth flow of qi and inadequate blood circulation. This symptom often arises from an underlying issue of liver qi stagnation. Liver qi stagnation denotes a disruption in the liver’s energy flow, preventing its influential role in promoting overall qi and blood circulation. Prolonged obstruction can lead to heat accumulation, resulting in a condition known as damp-heat in the liver and gallbladder. The liver and gallbladder regulate digestive functions, so the spleen and stomach are typically the first organs affected. This can weaken the functions of the spleen and stomach, subsequently impacting the body’s immune function. In the context of liver cancer, a common pathological mechanism is referred to as the “damp-heat syndrome of spleen entrapment.”
Therefore, the occurrence of liver cancer is highly likely to be related to qi deficiency, reversed or retrograde flow of qi, and qi stagnation and obstruction. These conditions result in the accumulation of various pathological substances, ultimately leading to tumor development. This constitutes the basics of qi theory in TCM concerning the development of liver cancer. Liver cancer occurs when damage to the liver reaches a palpable point of structural change.
The liver, serving as a reservoir for blood, establishes extensive connections within the body through meridians. Issues with the liver can be reflected in a person’s nails, given the liver’s role in nourishing various connective tissues throughout the body. With the growing emphasis on beauty, it is noteworthy that essential components like collagen, fascia, and various ligaments in the face rely on the liver for nourishment. Thus, the liver emerges as a pivotal factor in addressing beauty and aesthetic concerns within the human body.
The liver is intricately connected to vital regions of the brain, including the executive center responsible for decision-making and judgment, the region regulating emotions and maintaining emotional balance, and the region overseeing sleep.
Additionally, the liver plays a crucial role in regulating our digestive processes. Both the liver and gallbladder oversee the digestion, absorption, and excretion of all the food we ingest. Notably, modern medicine recognizes that the bile produced and secreted by these organs contains various digestive enzymes vital for our body’s digestive functions and nutrient absorption.
For women, the liver is responsible for regulating reproductive functions and menstrual cycles. Many gynecological issues are often linked to the imbalance of liver qi. Additionally, common conditions such as migraines, depression, and muscle pain in women are associated with the liver. In the modern era, many people spend a significant amount of time on electronic devices, contributing to blurred vision with age and strain on the liver.
TCM has its unique approach to treating liver cancer or liver diseases. It comprehensively assesses the causes of diseases from an energetic perspective and devises treatment plans accordingly. By adjusting the pathological mechanisms using the method of differential diagnosis, TCM proves indispensable in the treatment of liver diseases and liver cancer.
We are aware that the prognosis for liver cancer is often challenging, marked by low survival rates. Therefore, many hepatologists recommend that patients undergo TCM treatment in conjunction with Western medicine interventions.