QI deficiency explained in traditional Chinese medicine

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), qi is the vital energy that circulates through the body at all times. Practitioners believe that a qi deficiency is linked to the spleen and that rest and eating certain foods can treat the imbalance.

The concepts of TCM are not based in modern science but have their roots in ancient Chinese practices. TCM includes herbal remedies, acupuncture, and exercises such as tai chi or qigong.

While there is no scientific proof for qi or a deficiency of qi, many people understand these terms as ways to describe issues in the body as a whole — rather than taking the rigorous route that medical science does.

In this article, we will explore what a qi deficiency is, its symptoms and causes, and how it might be treated with rest and diet.

What is a qi deficiency?

According to TCM, qi is life force or vital energy. Everything in the world is made up of qi, including the physical body and the feelings a person has.

Followers and practitioners of TCM believe that to be balanced in life and free from physical or mental health issues, a person must have balanced qi. They suggest that illnesses or other conditions only appear when there is a qi imbalance or deficiency in the body.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) define qi as a vital energy that flows through the body, helping to maintain a person’s health. The NCCIH are interested in the ideas of TCM but do not focus on specific concepts, such as qi. Instead, the NCCIH take a more scientific view, looking at how these practices affect the body and their use in symptom management.

What are the symptoms?

Roughly translated, qi means energy, so, simply put, a qi deficiency means low energy. This low energy can affect the body as whole or just specific organs that cause different symptoms.

A general qi deficiency may cause some overall symptoms of fatigue and illness.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences uses the following five signs and symptoms to diagnose a qi deficiency:

  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath or no desire to talk
  • spontaneous sweating
  • a swollen tongue with teeth marks on the side
  • a weak pulse

Causes of qi deficiency

The study also outlines a range of possible factors that can lead to a qi deficiency.

The authors suggest that there could be a link between qi deficiency and aging.

Some practitioners believe that there is a relationship between qi deficiency and chronic medical diseases and their complications, such as heart disease, hypertension, or stroke.

Qi deficiency may also result from using too much qi in daily life. Many people in the western world are constantly working or on-the-go, leading busy lives, leaving no time to relax.

According to TCM, leading such a stressful life with little downtime may quickly drain the body of vital energy, making a person more susceptible to qi deficiency and the illnesses that follow. Think of qi deficiency as being burned out, a condition that can cause the symptoms and conditions associated with stress.

Treatments for qi deficiency

TCM places great importance on treating the body as a whole rather than merely managing symptoms. Where western medicine might treat tiredness with stimulants, such as coffee, TCM concerns itself with addressing the issues causing the fatigue in the first place.

There is little quality scientific research to support topics such as qi and qi deficiency, and most of the evidence for treating qi deficiency is anecdotal.

That said, many people may find relief from symptoms by making some changes in their diet and lifestyle to support their qi balance or using alternative therapies, such as acupuncture.

Focus on rest

People with qi deficiency may work too hard, are always on the go, and never have downtime. To help balance the qi in the body, many TCM practitioners recommend a heavy focus on rest.

This can include:

  • taking breaks throughout the day.
  • making time to take a nap.
  • doing relaxing activities, such as yoga, tai chi, or qigong.

Improve sleep patterns

People with a qi deficiency may have a tendency towards stress and may benefit from improving their sleep patterns. A study published in Experimental Neurobiology reports that excessive stress is bad for both the body and the brain. Stress may activate the brain at night, making sound sleep difficult.

Reducing stress levels may help a person sleep better and have more energy or qi throughout the day. Try to find a set time to go to sleep and wake up each day, and aim to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.

Best foods for a qi deficiency

TCM suggests that a qi deficiency might be influenced by the spleen, which carries qi to other parts of the body. This is why a qi deficiency might occur in any area of the body.

To balance qi, TCM practitioners recommend eating foods that are good for the spleen.

Foods to eat

A healthful diet for a balanced qi includes:

  • fermented foods for digestive health, including sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir
  • healthful, energizing fats, such as olive oil, salmon, coconut oil, and avocados
  • a wide variety of lightly cooked fruits, vegetables, and nuts
  • adaptogenic herbs, such as ginseng, should be taken under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner or trusted TCM practitioner

Foods that are good for spleen qi include yang tonic foods and qi-circulating foods. According to TCM, these foods might warm the spleen and increase energy flow to the body.

Foods to eat for spleen qi include:

  • lentils
  • quinoa
  • oats
  • malted grain beverages
  • root vegetables including sweet potato and taro
  • pumpkin and other squash
  • miso soup
  • orange peels
  • mustard leaf

Foods to avoid for spleen qi include:

  • refined sugar
  • refined grains
  • fried or salty foods
  • iced or refrigerated foods or drinks
  • dairy products
  • citrus fruits
  • pork
  • yeasty foods, such as beer or dough
  • banana

Spleen qi deficiency

In western medicine, the spleen is considered a non-vital organ. It is a small organ that helps filter blood and is part of the immune system, but people can live without it.

In TCM, the spleen is central to digestion and is considered a vital organ. The spleen is said to pull qi from all the foods we eat and deliver it to the rest of the body. When a TCM practitioner suspects a qi deficiency, they often look to treat the spleen first.

TCM pairs the stomach and spleen as the sources of digestion and the digestive system as a whole. Any imbalances in the spleen qi would create what western medicine calls gastrointestinal issues.

Spleen qi deficiency may cause symptoms such as:

  • loss of appetite
  • nausea or diarrhea
  • gas or bloating
  • varicose veins
  • hemorrhoids
  • acid reflux
  • trouble waking up in the morning
  • brain fog throughout the day
  • diabetes
  • eating disorders

Other types of qi deficiency

TCM works on the basis that qi is everywhere in the body, so a qi deficiency in one body system or organ might cause different symptoms to a qi deficiency in another. For example:

Symptoms of a heart qi deficiency may include:

  • sweating without exerting oneself
  • palpitations when moving
  • anxiety
  • nightmares or restless sleep
  • mood swings

Symptoms of a lung qi deficiency include:

  • a cough, which may be mild but continuous
  • shortness of breath
  • low speaking voice
  • a tendency to catch colds

Symptoms of a kidney qi deficiency include:

  • cold limbs
  • asthma
  • hair loss
  • urinary problems
  • very clear urine

10 home remedies for wheezing

Wheezing is a common symptom of various respiratory disorders that cause tightening in the throat. There are several ways a person can stop their wheezing at home without using an inhaler, but these will depend on the cause.

Wheezing happens when the airways are tightened, blocked, or inflamed, making a person’s breathing sound like whistling or squeaking. Common causes include a cold, asthma, allergies, or more serious conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Steam inhalation is an effective home remedy for wheezing.

The following home treatments for wheezing aim to open up the airways, reduce the irritants or pollution that a person breathes in, or treat the underlying causes of the wheezing.

If a person has asthma or another medical condition that causes wheezing, they should speak to our doctors in clinic and use the medications prescribed for it, such as an asthma inhaler.

Effective home remedies for wheezing include:

1. Steam inhalation

Inhaling warm, moisture-rich air can be very effective for clearing the sinuses and opening up the airways.Peppermint essential oil may have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. Research suggests that it may relax the muscles of the respiratory system, which could help to relieve wheezing and other respiratory problems.

If a steam bath does not appeal to you, a sauna room or hot shower can also help loosen congestion. Gently tapping on the back or chest and breathing deeply can help the steam work even better.

2. Hot drinks

Warm and hot drinks can help to loosen up the airways and relieve congestion.

Honey is a natural anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, so adding a teaspoon of honey to a hot drink may further improve a person’s symptoms.

A 2017 study found that eating one tablespoon of honey twice a day, along with other treatments, helped to relieve throat congestion.

Some people find that peppermint or other menthol teas work well. A person can try experimenting with different teas to find one that helps.

3. Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises may help with COPD, bronchitis, allergies, and other common causes of wheezing.

A 2009 study found that certain yoga-inspired breathing techniques could help with breathing difficulties related to bronchial asthma, including wheezing.

Breathing exercises often include deep, regular inhalations and exhalations. A doctor or respiratory therapist can help with deciding the most effective breathing techniques.

A person may find that they have trouble breathing during a panic attack. Deep breathing exercises can also assist here. It may help to try slow breathing, focusing on breathing deeply into the stomach, and counting breathes.

4. Humidifiers

A humidifier may help to reduce wheezing.

During the dry winter months, wheezing often gets worse. A humidifier in the bedroom can help loosen congestion and reduce the severity of wheezing.

A person can add peppermint or other oils to the water in the humidifier, though they should check the humidifier’s instructions before adding anything other than water.

5. Air filters

Many conditions that cause wheezing can get worse when the air is polluted or in response to allergens. A home air filter can reduce the presence of irritants that may trigger wheezing and breathing trouble.

6. Identifying and removing triggers

Chronic illnesses such as asthma and allergies may get worse in response to certain triggers, such as stress or allergens. Controlling these triggers, as much as possible, can help.

For instance, a person with a chronic respiratory condition who also has allergies might take allergy medication and avoid allergy triggers.

7. Allergy medications

People with allergies can benefit from a wide variety of allergy medications, including decongestants, corticosteroid tablets, and antihistamines.

Nasal sprays may be especially helpful to relieve a tight chest, congestion, and inflammation that can cause wheezing.

More severe allergies may require prescription allergy medication.

8. Allergy immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a process of retraining the immune system not to react to allergens.

The most common form of immunotherapy is allergy shots. A person may need several treatments, but over time, immunotherapy can reduce the frequency of wheezing.

Immunotherapy may also be helpful for people with other chronic conditions, such as COPD, who also have allergies.

9. Bronchodilators

Bronchodilators are medications that help relax the lungs and prevent the airways from narrowing. They can help with wheezing caused by COPD and asthma.

Bronchodilators come in two forms:

  • Short-acting bronchodilators. Sometimes known as rescue inhalers, these can stop an asthma or COPD attack.
  • Long-acting bronchodilators. This variety helps relax the airways over the long-term, reducing the frequency and severity of wheezing episodes.

Bronchodilators should be obtained from a doctor and can then be used at home, as needed.

10. Other medications

A wide variety of medications can treat wheezing that is due to underlying illness. A person who experiences wheezing due to a severe allergic reaction, for instance, may require epinephrine or corticosteroids.

People with heart health issues may take blood pressure medication or blood thinners to prevent further damage to the heart.

It is vital to discuss with a doctor whether medication might help, and how various medications may interact with one another.

Outlook

The long-term outlook for wheezing ultimately depends on its cause. Even when wheezing is due to a chronic illness, it can often be well-managed with medication and home treatments.

Ongoing medical care remains important, however, and people whose symptoms do not improve should consult a doctor. Consider tracking symptoms to identify any underlying triggers for symptoms.

If wheezing is causing concern, it is essential to remain calm, as panicking can worsen wheezing. Keep the breathing slow and regular and seek medical treatment when appropriate.

Even when wheezing is due to a serious medical condition, medications can improve symptoms.