Cardiovascular Health

TCM: Understanding The Role Of The Heart

Out of the five organs, the heart is likened to the monarch and is responsible for our spiritual and mental activities. The physiological functions of the heart, according to TCM, includes managing blood in our body and commanding mental activity.

Heart qi

The heart is in charge of pumping blood around the body and regulating blood flow. With the heart, blood and blood vessels forming an independent circulatory system, the rhythmic beating of the heart enables blood to travel within blood vessels. The strength of heart qi determines if the pumping action is strong and healthy, which is reflected in the rhythm and rate of the pulse. The endless cycle of blood circulation provides nutrition for the body, including our organs and limbs, ensuring normal functioning of the various structures and organs. A healthy individual will appear as energetic, having a rosy complexion and a rhythmic forceful pulse.  Should there be any imbalances in the heart qi, yin, yang or blood; an individual can manifest a series of symptoms such as pale complexion, a thin and weak pulse, darkened purplish complexion and a knotty pulse.

Heart and spirit

In TCM, the heart is the location where the “spirit” (shen) resides. In general, the “spirit” is tantamount to the overall vitality of an individual, which is often observed through the complexion, eyes and responses. The presence or absence of “spirit” is important in the prognosis of illnesses. All the five organs contain yin, yang and blood. For the heart, the heart blood and heart yin have important roles to play when it comes to nourishing the “spirit”.If there is adequate presence of heart blood and heart yin, a person will display a clear and sound mind, and if there is a deficiency in either blood or yin, individuals will show signs such as heart palpitations, insomnia and psychological disorders.

Heart and the tongue

According to TCM principles, it is believed that the essence of the five organs is accessible through our seven orifices. Through observing the changes in the orifice, we are able to understand the health status of the corresponding organ.

For the heart, the tongue is the orifice to the heart. Language expression and taste sensation are dependent on the normal functioning of the heart. Imbalances in the heart can reflect on the appearance of our tongue. Unlike blood pressure and heartrate which can fluctuate readily, changes to the colour and texture of the tongue are less affected by short-term influences and are indicative of health issues occurring within the body. If the heart qi, blood, yin and yang levels are balanced, the tongue appears to be pinkish-red in colour, the tongue body is soft and flexible and has sensitive taste buds. Insufficient heart blood will reflect as a pale white tongue and insensitive to taste.

Another distinct relationship is between the heart and the face. The radiance and complexion which are reflected on the face can be used to determine the health status of the heart qi, blood, yin and yang levels. Should there be adequate heart blood that circulates well, the face appears radiant and rosy.

The Colour of Red

The TCM Five-Element theory correlates the organ Heart with the colour Red. This also means that naturally-occurring foods that are red in colour are actually beneficial for the heart’s health. These foods are high sources of natural iron, Vitamin A, beta-carotene, lycopene. They are known to protect cell membranes, maintain blood vessel elasticity to maintain healthy blood flow and have anti-oxidizing properties, amongst other benefits. Heart-healthy foods such as tomatoes, berries, beetroot, and hawthorn fruit should be included in your diet daily to make a big difference for your cardiovascular health.

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Herbs beneficial for our heart

Herbs wise, San qi, also called tian qi or panax notoginseng, is particularly effective towards heart health by improving blood circulation and regenerating red blood cells. Notably, some parents may also use tian qi for the development of their children during puberty as it is believed that the ability of tian qi to improve circulation and prevent blood stasis can enhance the flow of nutrients to growing bones and around the body. Red Sage, also called dan shen, is also an effective herb for cardiovascular health. It is beneficial for myocardial ischemia as it can widen coronary arteries to increase coronary blood flow. It is also known to improve the body’s micro-circulation and reduce viscosity of blood to strengthen the body’s overall blood circulation.