by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.
Leaking Qi, or energy, describes the body’s inability to consolidate and hold in any type of fluid substance in the body. Leaking Qi is common because it relates to many different types of conditions.
In order to describe the different types of leakages, I will begin by describing the three divisions of the body according to Classical Chinese Medicine. These divisions are called burners, heaters, or energy centers and are associated in Chinese Medicine with the Triple Heater organ system.
The Triple Heater System
The Triple Heater, also referred to as the Triple Burner, is called in Chinese Medicine San Jiao, meaning three warmers.
According to Chinese Medicine, the Triple Heater system is an organ but it has no form. This is a system that essentially coordinates the organ functions of the body held within these three energetic centers and is responsible for maintaining overall metabolism within the body.
Imbalances in the Triple Heater system can lead to leakage of Qi that can then cause damage to the fluids and essence of the body.
The three energetic centers controlled by the Triple Heater are the lower abdomen (called the lower heater or Lower Jiao), the middle abdomen (called the middle heater or Middle Jiao) and the chest (called the upper heater or Upper Jiao).
The Lower Jiao located in the pelvic basin contains the genitourinary system responsible for reproduction and elimination. The Middle Jiao contains the organs of digestion, including the Spleen, Stomach, Pancreas and Small Intestine, and controls digestion and absorption of nutrients. The Upper Jiao contains the Heart, which controls circulation, and the Lungs, which control respiration.
It is through the action of these systems that fluid dynamics are maintained in the body. Depending on the type of leakage one may be experiencing, we can determine what heater, or Jiao, is out of balance and needs support.
Excess Sweating as a Form of Leaking Qi
Sweating easily or excessively is often associated with a weakness in the Upper and Middle Jiao. Sweating too easily is often due to the Qi of the Lungs being too weak to control the skin function to properly contain fluids. A weakness of the Lungs is often concurrent with a weakness of the Spleen since the Spleen supports the health of the Lungs. For example, if the Spleen is weak and overly damp due to a diet high in carbohydrates, sugar and dairy, then the Lung function will suffer and a person may tend to sweat too easily with or without exertion.
Sweating due to hot flashes is a different situation and is related to weakness in the Kidneys and Lower Jiao. Excessive sweating that occurs with hot flashes is usually a hormonal imbalance related to hyperactive adrenal glands and dryness of the sexual organs due to a depletion of Yin fluids. Lack of Yin fluids, coupled with hyperactivity of the adrenals that are trying to produce more Yin as the ovaries decline, generates a deficiency heat which induces sweating. Correction of this type of sweating is different than the Lung Qi weakness issue as it requires nourishment of Kidney Yin to relax the adrenals.
Both of these situations involving excess sweating and the leakage of Qi. If left uncorrected, leakage of Qi will damage one’s Constitutional Essence and accelerate aging.
Dietary Tips to Strengthen the Lungs and Reduce Excessive Sweating
From a dietary standpoint, for a weakness of Lung Qi causing excessive sweating, the use of compact fruits eaten on a daily basis are helpful to strengthen the Lung energy.
Compact fruits, including apples, pears, Asian pears, persimmons and quince tonify Lung Qi in Chinese Medicine.
Stewed pears and apples are especially nourishing to the Lungs but be aware that too much can lead to phlegm in the Lungs. For example, if a person has a lot of sinus congestion, eating these foods can exacerbate this condition.
Japanese persimmons are more useful to help stop sweating than Chinese persimmons. Japanese persimmons are higher in tannins which gives them a strong astringency affect on the body to deal with profuse sweating and prevent leakage of Qi.
Citrus fruits are also effective for tonifying Lung Qi.
Citrus is hydrating and high in vitamin C to boost the immune system. More sour citrus fruits are better astringents to stop sweating that causes leaking Qi.
Though lemon and lime are highly concentrated in citric acid, once ingested, they become alkalizing to your body and help balance an acidic terrain so they have a cooling affect on the body.
Too much citrus, however, will induce the opposite effect and induce heat. For example, drinking a lot of orange juice is not a healthy habit as it creates a lot of damp heat in the body in the form of excessive mucous which can then lead to sinus and ear infections over time. Consumption of orange juice during acute infection can cause chronic infection that is resistant to antibiotics.
Overall, since citrus, including oranges, produce a lot of fluid, they are especially good for dryness, but excess consumption can induce phlegm very easily when a person has a lot of dampness.
Infusing or steeping citrus peels in water is an especially effective way to support astringency without inducing the dampness that easily develops from drinking the juice.
Citrus peels are also used to produce essential oils. In Chinese Medicine, citrus oils help regulate Qi to reduce epigastric distention and bloating. These oils can simply be rubbed on the belly for immediate benefit.
Citrus essential oils contain a chemical called limonene, which has a plethora of potent health benefits. Limonene (also called d-limonene) makes up over 90% of orange oil and is found in citrus peels. It helps aid digestion for problems such as acid reflux. Limonene also helps support elimination by reducing sluggish bowel movements especially when Candida is involved. It's also been shown to help reduce cholesterol and improve Gallbladder function to improve bile flow and support fat digestion. In addition, limonene has been found to be helpful for weight loss as it suppresses appetite and regulates blood sugar.
Leaking Qi and the Middle Jiao
Leakage of Qi as it relates to the Middle Jiao, or middle burner, involves how the Spleen is managing blood. In Chinese Medicine, the Spleen’s Qi is responsible for containing the blood in the vessels. A person who bruises or hemorrhages easily likely has a weakness of the Spleen Qi.
Hemorrhaging can be associated with many conditions so a proper diagnosis is required to establish an accurate treatment protocol. With that said, hemorrhaging can occur in many ways. Hemorrhaging can include mid cycle breakthrough bleeding during menses, excessive menstrual bleeding with long periods, frequent nosebleeds, and can be as serious as gastric or intestinal bleeding or stroke involving bleeding in the brain.
The saying “Spleen Qi manages the blood” means that the Spleen keeps blood from leaking out of the vessels. Thus, varicosities are associated with weakness of Spleen Qi as well and if there is also edema in the legs due to venous insufficiency, the Kidney Qi may also need support.
Here are a few Western and Eastern herbs commonly used for the purpose of reducing leg edema and varicose veins:
- Butcher’s Broom is an evergreen shrub known to contain phytochemicals that are both anti-inflammatory and astringent to tighten up blood vessels and strengthen capillaries as well as reduce edema. Butcher’s Broom is also a folk remedy for hemorrhoids, another form of leakage of Qi due to a lack of vascular integrity,
- Chestnuts are good for strengthening the vascular system as well and Horse Chestnut seed extract has been known to be especially effective as a vascular anti-inflammatory and to strengthen weak veins and capillaries causing edema due to vascular insufficiency.
- *Gotu Kola is an Asian herb that has been successfully used to reduce edema and poor circulation leading to varicosities. Studies have also found Gotu Kola to be regenerative to the brain by supporting neuron growth.
- Gingko Biloba is another super herbal supplement to improve circulation in the brain and strengthen vascular integrity for the treatment of varicose veins which is a common type of leakage of Qi.
From a Chinese Medicine perspective, these herbs strengthen the vascular system and therefore also strengthen Spleen Qi. Herbs that reduce edema in the legs also strengthen Kidney Qi.
A simple dietary tip in Chinese Medicine for weakness of the Kidneys is to eat both toasted and raw sesame seeds as well as pumpkin seeds. And if a person is not urinating completely and this leads to edema, eat the sesame seeds with cucumber. This needs to be eaten at every meal of the day so it’s a big part of one’s diet.
Leaking Qi and the Lower Jiao
Incontinence is a common form of leakage of Qi that relates to the Lower Jiao, or lower heater. Getting up during the night to urinate is also a form of leaking Qi related to the Lower Jiao, and is due to deficiency of Kidney Qi.
Acupuncture is highly effective to improve incontinence.
Some of the most useful herbs in Chinese pharmacopeia that treat incontinence are commonly used in cooking. Many of these Chinese herbs are seeds, including lotus seed (Lian Zi), Astragali seed (Sha Yuan Zi), Euryales seed (Qian Shi) and Cherokee Rose Hip fruit (Jin Ying Zi).
From a dietary standpoint, seeds are important to strengthen the Kidneys. The primary seeds that target the Lower Jiao and the Kidneys are pumpkins seeds and sesame seeds. Small amounts should be eaten 3-5 times per day.
In general, foods that are high in zinc strengthen the Kidney system. Zinc is essential for the health of the prostate, which is part of the Kidney genitourinary system in Chinese Medicine. Foods highest in zinc are oysters, lamb, pork and grass fed beef. Toasted wheat germ, pumpkin and squash seeds are also potent food sources of zinc.
Leaking Qi is common and while challenging to one's health, it can usually be resolved with proper treatment and dietary modifications. Preventing the leakage of Qi is essential not only to have healthy levels of energy, but also to maintain one's constitutional Essence in order to slow down the aging process to achieve optimal health and longevity.
*I’ve used Gotu Kola with my 91 year old father who has moderate level dementia, swollen ankles and poor kidney function. After a few months of taking Gotu Kola twice daily, his mind is clearly working better, his ankle edema has reduced and his recent blood test showed his kidney function has improved. He is much more mentally alert and present than before he started Gotu Kola.
Please note: The information provided here is for educational purposes only and not intended for diagnosis or treatment. Please contact a licensed health provider for lifestyle, dietary and herbal recommendations specific to your condition.
Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac. is the Founder & Co-Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic run by he and his wife, Setareh Moafi, PhD, L.Ac. that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine. Salvador is a leading U.S. practitioner of Japanese Meridian Therapy, a rare form of non-insertion Acupuncture using Gold & Silver needles. More information at www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.