Healing the Gallbladder with Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The Gallbladder in Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine, the Gallbladder has many important functions. Firstly, it has a very close relationship to the Liver. The Gallbladder is a Yang organ and the Liver is its Yin organ partner. The Gallbladder stores and excretes bile governs decision making and planning, controls the sinews and effects dreams. On a deeper emotional level, the Gallbladder is responsible for our passion for life, inspiration, action, and assertiveness. When we are having problems being assertive, making decisions or following through, are lacking passion, feeling timid or uninspired, we are experiencing an imbalance of the Gallbladder. When the Gallbladder is balanced and its energy is flowing freely, we are happy, healthy, assertive and passionate.

In TCM, organs are categorized as either Yin or Yang. Yin organs are defined as organs that produce, transform, regulate and store fundamental substances, such as Qi, Blood and body fluids, and in general, the Yin organs are not empty cavities. They are function versus form. The Yin organs in TCM are the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lungs, and Kidneys. The Yang organs are organs that are mainly responsible for digestion and for transmitting nutrients to the rest of the body. Usually, they are organs with empty cavities and have a connection to the outside of the body. The Yang organs in TCM are the Gallbladder, Stomach, Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Bladder and San Jiao (Triple Burner).

The Gallbladder is unusual in the sense that it is the only Yang organ that does not have direct contact with food and drink or a direct connection to the outside of the body. Because of this, it is also considered an extraordinary organ.

Just as in Western medicine, the Gallbladder receives bile from the Liver which it stores until it is needed in the digestive process. When the Gallbladder releases bile, it is considered to be regulated by the energy of the Liver, or Liver Qi. When digestion is smooth, so is the Liver Qi. The Gallbladder also needs the Liver Qi to be able to release its bile smoothly. If this relationship is impaired, it can adversely affect digestion and cause problems like vomiting, regurgitation, belching and hiccups, which are all symptoms of rebellious Stomach Qi.

It is common in the modern age to see many patients who have had their Gallbladders removed because of gallstones and other problems. In ancient China, the organs were never removed. That has remained the thinking in Traditional Chinese Medicine today, and if a patient is having problems with their Gallbladder, the practitioner of TCM would always explore dietary options, herbs and acupuncture, and possibly cleanses before considering surgery as a last resort.

Why Do So Many People Have Problems With Their Gallbladders?

So, why do so many people have problems with their Gallbladders? It is a good question. I believe that one reason is diet, and the other is stress. These are 2 of the things that affect the gallbladder the most. Another, in Chinese medicine, is the emotions. Each organ in TCM is associated with an emotion. And the Liver/Gallbladder’s emotion is anger. Now, experiencing emotions is a healthy part of life and one of the things that make us human. But in TCM, the philosophy is that having a healthy emotional life is just as important to our health as eating well, getting enough sleep and keeping your Qi strong (your immune system) so that you can fight off pathogens. The effect of anger on the Liver/Gallbladder works 2 ways.

1. If you repress anger, hold it in and never express it, it will eventually hurt the Liver/Gallbladder and cause imbalance, which will lead to disease.

2. If you are experiencing unusual levels of stress because of things going on in your life (a traumatic event, death, an illness, breakup of a relationship), or stress at work, and/or are eating badly (lots of greasy, fatty, rich or spicy foods), then eventually, the Liver/Gallbladder will become impaired and can cause an excess of anger which can manifest in symptoms like red face & eyes, irritability, angry outbursts, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and migraines. These are symptoms of Liver Fire (excess heat in the Liver).

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So, How Can You Take Care of Your Gallbladder?

Here are some things that you can do to keep your Gallbladder healthy and happy.

1. Avoid Greasy, Fatty, Rich or Spicy Foods

Sharp abdominal pains after eating these types of foods point to Gallbladder stones and other problems. Because the Gallbladder is responsible for releasing bile which helps break down fats, you want to keep intake of these foods to a minimum and not overload your Gallbladder.


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2. Express Emotions Freely

This may be easier said than done, but any stagnation or blockage in TCM is what causes disease and pain. This includes emotions, so it is important to have a healthy emotional life, and always try to express what you are feeling instead of allowing it to build up. Emotions specific to Gallbladder are anger (frustration, resentment, etc..) associated with its partner, the Liver. Emotional changes such as depression (which is considered anger turned inward) can also point to a Gallbladder imbalance.

3. Eat Foods Grown Locally and in Season

This is a big one in Chinese Medicine, and, if you look at history, it is the way we are designed to eat. Our digestive systems have evolved to digest the foods that people were able to grow once we were able to leave our nomadic roots and start farming. People only ate foods that were available to them and grew in the present season. With the recent proliferation of air travel, we have been spoiled by being able to have whatever foods we want, any time of the year (strawberries in winter, blueberries in the tropics, mangoes in the far North...). And although this is wonderful, it is not the way our digestive systems were designed, so we are overloading them with too many kinds of foods at all times of the year. To be kind to your gallbladder, try to eat foods that grow locally and are available in the season you are presently in.

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In Chinese Medicine, nutritional therapy is a huge aspect of the medicine. What better way to heal the body than to use the food that we eat 3 times a day? In TCM, every food has a temperature, that interacts with your body, adding heat, cold, or keeping it neutral. Foods also all have healing properties, so the Chinese felt it very important to eat the proper foods when they became sick to help rebalance them so they could recover. I will include a list of some foods beneficial for the Gallbladder at the end of this article.

4. Exercise. Keep Moving!

The Gallbladder meridian runs bilaterally along the body starting at the outside corner of the eye (at the end of the eyebrow) and runs along the side of the body, ending at the corner of the nail bed of the 4th toe. Therefore, any exercise that stimulates the sides of the body are beneficial for the flow of Qi and to help remove any blockages in the Gallbladder organ and meridian. Side stretches are ideal. There are many Chinese internal as well as external martial arts that are excellent for mind, body, and spirit. Tai Chi and Qi Gong are 2 examples of internal martial arts that are beneficial for moving Qi in all of the meridians, as well as strengthening the body and the mind. Kung Fu is a bit more rigorous, but has an emphasis is circulating Qi throughout the body to maintain physical and mental health. Movement is the most important aspect for keeping your Qi from stagnating, so if Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Kung Fu are a bit more physical activity than you are used to, just simple things like walking are a wonderful way to keep Qi moving.

 

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5. Be Kind to Your Gallbladder in Spring

Spring is the season related to the Gallbladder, and its partner the Liver.
The Spring element is wood, the taste, sour and the colour is green. So you can imagine after a lengthy winter, the new bright green shoots of plants breaking through the ground representing new life after a long, cold slumber. This is the reason that it is especially important to give the Gallbladder and the Liver a rest from things like caffeine, alcohol and other intoxicants during this time. It is also beneficial to cleanse these organs by drinking lots of water and eating things like fresh greens to nourish the Gallbladder and Liver, especially in the spring.

6. Know What Time It Is

In Chinese medicine, every organ is seen to have 2 hours out of every 12 where its Qi is at its peak. The time when the Gallbladder’s energy is it's most abundant is between 11pm-1am. During these 2 hours, it is helpful if you can refrain from drinking alcohol or other intoxicants, as they place unnecessary stress on the Gallbladder. It also helps the Gallbladder if you can rest the body as much as possible in these 2 hours.

Foods that are beneficial to the Gallbladder

  • Broccoli
  • Rocket
  • Beetroot
  • Oranges
  • Jasmine tea
  • Green tea
  • Radishes
  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Cayenne (this may seem contradictory, but Cayenne is very moving for qi. Just remember moderation!)
  • Dill
  • Chive
  • Cardamom
  • Lemon
  • Dandelion root
  • Licorice root
  • Cumquat
  • Grapefruit
  • Kale
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Peppermint tea
  • Chrysanthemum tea
  • Tea with orange peel

 

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Foods that hurt the Gallbladder

  • Deep fried food - (Greasy)
  • Alcohol - (Damp)
  • Spicy foods - (remember moderation is important!)
  • Hot foods - Foods that are considered “Hot” in TCM are:
    • Lamb
    • Beef
    • Curry

If you are experiencing any Gallbladder symptoms, or have been told by your doctor that you should consider surgery, I encourage you to seek out a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and explore the non-surgical options to rebalance your body and heal your Gallbladder.

The wonderful thing about Chinese medicine is that it was developed to be a system that focuses on prevention. That is why, it is not only the oldest medical system on earth, but it teaches an entire way of life, teaching how to live in harmony with nature, eating with the seasons, moderation in work and play, exercise and emotional wellness. By practicing these basic principles, Chinese medicine teaches that you can maintain optimum health so that illness never has a chance to develop.

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If you suspect you are having problems with your gallbladder and would like an expert opinion, Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP offers skype consultations. For more information and pricing, see our Skype Consult Page.


The Healing Properties of Cayenne Pepper

Yes, the effect of cayenne pepper on your body is dramatic, even literally instant and no more so than with the heart. Cayenne pepper's benefits is one of the things that brought you to this article so now let’s discuss the phenomenal healing properties of cayenne pepper with the human heart.

Dr. John Christopher, the famed natural herbalist, was persecuted relentlessly by the government for his practice of herbal medicine all the while assisting patients in curing heart disease, cancer, tuberculosis, infertility, rheumatism, leukemia, and every other incurable under the sun.

One of his greatest stories in his long career was how he could instantly stop a heart attack if he could get the patient to drink a glass of warm cayenne water. He said, "A teaspoon of cayenne should bring the patient out of the heart attack."

While this is not directly related to cayenne pepper and heart health, with internal hemorrhaging, if the patient can drink a glass of extra warm cayenne water, Dr. Christopher wrote, "...by the count of ten the bleeding will stop. Instead of all the pressure being centralized, it is equalized and the clotting becomes more rapid."

Perhaps now you can see why cayenne pepper is regarded as a true "miracle herb." With over 700,000 thousands Americans experiencing a stroke each year and almost half a million dying yearly of either heart disease or related issues, believe it not the cure is as close as your local health food establishment. How should you take cayenne? Ideally orally in a drink.

The cayenne pepper drink, when taken faithfully, will dramatically improve your heart health as well as your venous structure. Drink it with warm distilled water but if that is unavailable, purified water will substitute nicely. Start by mixing about a quarter of a teaspoon in a glass of warm water. Then, down the hatch. Don't worry, you'll get used to it.

Of course, the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) rating of the cayenne pepper you're using should be known. Most cayenne is between 30,000 to 50,000 SHUs.

Some, though, like the African Birdseye cayenne pepper powder can come in anywhere from 90,000 to 140,000! Needless to say, you should scale back your dosages of this until your body acclimates to its heat.

Another benefit of cayenne peppers is its antifungal properties. Cayenne pepper antifungal properties are significant although this is not its primary health benefit. Cayenne has been shown in some studies to be active against phomopsis and collectotrichum -- both are fungal pathogens.

These fungal pathogens affect fruits especially strawberries and are not directly related to humans. Currently, cayenne immune system benefits are also the subject of studies conducted by many nutritional supplement companies and microbiologists.

Let's get even more specific. Here is a comprehensive list of all the things cayenne can do for your health and why you should make it a regular part of your daily health regime.

(I take this information from Dr. John R. Christopher's book School of Natural Healing.) By the way, the word "capsicum" is another term for cayenne pepper and is used interchangeably. That is how Dr. Christopher referred to cayenne in his book.


Food as Medicine

Dietary therapy provides a powerful tool for correcting disharmonies and is used in conjunction with acupuncture, herbal therapy and Qi Gong to restore balance to the Essential Substances, Organ Systems and channels.

Article from http://www.shen-nong.com/eng/lifestyles/food_property_food_tcm.html

What are the energies, flavors and other properties of food?

In Western diet, foods are evaluated for proteins, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutritional contents. However in Chinese diet (and that includes herbs), one looks for not only vitamins and minerals but also the energetic properties of food like energy, flavor and movement. Other less importance aspects include meridian tropism and common and organic actions. These refer to specific internalorgans or the meridians on which the foods can act. For example, celery acts on the stomach and lungs, carrot on the lungs and spleen.
According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), foods are just as herbs that can be selected and prepared appropriately to tonify, cleanse and regulate the body.

1. The five energies of foods
Chinese tea is considered to have "cool" energy even though it is a hot drink.

The energies of foods refer to their capacity to generate sensations - either hot or cold - in the human body. The five kinds of energy are cold, hot, warm, cool and neutral, and this refers not to the state of the food but its effect on our bodies. For example, tea has a cool energy, it means that when we drink hot tea, it generates cool energy and it is therefore considered a cool beverage. Shortly after you have drunk hot tea, the heat begins to fade quickly and it begins to generate cool energy internally, allowing your body to cool off.

Here are some food samples with different energies.

Energy generated Food samples
Yin Cold Bamboo shoot, chrysanthemum, bitter gourd, lotus root, water chestnut, root of kudzu vine, wild rice stem, angled luffa, sugar cane, tomato, watermelon, banana, pomelo, grapefruit, persimmon, mulberry, star fruit, preserved jellyfish, seaweed, kelp, cuttlefish, crabs, sea clams, snails, pig's bone marrow, sprouts, water spinach, watercress, lettuces, arrowhead, salt and soya sauce.
Yin Cool Millet, barley, wheat, buckwheat, coix seed, eggplant, cucumber, wax gourd, loofah, Chinese radish, lettuce root, celery, peppermint, broccoli, cauliflower, leaf mustard, spinach, Peking cabbage, Chinese cabbage, amaranth, Indian lettuce, lily bulb, pea, mung bean, pears, muskmelon, apple, pineapple, coconut, strawberry, orange, tangerine, loquat fruit, mango, papaya, water caltrop, tea leaf, bean curb, mushrooms, lily flower, duck egg, egg white, pig skin, rabbit meat, conch, frogs, sesame oil, cream, yogurt and cheese.
Balanced yin and yang Neutral Round-grained rice, corn, taro, sweet potato, potato, turnips, carrot, cabbage, radish leaf, beetroot, fuzzy melon, soybeans, adzuki beans, peanut, cashew nut, pistachio nut, lotus seed, black sesame, sunflower seed, plums, fig, grapes, lemon, olives, white fungus, black fungus, shiitake mushroom, sea shrimps, loach, pork, duck, goose, oyster, beef, quail, sea eels, egg yolk, quail egg, royal jelly honey, milk, soybean milk, rock sugar and sugar.
Yang Warm Coriander, Chinese chives, onion, leeks, green onion, asparagus, sweet peppers, sword bean, spearmint, Garland chrysanthemum, pomegranate, apricot, peach, cherry, litchi, longan fruit, raspberry, chestnut, pumpkin, glutinous rice, dates, walnut, pine nut, mussels, fresh water eels, sea cucumber, carps, abalone, hairtail, lobster, fresh water shrimps, chicken, mutton, sparrow, venison, pig's liver, ham, goat milk, goose egg, sparrow egg, maltose, brown sugar, cumin, clove, fennel, garlic, ginger (fresh), dill seed, nutmeg, rosemary, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn, sweet basil, sword bean, tobacco, coffee, vinegar, wine, vegetable oil, rose bud, osmanthus flowers and jasmine.
Yang Hot Black pepper, cinnamon, ginger(dried), chili pepper, and mustard seed.
Ginger is pungent in flavor, warm in energy and tends to move upward and outward.

It is important to know about the energies of food because different energies act upon the human body in different ways and affect our state of health. If a person suffers from cold rheumatism and the pain is particularly severe on cold winter day, eating foods with a warm or hot energy shall relieve the pain considerably. Or if a person suffers from skin eruptions that worsen when exposed to heat, it is beneficial to eat foods with a cold or cool energy to relieve the symptoms.

To seek a balance in diet, we can define food as predominantly yin or yang. If you eat predominantly yin foods, your body will be capable of producing more yin energy - darker, slower-moving and colder. In contrast, eating predominantly yang foods will produce more yang energy - faster, hotter and much more energetic. It's helpful to remember certain rules to determine the type of energy a food produces:

If it grows in the air and sunshine, it is probably yang;
If it grows in the earth and darkness, it is probably yin;
If it is soft, wet and cool, it is more yin;
if it is hard, dry and spicy, it is more yang.
2. The five flavors of foods
Bean curd is sweet in flavor, cool in energy and tends to move downward and inward.

The Chinese think flavor is very important because it helps to send nutrition via the meridians to the correspondingorgans. If we eat a balanced meal with many tastes, we feel satisfied and don't binge. The five flavors of food include pungent (acrid), sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

Different flavors have their respective important effects upon the internal organs:
Flavors Organs affected Effects Food samples
Pungent Lung
Large intestine
Promote distributions and circulations, and stimulate appetite. Fresh ginger, onion, leeks, green onion, Sichuan peppercorn, garlic, celery, coriander, Chinese chives, fennel, spearmint, Chinese radish, radish leaf, chili pepper, sweet peppers, turnips, taro, leaf mustard, Shanghai cabbage, cinnamon, tangerine peel, kumquat, mustard seed and wine.
Sweet Stomach 
Spleen
Slow down acute reactions and neutralize the toxic effects of other foods, and also lubricate and nourish the body. Honey, dates, shiitake mushroom, taro, sweet potato, potato, pumpkin, carrot, glutinous rice, peas, soybean, rice, wheat, corn, sugar cane, peanut, milk, apple, pears, cherry, chestnut, grapes, lotus seed, longan aril, carps and abalone.
Sour Liver
Gall bladder
The astringent character helps to arrest abnormal discharge of fluids and other substances from the body, such as diarrhea, emission and heavy sweating. Lemon, tomatoes, pineapple, apple, strawberry, papaya, pears, loquat fruit, oranges, tangerines, peaches, hawthorn fruit, olives, pomegranate, plums, pomelo, mango, grapes, vinegar and royal jelly.
Bitter Heart
Small intestine
Clear heat, dry dampness, stimulate appetite, and promote lowering effects like urination and bowel movements. Bitter gourd, Indian lettuce, wine, vinegar, lotus leaf, tea leaf, turnips, apricot seed, lily bulb, gingko, plum kernel, peach kernel, seaweed, pig's liver, bergamot, arrowhead, asparagus, wild cucumber and coffee.
Salty Kidney
Bladder
Dissipate accumulations, soften hardness, nourish blood, and lubricate intestines to induce bowel movements. Amaranths, millet, barley, laver, preserved jellyfish, seaweed, kelp, sea clams, sea shrimps, oyster, crabs, sea cucumber, field snail, pork, pig's bone marrow, pig's blood, pig's organs, razor clam, dried mussel, ham, pigeon's egg, abalone, duck meat and cuttlefish.
Coix seed is bland and sweet in flavors, cool in energy and tends to move downward and inward.

Some foods may possess two different flavors or a bland flavor which means it has little or not taste. For example, cucumbers have both sweet and bland flavors. Foods with a bland flavor usually promote urination and may be used as diuretic, coix seed and wax gourd are outstanding examples of this kind. In addition, foods with a strong scent are categorized as "aromatic", such as basil, fennel, coriander, peppermint and citrus fruits. These foods can be eaten to enliven the spleen, stimulate appetite, promote qi(vital energy) circulation, resolve dampness and turbidity, refresh the mind, open up the orifices, and detoxify.

 

3. The movements of foods
Food acts on the body through specialized movements. Depending on the properties of food, food moves in different regions within the body and can driveqi (vital energy) in the same direction as well. TCM claims that disease is caused when any of the external or exogenous evils exert too much influence on our body, foods that have specialized movements can be used to counter these evils. For example, when a person suffers from mild flu (which caused by exogenous wind invasion), foods with a floating action such as green onion and fresh ginger can expel the evils out of the body.
TCM has classified the movements of foods into four aspects.
TCM food movements Actions Effects Food samples Associated properties of food
Lifting To move from lower region towards upper region The upward movements arrest diarrhea, and hold internal organs in their proper places (to prevent them prolapse or sinking) Wine Warm or hot in energy, pungent or sweet in flavor.
Floating To move from inside towards outside The outward movements induce perspiration and dissipate body heat Ginger
Lowering To move from upper region towards lower region The downward movements relieve vomiting, hiccupping, coughing and panting Salt Cool or cold in energy, sour or bitter or salty in flavor.
Sinking To move from outside towards inside The inward movements slow down bowel movements and relieve abdominal distention Vinegar
Lifting Lowering Floating Sinking
The four movements of food: upward, downward, outward and inward.
In general, foods like leaves and flowers and those with light and loose qualities possess a tendency to move upwards or outwards; while roots and seeds and fruits that are heavy and hard in qualities possess a tendency to move downwards or inwards. However there are many other exceptions and some foods can move in two directions e.g. lettuce possess both downward and inward movements.
Honey is sweet in flavor and neutral in energy, it can moisten the inner body, promote bowel movements, tonify the middle burner, slow down acute reactions, detoxify and lower blood pressure.

Two other terms are also used to describe the movements of foods: glossy (sliding) and astringent. Glossy foods such as honey, banana, white fungus and milk facilitate movement by acting as a lubricant. This is why these are good for constipation and internal dryness. On the other hand, astringent foods such as guava, plum, euryale seed and lotus seed slow down movement, which is good for diarrhea and seminal emission. The movements of foods can be changed through certain methods of cooking.


References

English References:
1. Chinese System of Food Cures Prevention & Remedies by Henry C. Lu.Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 1986.
2. The Tao of Food, Richard Craze and Ronifjay, 1999 Godsfield Press.
3. Chinese Food: a Holistic Therapy by Tom Neuhaus, www.hopedance.org
4. Medicinal Food in China by Junshi Chen, M.D. http://newcenturynutrition.com
5. Cooling the Summer with Food: An Introduction to Medicinal Foods by Yanfang Wang, M.D., Ph.D. http://newcenturynutrition.com
 

 

Beautiful feature image photo by Jenny Dorsey on Unsplash

 


The Importance of the Pulse: Chinese Pulse Diagnosis

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

Anyone who has ever been to see a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), will be familiar with having their pulse taken in the unique TCM way. We all know that the pulse tell us about heart rate, and that listening to the heartbeats speed and regularity are used to help diagnose heart problems in the Western medical model. The pulse in Chinese Medicine however, is used to give us a lot more information about the patient.

There is no stethoscope. The pulse is generally taken with the patient seated, the practitioner placing 3 fingers on the patients wrist, feeling for the radial artery. Each wrist's pulse is taken, and the position of each finger represents a specific organ. There are 6 organs represented, 3 on the right, and 3 on the left. There are 3 different depths at which the pulse is taken as well, each representing a different aspect of the overall health of the patient. The three wrist sections of the pulse are the front, middle and rear, respectively. The three levels are superficial (pressing lightly), middle (pressing a little deeper) and deep (pressing even deeper). The three levels at each of the three sections on the wrist are referred to as the “Nine Regions.”

LEFT WRIST

FRONT: HEART / SMALL INTESTINE

MIDDLE: LIVER / GALL BLADDER

REAR: KIDNEY / BLADDER

RIGHT WRIST

FRONT: LUNGS / LARGE INTESTINE

MIDDLE: SPLEEN / STOMACH

REAR: GATE OF VITALITY FIRE

These three levels of the pulse give an immediate idea of the level of Qi in the body and, therefore, the kind of pathological condition that might be present. In particular, the superficial level reflects the state of Qi (energy), the middle level reflects the state of Blood and the deep level reflects the state of Yin (the water aspect of the body). Thus, by examining the strength and quality of the pulse at these three levels, we get a better idea of the pathology of Qi, Blood and Yin, and of the relative state of balance in the body as a whole.

Any imbalance in Chinese medicine is seen to be the cause of disease, therefore the goal of the TCM practitioner is to discover the root of the imbalance by listening to the pulse, looking at the tongue, observing the body, and doing a thorough investigation of the patients medical history and presenting symptoms. Once all of the information has been collected, a diagnosis is reached and a treatment plan can be created for the patient according to their specific needs. The pulse is an important part of the diagnostic process in TCM, and although it may seem mysterious, there is a lot it can reveal about your health, your organs, energy level, and the overall condition of your internal environment.