Zang Fu Theory

Syndrome differentiation according to the organs (zang- fu)

In western medicine, the body’s organs are explained in terms of their anatomical structure and physiological functions. However, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the approach is quite different. Organs are considered functional units of the body. Therefore, what is typically thought of as an organ has a much broader meaning and application in TCM. An organ’s anatomical structure is not as important as its yin yang properties or relationships with other organs. Chinese medicine recognizes five yin organs (heart, liver, spleen, lung & kidney) and six yang organs (gall bladder, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, bladder and triple burner), also known as “zang” and “fu” organs respectively. See article on “Understanding the Body’s Organ from a TCM Perspective.

According to the TCM theory, disorders in organs may be due to organs themselves, or it may result by a broken relationship between the organs. Therefore, the health of the organs is identified according to their unique physiological functions. Problems arising in the five “yin” or “zang” organs tend to be more serious. The above is a brief description of the main syndromes attributed to each of the organs.


The zang-fu theory explains the physiological function, pathological changes, and mutual relationships of every zang and fu organ. In traditional Chinese medicine the zang and fu organs are not simply anatomical substances, but more importantly represent the generalization of the physiology and pathology of certain systems of the human body.

Zang and fu consist of the five zang and six fu organs. The five zang organs are the heart (including the Brain), lung, spleen, liver, and kidney. The six fu organs are the gall bladder, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, urinary bladder and the sanjiao (three areas of the body cavity). Zang and fu are classified by the different features of their functions. The five zang organs mainly manufacture and store essence: qi, blood, and body fluid. The six fu organs mainly receive and digest food, absorb nutrient substances, transmit and excrete wastes. As the Suwen says: The five zang organs store up essential qi and regulate its outflow. The six fu organs transform and transport substances without storing them and for this reason they may be over-filled but cannot be filled to capacity.

There is another category of organs called the extraordinary fu organs which include the brain, marrow, bone, vessels, gall bladder, and uterus. They are named fu but their functions are similar to that of the five zang organs. Since their physiological functions and pathological changes are closely connected with the zang-fu organs they will be discussed below under the specific zang or fu organ.