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How TCM Associates Aging Signs with Internal Disharmonies

Most people would agree that signs of aging are easy to spot. In TCM theory, healthy people should exhibit the following :

Strong physique: powerful muscles, tendons and bones ensure mobility, agility and flexibility, a strong physique indicates that every part of the body is in an optimum state.

Sharp eyes: TCM claims that the eyes are one of the gathering places for the organs' essence and qi (vital energy) to meet, so expression in the eyes naturally reflect the functional states of internal organs; bright and piercing eyes are the prime expression of good health. Furthermore, the eyes are regarded as the openings of the liver in the body surface; good vision reflects the liver functioning properly.

Good complexion: the face is regarded as the outer manifestation of internal organs especially for the heart; a pink and radiant complexion means the body's blood and qi circulations are smooth.

Healthy looking skin and hair: these indicate that the body has sufficient blood and qi (vital energy) to nourish them.

Quiet and steady breathing: TCM believes that the heart and lungs are responsible for exhalation, while the liver and kidneys are responsible for inhalation. Smooth respiratory movements result from close coordination of these organs.

Acute hearing: the ears are the openings of the kidney in the body surface which is also important pivot locations for the meridians to communicate with each other; diminished hearing, tinnitus or deafness means internal disharmony particular in the kidney.

Loud voice: vocalization depends on the qi and is also associated with lung function.

Rhythmic pulse: the pulse is governed by the heart and commanded by qi (vital energy). Whatever the causes of the disease, abnormalities or pathological changes can be reflected by the pulse, and from this arise changes in the pulse image.

Firm teeth: The teeth are considered bones in TCM, and there is a saying that "The teeth are the surplus of the bones." Since teeth and bones share the same source, they are both nourished by kidney essence.

Proper appetite: this means that the body's digestive and absorption functions are normal, and that there will be sufficient nutrients to support all physiological activities of the body.

Regular urinary and bowel functions: urination and defecation are vital routes for metabolic excretion and are processed by a series of organs. Abnormalities in the urine and stools correlate with the condition of the organs.

Relaxed mental state: emotional activity is usually seen as a physiological response to stimuli from the external environment. A sound mental state ensures that the physical body is under proper control and the organ systems are working in harmony.

Good memory: memory is a function of the brain, and in TCM, the brain consists of marrow derived from kidney essence. Having a good memory means there are plenty of essence and the brain is full of marrow.

Aging is a spontaneous process; the body loses its power reserves, which gradually leads to low energy, physiological changes, susceptibility to disease and less adaptive to adverse conditions. From a functional aspect, TCM believes the core of aging changes is centered around the five organ systems, the heart, liver, lung, spleen and kidney. In other words, internal disharmonies that affect the body's ability to maintain, repair and defend itself as it ages are mainly associated with the following organs.

TCM five organ systems
Heart deterioration

In TCM, the heart is the functional unit for regulating blood flow. When this function declines, there will be shortness of breath, palpitations, a pale complexion, sensitive to coldness, chest pain or tightness in the chest. Furthermore, the heart houses the spirit (shen); an under-performing heart leads to mental problems such as changes in sleeping patterns, nervousness, decreased memory and learning ability, slow reactions, disorientation, dementia or behavioral changes.

Liver deterioration

In TCM, the liver promotes qi movements inside the body; it also stores the blood, rules tendons and nails, and opens into the eyes . When liver blood is inadequate, there are decreased visual abilities, dryness, general weakness and fatigue. If the liver fails to nourish the tendons and nails, it will lead to limb weakness, joint stiffness, kyphosis, clumsiness, and brittle and deformed nails. Liver stagnation resulting from impaired flow of qi leads to dizziness, reluctance to speak, numbness, anxiety, irritability and emotional problems.

Lung deterioration

In TCM, the lung dominates qi, rules respiration and water channels; it also monitors the skin and hair, and opens into the nose. When the lung is dysfunctional, there can be symptoms such as a trembling voice, breath shortness, coughing, excessive throat and nasal secretions, chest oppression, sweating and constipation. There can also be a decrease in the sense of smell due to lung weakness. In addition, the skin and body hair are nourished by protective qi from the lung; if this particular function is weakened, then skin and body hair turn lusterless, and starts to develop wrinkles and brown spots. The body will sweat easily and there will be low resistance against infection.

Spleen deterioration

In TCM, the spleen is the primary organ for digestion and absorption, and provides nutrient essence for body transformation. It also governs the movement of blood, rules the muscles, opening into the mouth. Signs corresponding with spleen weakness are poor sense of smell, decreased appetite, indigestion, irregular bowel functions, puffiness, obesity or underweight, loss of muscular mass, tiredness, organ prolapse, anemia and slow clotting time.

Kidney deterioration

In TCM, kidney stores essence, rules water metabolism, grasps qi, manifests in the hair, and opens into the ears and genital organs. Kidney deterioration is regarded as the root of aging; associated signs include diminished hormone levels, overall decrease in energy and vigor, loss of bone strength and density, shrinkage in the sexual organs, changes in the menstrual cycle, urinary problems, loose teeth, limb soreness, impaired hearing, gray and thinning hair.

Although aged-related changes occur in everyone, there is no reliable way to predict how you will age specifically. Signs and symptoms vary in different people and even different organs. Aging is the cumulative effect of the interaction of many lifelong influences, such as heredity, environment, culture, diet, exercise and illnesses. One of the mainstays in TCM anti-aging approaches is differentiation of disharmony in the above organ systems for each individual case, followed by tailor-made treatment. The kidney and spleen are the primary targets of treatment.