The functions of lungs in Chinese medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine, the functions of lungs depend on lung-Qi that has the functions of raising, dispersing, purifying and descending.

Governing Qi and respiration

The first important function of lungs is to govern Qi and respiration.

Air is from the nature. Because of the raising of lung-Qi, waste and foul air is expelled from lungs. Because of the descending of lung-Qi, fresh air is inhaled into lungs.

When the functions of raising and descending work harmoniously, the respiration is balanced and unobstructed. But if a pathogenic factor invades lungs and disturbs the functions, the person will cough, feel chest tightness, pant, or even dyspnea. In the case of the deficiency of lung-Qi, a person suffers from shortness of breath, and his voice is low and timid.

In traditional Chinese medicine, spleen is an important internal organ that involves into the digestive system. Nutrient substances that are decomposed by stomach, absorbed by small intestine are delivered by spleen to lungs. The combination of natural air and nutrient substances forms Zong-Qi in lungs. Zong-Qi is the important part of the human body’s Qi. It is the motive power of many physiological processes of the human body.

The human body’s Qi includes primordial-Qi (Yuan Qi), Zong-Qi, nutrient-Qi (Ying-Qi), defensive-Qi (Wei Qi) and the Qi of internal organs and the meridian system. The motivity and diffusing of all the Qi are regulated by lungs through lungs’ functions of respiration, raising, dispersing, purifying and descending.

Promoting water metabolism of the body

The second important function of lungs is to promote water metabolism of the body. The promoting of water metabolism is via the lung-Qi’s functions of raising, dispersing, purifying and descending.

Like nutrient substances, the water from food and drink is delivered by spleen to lungs.

The functions of raising and dispersing promotes water to be carried upwards to the head, and to be carried outwards to the muscles and skin of the whole body being the source of sweat.

The functions of purifying and descending promotes water to be carried downwards to other internal organs, and the water that is carried to kidneys becomes the source of urine.
The disturbance and weakness of lung-Qi may cause phlegm-retention, oliguria or even edema.

Promoting blood circulation

In traditional Chinese medicine, lungs act a role in promoting blood circulation.

Blood is delivered to lungs for gas exchange through vessels and then delivered to the entire body with the assistance of lung-Qi. Su Wen, the theoretical work of traditional Chinese medicine, says, “lungs connecting to hundreds of vessels.”

Heart governs blood and vessels of the body, and heart-Qi is the motive power of blood circulation. Zong-Qi originates from lungs, and strengthens the functions of heart-Qi.

The deficiency of lung-Qi leads to the reducing of Zong-Qi. It may weaken the functions of heart-Qi, leading to the weakening or obstructing of gas exchange and blood circulation. Then the person may suffer from chest distress, palpitation or blood stasis.

Conversely, in the case of the deficiency of heart-Qi or heart-Yang, blood circulation is obstructed, lung-Qi’s functions may also be impaired, and the person may suffer from panting or difficulty in breathing.

The relations between lungs, nose and throat

The nose is the channel of respiration. The functions of nose depend on the raising and dispersing of lung-Qi. And the nose is moisturized by fluid from lungs. So it is called lungs opening at nose. Ling Shu, the theoretical work of traditional Chinese medicine, says, “The Qi of lungs is open to the nose. The harmony of lungs makes the nose distinguish various smells.”

If the functions of lung-Qi are disturbed, the nose will be stuffed and the respiration will be affected badly.

If pathogenic heat harms lungs, the nasal mucus will be yellow and thick. If pathogenic coldness harms lungs, the nasal mucus will be pellucid and watery. If pathogenic dryness harms lungs, the nasal mucus will be few.

This is why the nasal mucus is also called “the liquid of lungs”, though nasal mucus is excreted by the nose. The abnormal phenomenon of the nose’s functioning is always one of the important clinical features for diagnosing the pathological changes of lungs.

As the nose, the functions of throat also depend on the motive power of lung-Qi and the moisturizing of fluid from lungs.

The deficiency of fluid and lung-Qi may cause hoarse, small and timid voice. The syndrome is vividly described as a broken bell fails to ring, because lungs are classified as metal.

If a pathogenic factor invades lungs and disturbs the functions of lung-Qi, it may lead to the obstruction of Qi, fluid and phlegm, presenting hoarse, heavy and unclear voice, or even loss of voice. It is described as a stuffed bell fails to ring.

Sadness and melancholy affect lungs

The feelings of sadness and melancholy are related to lungs. Excessive sadness and melancholy can impair lung-Qi and even cause the shortness of breath. The deficiency of lung-Qi or the disturbance of the functions of lung-Qi may also cause sadness and melancholy.

published on

updated on

Yike Jiang avatar