The function of the large intestine organ system is to collect the unfiltered portions of food from the small intestine in order the drain the water in them. After the water has been absorbed, these materials become stools that are then passed through the anal sphincter. A malfunctioning large intestine can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, intestinal rumblings, and stomach pain. At times, if heat is abundant, the fluids in the intestines dry up which can lead to constipation.
Collection and eventual excretion of urine is the responsibility of this organ system. Unused water and water that cannot be used anymore by the other organ systems are sent to the bladder to be excreted as urine. Traditional Chinese medicine defines this process as urine vaporization occurring in the bladder. If the bladder is not working normally, it can cause urinary issues such as difficult urination or urinary incontinence. The bladder function complements the function of the kidney and so a problem involving the bladder means the kidney has a problem as well.
The role of the small intestine is to collect and transform incompletely digested materials from the stomach and transform them into nutrients through the process of digestion. Another of the small intestine’s function is to sort out the impure food materials from the pure ones. The pure materials are sent to the spleen while the impure ones to the large intestine to be converted to waste material. The water in the digested food materials that can’t be used are brought to the bladder to be excreted as urine. If the small intestine is functioning normally, the person will have normal bowel and urine movement. Any problems in this organ system will lead to loose stools or pain or difficulty in urinating (dysuria).
The triple burner concept is only found in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Western medicine has no organ matching this unique type of TCM organ system. Some researchers believe that the function of the triple burner may be akin to that of body metabolism and the function of the pancreas. However, there has been no conclusive evidence to verify this and no study done to see what the nature of this organ is. The reason it’s called the triple burner is that it refers to the functions of the lower, middle and upper burner. The lower burner is situated below the umbilicus (belly button) and it includes the bladder, small intestine, large intestine, kidneys, and liver. The middle burner is found in the part of the body right above the umbilicus and it includes the abdomen and spleen. The upper burner can be found above the diaphragm and it includes the lungs and the heart. The Chinese describe the triple burner as “three parts that scorch or burn.”
The responsibilities of the triple burner are to geared towards the movement of water and the activities of qi. Its functions were depicted in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine which stated that the function of the lower burner is like that of a swamp, the middle burner, like that of a foam and the upper burner like the actions of mist.
This cryptic description can be interpreted this way: the swamp analogy describes the function of the lower burner that sorts out the “turbid” materials from the “clear” ones like a swamp that breaks down vegetation. The turbid or impure materials are then excreted as waste or urine. The foam analogy of the middle burner can mean that when the abdomen and spleen transform and ripen food materials, these materials degrade in a manner similar to acid dissolving substances. The degrading food materials start to foam in the same manner substances foam when they are dissolved in acid. The “Mist” comparison refers to the distributive functions of the upper burner. Body fluids, blood, and qi are all distributed all over the body in the same way as mist scatters all over in the environment.
The conveyance of fluid, food, and water are all done via the triple burner. This organ system functions as the regulator of the flow of all fluids in the entire body and so if the triple burner starts to malfunction it can lead to problems such as difficult urination or edema (the collection of fluids in the tissues). When these conditions arise, treatments are aimed at resolving the disharmonies that have developed in the kidneys, spleen, or lungs.
This is the organ system the Chinese describe as the “the sea of food and fluid”, the stomach controls the ripening and receiving of fluids and foods in the body. Foods need to pass through the stomach. As they pass through the stomach, the materials decompose and are passed on to the small intestine where they are digested further.
The stomach is the area where food is divided into two parts: the “impure” and “pure” parts. The impure materials are conveyed downward to the small intestine while the pure materials are sent upward to the spleen where they are broken down and transformed into nutrients. If the stomach’s descending functions go awry, it can lead to symptoms such as vomiting and nausea. The stomach is a yang organ and it functions best when its environment is moist. Too much yang can result in “dryness fire” disharmony that can cause the person to frequently thirst and have a dry mouth.
The function of the gallbladder in TCM is the same as that in Western medicine. This organ system is where bile, produced by the liver, is kept and secreted. The bile is needed by the body to help with the digestive process. The proper functioning of the gallbladder is dependent on the healthy state of the liver. Bile is also needed by the spleen to support its functions of transformation. And so, if the liver suffers from disharmony it can adversely affect other digestive processes. Gallbladder dysfunction can give rise to jaundice, a condition in which a person develops yellow skin color and eyes due to too much bile in the body.
The gallbladder in TCM is associated with bravery and it governs the decision function of the brain. Treatment for anxiety, fear and other mental disorders involves the restoration of gallbladder harmony.
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