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Qi Deficiency: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the energy that circulates through the body at all times is known as 'qi'. A balanced qi indicates good physical and mental health. So, if you are not feeling well, then going by what is said through TCM theories, you might just have a qi deficiency.

Experts believe that a qi deficiency is associated with the spleen [1] . It is said that the best way to treat this kind of deficiency is by taking ample rest and eating foods that treat the imbalance. In simple terms, the best way to understand the significance of qi is by looking at it as bodily energy.

Read on to know more about qi deficiency and the approaches that can help in balancing it.

What Is A Qi Deficiency?

Going by what the practitioners of TCM claim, everything in the world is made up of qi. This includes the physical body as well as the feelings that a person has. It is important that a person has a balanced qi so that he or she can lead a life free from mental and physical health issues.

Qi is often combined with the concepts of yin and yang (the harmony of opposite forces). These together form the core components of TCM [2] . The maintenance of yin and yang is dependent on the presence of a sufficient amount of qi. A qi deficiency could be considered as a lack of energy that can result in pain, suffering and illness.

Causes Of Qi Deficiency

Studies have revealed that there is a possible range of factors that can lead to a qi deficiency. Few experts believe that there could be a link between qi deficiency and ageing. Few also believe that an imbalanced qi is related to chronic medical ailments such as hypertension, stroke or heart disease [3] . The body's qi is also affected by one's diet, habits from birth and emotions. Therefore, it keeps changing.

Chronic stress and sleep deprivation have been found to be the two main reasons behind an imbalanced qi. When the stress hormone cortisol is elevated, it can interfere with the body's immune function and thus increase the risk of depression [4] . Home remedies such as Ashwagandha are said to be quite beneficial in lowering cortisol levels.

The following are some of the other causes of qi deficiency [5] :

  • Lyme disease
  • Relationship problems
  • Unresolved emotional issues
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Food sensitivities
  • Environmental factors (such as polluted air)

Symptoms Of Qi Deficiency

Symptoms of qi imbalance can vary widely as each process and each organ of the body has its own qi associated with it. A qi deficiency occurs in a particular organ when there is not much energy for it to perform its specific functions.

However, in general, the following are some of the signs and symptoms of a qi deficiency [6] :

  • Liver disease
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Infertility
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Allergies
  • Higher susceptibility to infections
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Shortness of breath
  • Spontaneous sweating
  • A weak pulse
  • A swollen tongue
  • Poor digestion, loose stools
  • Anaemia
  • Poor circulation
  • Memory loss
  • Dry skin, brittle hair
  • Emotional exhaustion

Connection Between Qi And The Spleen

Eastern medicine and Western medicine view the role of the spleen in the human body quite differently. In Western medicine, it is basically considered a part of the immune system and is not generally treated as a vital organ [7] . This is so because people can ideally survive without one, if necessary.

However, Eastern medicine believes that spleen plays an important role in the human body and is also considered as the central element that takes care of food distribution and digestion. This is so because it is said that spleen is responsible for extracting qi from whatever we eat [8] . Therefore, if you are experiencing a lack of energy, then the affected spleen is most often considered as the primary suspect.

Diagnosis Of Qi Deficiency

Once you approach a TCM practitioner with your problem, you will need to first provide a detailed medical history. This would be followed by a physical examination which would identify the pattern of disharmony. The practitioner would focus on paying attention to your tongue (this is the best way to determine ailments in TCM).

Practitioners of TCM say that the tongue is a strong indication of a person's harmony or disharmony [9] . A pale tongue indicates a qi deficiency. A course of treatment can be developed once the pattern and source of disharmony are identified.

Treatments For Qi Deficiency

TCM believes in treating the body as a whole rather than just merely addressing symptoms. For instance, while in Western medicine, a practitioner would treat tiredness with stimulants, a TCM expert would address the issues causing the fatigue. Making a few changes in the diet and lifestyle can help in balancing qi [10] .

  • Take ample rest: Usually, people who work too hard tend to have qi deficiency. For balancing qi, TCM practitioners recommend focusing on rest. It is advisable that one takes sufficient breaks throughout the day, makes time to take a nap, etc. Indulging in relaxing activities such as yoga can help in balancing qi.
  • Improve sleep patterns: Stressed people usually lack a proper sleep pattern. Improving sleep patterns might benefit them in a great way. Studies reveal that excessive stress is bad both for the body and the brain. Stress activates the brain at night preventing sound sleep. Ensure that you have a set time to go to bed and wake up each day. Aim for at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Eat a nourishing diet: Apart from sleep, the majority of body energy is obtained from one's diet. When qi is imbalanced, one should focus on a healing diet consisting of fermented foods, healthy fats, protein foods, etc.
  • Spend time with loved ones: Fostering good relationships is one of the keys to long-term happiness. This is also the best way to beat stress. Being lonely increases stress hormones and might turn down immunity. Being socially connected is essential for supporting strong qi.
  • Reduce consumption of foods that tend to be toxic to the liver: TCM experts say that the liver is the hardest working organ of the body. Its wellness is crucial for one's overall well-being. Symptoms of a poor digestive system function closely mimic those of a hormonal imbalance. The more toxic substances you intake, the harder it gets for the liver to restore homeostasis. The best way to help cleanse your liver and fight qi liver stagnation is by avoiding unnecessary medicines, using glass and stainless steel to store food or water, trying to eat more organic foods, reducing intake of alcohol and maintaining healthy body weight.

Diet To Overcome A Qi Deficiency

To keep qi balanced, TCM experts recommend eating foods that are good for the spleen [11] .

Foods to eat

  • Lightly cooked vegetables, fruits and nuts
  • Fermented foods, including kimchi and kefir
  • Energizing fats such as salmon, olive oil, coconut oil, avocados
  • Adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng
  • Lentils
  • Miso soup
  • Orange peels
  • Mustard leaf
  • Root vegetables such as taro and sweet potato
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Malted grain beverages
  • Pumpkin

Foods to avoid

  • Citrus fruits
  • Pork
  • Banana
  • Refined sugar
  • Refined grains
  • Fried or salty foods
  • Yeasty foods such as beer or dough
  • Dairy products
  • Iced drinks
  • Refrigerated foods

On A Final Note...

Although there is little scientific evidence for qi deficiency, many people feel that applying concepts of resolving qi deficiency have improved their lives in a great way. Nevertheless, if your symptoms persist, it is always wise to get yourself checked by a general medical practitioner apart from your regular TCM healthcare expert.

View Article References
  1. [1] Mun, S., Kim, S., Bae, K. H., & Lee, S. (2017). Cold and Spleen-Qi Deficiency Patterns in Korean Medicine Are Associated with Low Resting Metabolic Rate.Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM,2017, 9532073.
  2. [2] Leong, P. K., Wong, H. S., Chen, J., & Ko, K. M. (2015). Yang/Qi invigoration: an herbal therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome with yang deficiency?.Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM,2015, 945901.
  3. [3] Ma, K., Chen, J., Kuang, L., Bi, J., Cheng, J., Li, F., … Zhao, X. (2018). Qi-Deficiency Related Increases in Disease Susceptibility Are Potentially Mediated by the Intestinal Microbiota.Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM,2018, 1304397.
  4. [4] Chang, M. C., Shapiro, D., Joshi, A., Shahabi, L., Tan, S., Smith, S., … Naliboff, B. D. (2014). Stress reactivity in traditional Chinese medicine-based subgroups of patients with irritable bowel syndrome.Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.),20(4), 276–283.
  5. [5] Yao, W., Yang, H., & Ding, G. (2013). Mechanisms of Qi-blood circulation and Qi deficiency syndrome in view of blood and interstitial fluid circulation.Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine,33(4), 538-544.
  6. [6] Cheng, S. C., Lin, C. H., Chang, Y. J., Lee, T. H., Ryu, S. J., Chen, C. H., … Hung, Y. C. (2013). Fire-heat and Qi deficiency syndromes as predictors of short-term prognosis of acute ischemic stroke.Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.),19(8), 721–728.
  7. [7] Tarantino, G., Savastano, S., Capone, D., & Colao, A. (2011). Spleen: A new role for an old player?.World journal of gastroenterology,17(33), 3776–3784.
  8. [8] Xiang, T., Yang, Z., Sun, B., Luo, H., Zhang, S., Ren, B., ... & Chen, Z. (2016). Traditional Chinese medicine: Pivotal role of the spleen in the metabolism of aristolochic acid I in rats is dependent on oatp2a1.Molecular medicine reports,14(4), 3243-3250.
  9. [9] Anastasi, J. K., Chang, M., Quinn, J., & Capili, B. (2014). Tongue Inspection in TCM: Observations in a Study Sample of Patients Living with HIV.Medical acupuncture,26(1), 15–22.
  10. [10] Jiang, H. W., Qian, Z. H., & Weng, W. L. (1992). Clinical study in treating qi-deficiency and blood-stasis syndrome of angina pectoris with qi xue granule.Zhongguo Zhong xi yi jie he za zhi Zhongguo Zhongxiyi jiehe zazhi= Chinese journal of integrated traditional and Western medicine,12(11), 663-5.
  11. [11] Zhu, Y., Shi, H., Wang, Q., Wang, Y., Yu, X., Di, J., … Yan, H. (2017). Association between Nine Types of TCM Constitution and Five Chronic Diseases: A Correspondence Analysis Based on a Sample of 2,660 Participants.Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM,2017, 9439682.
Read more about: deficiency spleen
Story first published: Sunday, April 28, 2019, 9:00 [IST]
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