Zang Fu (simplified Chinese: 脏腑; traditional Chinese: 臟腑; pinyin: zàngfǔ), is a concept within traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that describes the functions of the organs of the body and the interactions that occur between them.
This is not a physical description, therefore, it is a functional description and a description of functional dependencies. In computer terms we might think of this as a form of object oriented system description at the level of the software.
Zang 臟 refers to the yin organs - heart, liver, spleen, lung, kidney, pericardium - whilst Fu 腑 refers to the yang organs - small intestine, large intestine, gall bladder, urinary bladder, stomach and san jiao.
Each of the twelve zang-fu organs listed have a corresponding physical organ, except the pericardium and san jiao [triple burner]. There are thus two functional organs in the system that don't actually occupy a specific location in the body and can only be understood in terms of their function: the pericardium, and the triple burner. In western medicine, the pericardium is a literal sac of membrane that encases the heart. In the Zang Fu system, the "role" of the 'pericardium' is to protect the heart. So, translators assumed Chinese physicians were talking about the sac when in fact they were not. The triple burner has no correlate in western medicine and is best functionally described as the overall immune function.
As convention, the names of the zang fu organs are often capitalized to highlight the fact that the organs being referred to are not equivalent to those of western medicine, despite the similarity in names.
Each zang is paired with a fu, and each pair is assigned to one of the Wu xing.
The five elements are associated energetically with the following Zang-Fu organs
- Wood (木): Liver (肝), home of the Hun (魂, Ethereal Soul), paired with the Gall bladder (胆)
- Fire (火): Heart (心), home of the Shen (神, Aggregate Soul) paired with the Small intestine (小肠) (and secondarily, the San Jiao (三焦) or Triple burner and Pericardium (心包))
- Earth (土): Spleen (脾), home of the Yi (意, Intellect), paired with the Stomach (胃)
- Metal (金): Lung (肺), home of the Po (魄, Corporeal Soul), paired with the Large intestine (大肠)
- Water (水): Kidney (肾), home of the Zhi (志, Will), paired with the Bladder (膀胱)
TCM diagnoses rely on recognizing global patterns of dysfunction in the patient, explainable in terms of five element theory and yin-yang theory. A thorough understanding of each organ's function and symptoms of dysfunction will give insight into the process of disease and illness according to TCM.
In effect, the approach taken in TCM is an holistic approach based on functions f the body, which may or may not relate to physical organs and which are inter-dependent, an action upon one function will have an effect via the dependencies to other functions. These functions also tie in with the concept of the meridians and Qi, the system itself is an integrated one.