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Qi and Yang Tonics

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A Qi Tonic is used when Qi is deficient or weak. A Yang Tonic is used when Yang is deficient or weak.

Qi, with respect to the organs of the body, is basically energy. It is not really that simple, but, we can start with that definition and grow our understanding from there. Qi is the energy of the body or of the organs within. Qi is what our bodies run on. It is responsible for the proper functioning of the organs, holding the organs in place, warming and animating the body. When Qi is weak, the organs can not function as well as they should.

Contrast Qi with Yang. Yang is the function of the organ. If the organ is not functioning as well as it should be, it is considered Yang Deficient. In practice, if you have one deficiency, the other will likely be deficient as well. It is important to distinguish between the two even though they will both be occurring to some degree at the same time anyway. 

Finally there is the Yin of an organ to consider. Yin is the substance of the physical organ itself- the structure. If the Yin is deficient, the organ is damaged to some extent. This doesn’t mean Yin Deficiency is terminal or requires an operation. It does mean that the weakness has penetrated to the structure of the organ.

When Qi is weak, Yang will become weak. If Yang is allowed to remain weak for long enough, then Yin will become affected- It will become weak, too. It is important to address the weakness early on so that it doesn’t affect the organ at deeper levels. It is easier to correct a Qi Deficiency than a Yin Deficiency. Even if you do begin treatment at the Yin Deficiency stage, at some point, you will also need to treat the underlying Yang and Qi deficiencies as well.

Chinese Medicine looks at symptoms that Western Medicine doesn’t even consider. If a Chinese Doctor were to diagnose a Qi deficiency, a Western Doctor may not even see anything wrong. This is because they are looking for different signs. Even at the more serious Yin Deficiency level, a Western Doctor wouldn’t necessarily recognize an actual disease. For example, if we were talking about Liver Yin Deficiency, it would not necessarily show up as something like Cirrhosis. Given time, however, it could possibly become that serious.

Because of this, Chinese Medicine can often catch and correct problems earlier than Western Medicine. Correcting problems earlier is easier and less costly than correcting them later. The down side to this is that diagnosis is difficult in the earliest stages. Difficult, but, not impossible.

Deficient Qi manifests as one or more of the following symptoms:

1) General weakness
1) Lethargy
1) Pale complexion
1) Pale tongue
1) Weak, empty pulse
1) Spontaneous sweating

No one individual will have all of the symptoms, but, a combination of a few of them in varying degrees, especially a weak pulse and pale complexion, would be a good indication of an overall Qi Deficiency.

When a particular organ or organ system is Qi Deficient, there will be more symptoms that pertain to that organ. For example, Stomach Qi Deficiency might include a poor appetite; Lung Qi Deficiency might include shallow breathing.

Deficient Qi and Deficient Yang usually occur together. For this reason, you might expect to find a slow pulse, cold extremities, a feeling of cold and a preference for warmth and/or a swollen tongue. These are all symptoms of Cold in the body. Warming the body belongs to Yang (the function of warming the body.) When Yang is deficient, there is less warmth.

Treatment of both Qi Deficiency and Yang Deficiency is similar. Both would require strengthening the Qi. Yang Deficiency would include some treatment to warm the interior of the body as well. As it turns out, many of the Qi Tonics are also considered Yang Tonics. For example, Ginseng and Royal Jelly is a Qi Tonic and a Yang Tonic. Its effect is to strengthen the stomach and lungs. This makes the absorption of Qi from food and air more efficient. When these organs function better, the whole body benefits from abundant Qi. Chinese Ginseng also warms the body making it a Yang Tonic. If your need is a Qi Tonic (more energy) and a Yang Tonic (warming), this might be a product you would choose.

If your need doesn’t include warming the body, if you are only looking for more energy, that is, if you don’t feel cold in your extremities, then consider a Qi Tonic that is not also a Yang Tonic or one that is less of a Yang Tonic. American Ginseng is a Qi Tonic similar to Chinese Ginseng. It benefits the Stomach and Lung in the same way as Chinese Ginseng, but, does not warm the body nearly as much. Chinese Ginseng is not more potent than American Ginseng, it just has a slightly different effect with regard to its Yang nature (Chinese Ginseng is more Yang that American Ginseng.)

Also, you must realize that your symptoms will change over time. If you are Qi deficient and take a Qi Tonic, you should see an improvement in the symptoms that made you think you were Qi Deficient in the first place. If an improvement doesn’t happen, reconsider your need. If you still believe you need a Qi Tonic, try a different product. Everyone is different and different herbs work better in different situations. If you still don’t see an improvement or worse, you find that your symptoms become worse, you should stop taking the herbs and seek professional advice. Don’t continue to treat yourself if it’s not working for you.

If you are treating yourself for a Yang Deficiency, you should soon see an improvement in the symptoms. When you no longer feel cold, for example, stop taking the Yang Tonic. You might want to switch to a Qi Tonic at that point to continue to build up your strength. When you have fully recovered, you can stop taking the Qi Tonic altogether or continue taking it at a reduced dosage. Instead of twice a day, maybe just take it once a day or every other day. Keep watch on how you feel. If you feel fine without it, then you don’t need it anymore. If you feel better when you take it once a day, then that is what you need. Continually monitor your health and react as necessary. When your symptoms change, your treatment should change.

I think I should also mention at this point that if you continue to take a Yang Tonic when you no longer need one, your condition may become one of Yin Deficiency through damage of the Yin (substance and moisture) by excessive heat. If your symptoms initially include or change to include a feeling of heat in the body or chest, congestion in the chest or abdomen, bloating in the abdomen, or elevated blood pressure, stop taking the Yang and Qi Tonics immediately. These symptoms should return to normal in a few days. If they don’t, seek professional advice. Once your symptoms of heat have subsided, you may resume taking a Qi Tonic as necessary. Always watch for changes in your symptoms.

Since the nature of Chinese Ginseng is quite Yang, if you are not certain that you need to strengthen your Yang, select American Ginseng instead.

Also, Qi and Yang tonics are not appropriate when you have a cold or flu. Taking these may force the disease to go deeper making recovery more difficult and take longer.

We’ve discussed general Qi and Yang tonics. We have not talked about deficiencies of specific organs. The diagnosis of a specific organ as deficient is more complicated because of its interactions with the other organs. If you determine that you have a Qi Deficiency and treat it with a general Qi Tonic, this will help to bring more Qi into you body which will tend to circulate to all the organs as required.


Ed Reinhard
Golden Light Herbs 


©GoldenLightHerbs 2011

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