In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Your HEART Does More Than Circulate Blood In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Your HEART Does More Than Circulate Blood

By Angela Soeon Park, L.Ac.

Nearly all civilizations acknowledge that the heart is the most important organ in the human body. Both eastern and western medicine has a long history of heart research, but they each developed their own points of view of heart function based upon their interpretation of its function. Interestingly, recent research supports the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concept of Heart provides a possibility for finding new integrative methods for the treatment of heart problems.

In modern western medicine. The heart is a fist-sized muscle that never takes a break. As it pumps blood, the heart powers the circulatory system and ensures that all our organs and tissues in the body receive the oxygen they need. Unlike western medicine, which views the heart as an individual physical unit, TCM views the Heart not only as a pump, it also integrates the interrelated aspects of the vast Heart energy network within the body.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart is central to the body’s overall health; it is the ruler of all the other organ networks and therefore is called the King or the Emperor of all the other organs. The Heart network governs blood and vessels opening into the tongue. The Heart is also responsible for our spiritual and mental activities, for the control of our Shen.

Shen is often translated as "mind" or "spirit," though it is a far more complex concept than either of these words suggest. Shen is housed in the Heart, from which it regulates emotions, consciousness, and other mental functions. Although the shen itself cannot be seen, its effect on the mind and body is obvious. When our shen is healthy, we are able to think clearly and rationally, we feel calm and peaceful, and are able to cultivate healthy relationships with other people. When our shen is disturbed, we experience difficulty concentrating, loss of memory, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, and other signs of mental and emotional disorders potentially arising from an unbalanced Heart. Since the Mind in TCM includes all aspects of consciousness, including thinking and intelligence, emotions, as well as memory and sleep, TCM treats the heart system for mood and mental problems.

One of the basic concepts in Chinese medical theory is, "The Heart houses the Shen: mind/spirit," which points out the inextricable connection between a healthy heart and a sound mind. Normal mental activity depends on normal cardiac function, which is why people lose their ability to think clearly when their Heart energy system is in disorder. This connection is so firm that it extends to the point where the words 'heart' and 'mind' can be used interchangeably.

The theory of cellular memory in western medicine supports the Traditional Chinese Medicine view of the heart and mind connection. The theory of cellular memories states that memories, as well as personality traits, are not only stored in the brain but are also stored in organs such as the heart. The best way to understand cellular memory is to study cases of organ transplants. Personality changes following heart transplantation, have been reported for decades which include accounts of recipients acquiring the personality characteristics of their donor. The personality changes can include changes in food, music, and art preferences, as well as sexual, recreational, and career alterations in emotions/temperament and modifications of identity. Other unexplainable phenomena have been reported: recalled memories from the donor's life, specific instances of perceptions of names, and sensory experiences that were personally related to the donor. These examples are hard to explain from the point of view of western medicine but TCM explains the concept that our shen is housed by our Heart energy network.

Another recent western study that supports the ancient theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine is tongue diagnosis. According to TCM theory, the tongue is the sense organ related to the Heart. The condition of the Heart can be seen by observing the tongue. The tongue will be a healthy pale red (pink) when this organ is in balance but if there is insufficient blood in the Heart network, the tongue may appear pale and if there is Blood stagnation, the tongue will be dark purple. Cracks or lines down the center of the tongue are yet another indication of the possibility of heart disease.

In 2020, researchers found that there is a significant interrelationship between heart conditions and the condition of the tongue. This study found that patients with heart failure shared the same types of microorganisms in the coating on their tongue. Healthy people shared their own types of microbes and there was no overlap in bacterial content between the two groups. Patients with chronic heart failure have redder tongues along with a yellow coating, claims Dr. Tianhui Yuan's study from the Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, while the tongues of healthy people are pale red with a pale white coating. She also found that there were differences in the composition, quantity, and dominant bacteria of the tongue coating between heart failure patients and people who were healthy.

According to Yuan, the microorganisms found in the tongue coating are the reason for the darker color of the tongues of heart failure patients, so that examination of tongue bacteria could be a very useful tool in diagnosing heart problems. Based on these findings, Dr. Yuan suggested that tongue microbes, which are easy to obtain, could assist with wide-scale screening, diagnosis, and monitoring of heart patients. Although she noted that more research is needed to identify the underlying mechanisms connecting microorganisms in the coating of the tongue with heart function, the results of this research could have a profound impact on medical professionals.

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