The triple burner is a special concept in TCM, and there is no corresponding organ in western medicine. Suggestions have been made that the triple burner's function may be related to the pancreas and metabolism in the body, but no clear conclusion has been reached as to the nature of this organ. The triple burner is actually a collective term for the upper, middle and lower burner. The Chinese word "triple burner" actually means "three parts which burn or scorch."
The upper burner is located above the diaphragm and includes the heart and lungs. The middle burner is located in the region above the belly button and below the diaphragm and includes the spleen and stomach. The lower burner is located below the belly button, and it includes the liver, kidneys, large intestine, small intestine and bladder. (This description of location is used for the functional classification of the TCM triple burner. The above locations do not refer to the anatomical location of organs.)
The triple burner's functions relate to the activities of qi and the movement of water. The functions of the three burners were summarized in the Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine) as follows: "The upper burner acts like a mist. The middle burner acts like foam. The lower burner acts like a swamp."
"Mist" refers to the disseminating functions of the upper burner. With this function, qi, blood and body fluids are distributed throughout the body just as mist disperses in the environment. "Foam" means the digestive churning of the middle burner. When the spleen and stomach transform and ripen food, the food decomposes in a similar way to foaming. "Swamp" relates to the excretion of impure substances. The lower burner separates the "clear" from the "turbid" substances and excretes these impurities as wastes- like a swamp breaks down certain vegetation.
The triple burner is the passage through which water, food and fluid are transported. The Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine) also says, "The triple burner is the controller of the entire circulation of body fluid". Therefore, disharmony of the triple burner can lead to edema ( fluid collection in the tissues) or difficult urination. Treatment of these conditions is aimed at resuming the harmony of the affected organs such as the lungs, spleen or kidneys.
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Professor, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine
Ph.D. Beijing Union Medical College
Vice Director, Gourmet Food Institute of Health Care and Nutrition of Beijing
Angelo Chung, B Pharm., Integrated Chinese Medicine Holdings Ltd.
Angela Collingwood, MSN, Integrated Chinese Medicine Holdings Ltd.
Margaret Harris, MD, Integrated Chinese Medicine Holdings Ltd.