top of page
  • Writer's pictureDr. Angela Palmer

The Five Elements

‘When the Body Says No. The hidden cost of stress’ is the name of a book by Gabor Mate that I have been reading over the last few weeks, and once again it never fails to astonish me how modern science confirms and clarifies the mechanisms behind the Ancient Truths from ancient medicine.

This book clearly outlines the damage stress does to the body and how the forms of stress act on different parts of the body that can result in chronic disease. Stress places pressure on the body’s coping systems, systems that have evolved over millennia to adapt to that stress. Stress can be good or bad, for instance a ‘good’ stress may be planning for a wedding or buying a new home. ‘Bad’ stress can be extreme like family conflict, work or money pressures. What this book, and ancient Five Element understanding confirms, is that different emotions if consistent and unrelenting, can damage the flow of hormones, endorphins and immune cells in such a way that we hear the body cry enough! Something has to change or these coping mechanisms will break down and you will not like it. The science of this is called Psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology, which is a big word for the inter-relationship between our minds, nervous system, our immune system and our endocrine (hormones) system.

The Five Element system breaks this down into a far simpler way of understanding this intricate and important inter-relationship. Each element pertains to an organ pairing which flows in a constant state of dynamic interaction within the whole of the Yin and Yang of us all.

The Fire element is the Heart and Pericardium. It governs the emotions of joy and is damaged by shock. The fire represents our passions, our identity and if we have hardened our hearts against the world as a reflex against shock and sadness, we will develop heart disease that is one of our biggest killers. It’s hard at times but remember to keep our hearts open and loving and not give too much of ourselves. It’s important to say ‘no’ sometimes and take time to nourish our own hearts in balance with giving.

The Earth Element represents the Stomach and Spleen. It is the Nurturer, the receiver of food and what we can digest. What we can and cannot stomach. Receiving and assimilating harmoniously is vital to our health. The emotions represented by this element are compassion and kindness and is damaged by pensiveness and worry. A major cause of digestive issues includes arguments at the dinner table and rushing your meals. ‘Rest and Digest’ is the parasympathetic response that is the opposite of the ‘fight/flight’ adrenaline response. We cannot do both at once.

The Metal Element (Air in Western traditional medicine) is the Lung. The Iron in our blood uptakes the oxygen from the air and carries it to every cell in our body. It is uplifted by conscious breathing such as meditation, singing, and connection to the universe/God/Prana and connection to your community. It is damaged by feeling isolated, by feeling grief and loss of connection.

The Water Element is the province of the Kidneys and Bladder. The element of water is one of perseverance, determination and strength of will. Water will always find its way back to the sea. Prolonged fear damages the Kidneys, it depletes not only the adrenal glands that sit on the kidneys, but the kidney essence itself. And with it the Hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal-axis (HPA), subsequently compromising the whole immune system. This is a big reason we need to move away from the dominance of fear that pervades in these times.

Finally the Wood Element governs the Liver and Gall Bladder. These organs represent growth, courage, decision making and learning. They are adversely affected by anger, frustration and repression. If repression goes on for too long, for instance in domestic, governmental or even self-oppression. We can be too rigid with ourselves at times! Be flexible like a tall tree in the wind as wood will natural rise up, such as the plant you see pushing through concrete in the pathway. As even anger, if used constructively can be useful, but too much anger leads to violence, depression and shame.

It is the interconnectedness of all the elements and emotions that flow constantly like the rise and fall of the ocean and the rising and setting of the sun. To be a healthy organism we must allow this flow and not get ‘stuck’ in any one of them. Even too much Joy can damage the heart if it is not tempered by reason.

So live, laugh, love and listen to your body and it’s requests. This is the path to good health.

Until Next time

Stay well

Dr Angela Palmer

Chinese medicine


bottom of page