The Pericardium and Triple Burner – The Unusual Organs of Chinese Medicine
We finish our series on the organs of Chinese medicine with two unusual organs; the Pericardium and Triple Burner. These organs are so unique that some traditions do not see them as organs at all, but both Pericardium and Triple Burner have their own acupuncture channels and both play vital roles within the body.
The Pericardium and Triple Burner are paired together under the fire element. Fire is the only element which governs two pairs of organs with the Heart and Small Intestine being the other pair. This is no coincidence as there is an extremely close relationship between the Pericardium and the Heart.
Let’s take a closer look at the Pericardium and Triple Burner and their functions within the body, along with what happens when these odd organs fall out of balance.
Functions of the Pericardium in Chinese Medicine
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the Heart is seen as the emperor of the body. The Heart houses the mind and spirit, making it the most revered organ of them all. As such, the Heart cannot be exposed to injury or infection, or the results could be disastrous. Therefore, it needs a protector, and that is where the Pericardium comes in.
Sometimes known as the Heart Protector, the Pericardium acts as a bodyguard for the Heart, preventing it from becoming diseased. This is actually fairly similar to the role of the pericardium in western medicine.
In western medicine, the pericardium is a sac which surrounds the heart muscle. It protects the heart from infections as well as holding it in place, preventing it from overfilling, and reducing friction with its surrounding tissues as the muscle expands and contracts.
Although the Pericardium’s role in TCM is similar, it also has more of an emotional aspect. Since the Heart houses the spirit, it needs to be protected from shocks and mental trauma. Therefore, the Pericardium acts as an emotional buffer between the Heart and the outside world, keeping the spirit calm and the mind at peace.
Since the Pericardium is sometimes seen as part of the Heart rather than an organ in its own right, many of its functions are very similar to those of the Heart. It plays an essential role in emotional regulation and people with Pericardium imbalances may suffer from anxiety, depression, or mood swings.
In the five-element style of acupuncture, the Pericardium is often associated with relationships, love, and sex. People with Pericardium imbalances may have difficulty with inter-personal relationships, either being too closed off and emotionally unavailable, or too open, leaving themselves vulnerable to being hurt.
The Pericardium also plays a role in blood circulation and, therefore, symptoms such as cold hands or feet could be a sign of Pericardium trouble.
Pericardium Symptoms in Chinese Medicine
When the Pericardium is imbalanced, it can cause symptoms very similar to those of Heart imbalances. These include:
- Emotional instability
- Difficulty with relationships
- Poor circulation
- Cold hands or feet
Symptoms can also occur along the Pericardium channel which runs from the chest, down the inner arm, to the middle finger. These symptoms could include chest pain or arm pain, especially carpal tunnel syndrome.
Functions of the Triple Burner in Chinese Medicine
The Triple Burner, sometimes known as the Triple Warmer or Triple Heater, is an organ with function, but no physical form. In Chinese, its name is san jiao, with san meaning ‘three’ and jiao roughly translating as ‘burning spaces.’ This refers to the three areas of the body known as the upper, middle, and lower jiao.
The upper jiao is the area above the diaphragm. It contains the Lungs, Heart, and Pericardium. The middle jiao is the area between the diaphragm and the navel. It contains the digestive organs; the Stomach, Spleen, and Gallbladder. The lower jiao is the area below the navel. It contains the Liver, Kidneys, Intestines, and Bladder.
The Triple Burner is responsible for regulating the three jiao and ensuring that qi, blood, and body fluids can flow freely between them. It can be compared to an irrigation system or even the plumbing in your home.
Although there is no western medicine equivalent of the Triple Burner, some acupuncturists believe it could be an early interpretation of the interstitium. The interstitium is an elusive organ which was only discovered in 2018. It is made up of fluid-filled cavities that collapse when tissues are dissected in the traditional way, which made it invisible to biologists for many years. As it turns out, this organ was hiding in plain sight all along, and it is thought to play a role in the transportation of fluids as well as acting as a protective cushion for the other organs.
In TCM terms, the functions of the Triple Burner correspond with the organs in each of its three sections. The upper jiao is responsible for respiration and circulation, the middle jiao is associated with digestion, and the lower jiao with excretion of waste.
So, although this organ has no form of its own, the other organs rely heavily on the health of the Triple Burner to function as they should.
Triple Burner Symptoms in Chinese Medicine
When the Triple Burner falls out of balance, it can cause a variety of symptoms depending on which of the three jiao is being affected.
Imbalances in the upper jiao can cause symptoms such as:
- Respiratory disorders
- Immune disorders
- Poor circulation
- Skin problems
Imbalances in the middle jiao can cause symptoms such as:
- Digestive issues
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal discomfort
Imbalances in the lower jiao can cause symptoms such as:
- Problems with urination or defecation
- Sexual dysfunction
Since the Triple Burner is so closely related with fluid circulation, an imbalance here can also cause issues like edema.
Problems can also occur along the Triple Burner channel which runs from the ring finger to the side of the head. These include wrist, arm, or shoulder pain, and ear problems such as deafness or tinnitus.
So, as you can see, although the Pericardium and Triple Burner are rather strange, they have a crucial role in maintaining the health of the entire body. These unusual organs are truly amazing and definitely deserve their place in the TCM Hall of Fame!