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From the TCM perspective, the main physiological functions and
indicators of the heart includes (1) the domination of blood and vessels,
and facial complexion, (2) control of the mind; and (3) opening into the tongue.
The heart has an "exterior" (biao) and "interior" (li) relationship
with the small intestine.
Dominating Blood and Vessels, and Facial Complexion
The heart dominates the blood and vessels indicating its
function of promoting blood circulation. In the Suwen,
it says, "... The heart is in charge of the blood vessels ...."
The vessels are the pathways of blood circulation while the
heart is the motive power of blood circulation.
Only if there is ample heart qi can the blood circulate
incessantly in the vessels to nourish the whole body.
The heart, blood, and vessels are interrelated.
Because of the rich distribution of blood vessels in the
facial region, the color and luster of the complexion
usually reflects the sufficiency or insufficiency of the blood
supply and heart qi. If the heart blood supply is
sufficient, then the pulse beats normally and forcefully and
the facial complexion is rosy with luster. If the heart
qi is insufficient, the vessels will be empty, the pulse
feeble and weak or irregular and the facial complexion pale.
Insufficient heart qi may lead to blood stagnation manifested
by a blue complexion. So in the Suwen is says, "The heart
is the root of live, ... its luster is manifested in the face,
it fills up the blood vessels ..."
Controlling the Mind
Mind here indicates spirit, consciousness, and thinking.
Traditional Chinese medicine considers that mind refers to
the five zang organs, especially the heart. So in the Lingshu
it says, "The organ that is responsible for the performance
of activities is the heart." This means the process of thinking
is accomplished by the heart. Blood is the main foundation
for mental activities, thus the function of heart controlling
the mind is closely related to the function of heart
dominating the blood and the vessels. If there is plenty
of heart blood, the mind is clear, thinking is nimble, and
one is full of vim and vigor. If heart blood is
insufficient, it will lead to the pathological changes of
heart-mind manifested by palpitation, insomnia, dream disturbed
sleep, poor memory, restlessness, etc. If heat in the blood
disturbs the heart-mind, there will be delirium, coma, etc.
Opening into the Tongue
One of the branches of the heart channel directly
connects with the tongue. So physiologically the tongue
has a close relationship with the heart. The qi and the
heart blood all flow up to the tongue in order to assist
its normal physiological functions. If there is a
pathological change in the heart, it will be reflected
in the changes of the tongue. For example, an insufficient
supply of heart blood may be manifested by pale tongue
proper; heart fire flaring up is reflected by red
tongue proper, or even by ulcers of the tongue; blood
stagnation in the vessels in presented by a purple tongue
or purpura; pathogenic heat invading the pericardium or
pathogenic phlegm obstructing the heart orifice, will
produce coma, delirium, and stiffness of the tongue.
Thus it is said, "The heart opens to the tongue," or
"The tongue is the sprout of the heart."
The pericardium is called xinbaoluo in Chinese.
Structurally it is a membrane surrounding the heart,
and physiologically it protects the heart. When
exogenous pathogenic factors attack the heart, the
pericardium is affected first. The Lingshu notes,
"Therefore the pathogenic factors that intend to attack
the heart must first attack the pericardium."
Clinically the symptoms of pathogenic invasion of
the pericardium are the same as if the heart was ill.
If pathogenic heat attacks the heart, the symptoms
are unconsciousness, delirium, etc. If pathogenic
phlegm causes mental confusion, unconsciousness or
mental disorder, it is known as "pathogenic phlegm
obstructing the heart orifice."
Read more on other Zang Organs: