An introduction to how emotions impact health.


I feel that increasingly there is more clinical research out there proving the impact of emotions on our health.  Chinese medicine has known for centuries the connection between psycho emotional wellbeing and physiological symptoms.  

In this article, I am going to break down for you the basics of how emotions affect your health through the lens of Chinese medicine.  

Some of it may seem very simplistic, but what I have found through working with hundreds of clients is that actually some of the most simple principles have the most profound impact.  

Chinese medicine is based on the Taoist 5 elements.  The five elements are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal.  Each of the elements has an associated organ system, emotion, food, time of day etc.  Basically everything in life can be categorized into these elements.

The five yin organs of the body (kidneys, liver, heart, spleen and lungs) produce five kinds of essential Qi (circulating life force), which bring forth fear, anger, joy, worry and grief.  

Each of the organs is connected to one of the emotions.  

Kidneys = fear

Liver = anger

Heart = joy

Spleen = worry

Lungs = grief


Fear is a normal and adaptive human emotion. But when it becomes chronic and when the perceived cause of the fear cannot be directly addressed, then this is likely to lead to disharmony. The organs most at risk are the kidneys. In cases of extreme fright, the kidney's ability to hold qi (vital energy) may be impaired leading to involuntary urination. This can be a particular problem with children.


Anger, as described by TCM, covers the full range of associated emotions including resentment, irritability, and frustration. An excess of rich blood makes one prone to anger. Anger will thus affect the liver, resulting in stagnation of liver qi (vital energy). This can lead to liver energy rising to the head, resulting in headaches, dizziness, and other symptoms. In the long run it can result in high blood pressure and can cause problems with the stomach and the spleen. It is commonly observed that ruddy, "full-blooded" people with flushed faces are more prone than others to sudden fits of rage at the slightest provocation.


"When one is excessively joyful, the spirit scatters and can no longer be stored," states the Lingshu (The Vital Axis). However, in TCM, joy refers to a states of agitation or overexcitement, rather than the more passive notion of deep contentment. The organ most affected is the heart. Over-stimulation can lead to problems of heart fire connected with such symptoms as feelings of agitation, insomnia and palpitations.


In TCM, pensiveness or concentration is considered to be the result of thinking too much or excessive mental and intellectual stimulation. Any activity that involves a lot of mental effort will run the risk of causing disharmony. The organ most directly at risk is the spleen. This can lead to a deficiency of spleen qi (vital energy), in turn causing worry and resulting in fatigue, lethargy, and inability to concentrate.


The lungs are more directly involved with this emotion. A normal and healthy expression of grief can be expressed as sobbing that originates in the depths of the lungs - deep breathes and the expulsion of air with the sob. However, grief that remains unresolved and becomes chronic can create disharmony in the lungs, weakening the lung qi (vital energy). This in turn can interfere with the lung's function of circulating qi (vital energy) around the body.

The emotions are considered to the major internal cause of disease in Chinese medicine.  Emotional activity is seen as a normal, internal, physiological response to stimuli from the external environment.  

When emotions are within normal limits, are not prolonged or repressed, they cause no disease or weakness in the body.    

However, when emotions become so powerful that they are uncontrollable, overwhelm or non accessible to a person, then they cause serious injury to the internal organs and open the door to disease.  

Western science may say that this is psychosomatic.  But in Chinese medicine we believe this is a real cause of damage because we know that we are not made of just our physical bodies but are also energetic beings.  

Excess emotional activity causes severe yin yang energy imbalances which negatively affects the flow of blood, qi (vital energy), blocks the free flow through the body and damages the organ functions.

So when you are looking at healing a chronic health condition, it is imperative that you not only support the affected organ systems but you start to uncover the emotional behaviors that are at the root of the imbalance.  

An example of this would be if you know you are suffering from health issues related to your liver, then exploring the emotion of anger is important.  Some symptoms that may be related to liver function could be: hormonal imbalance, skin issues, jaundice, liver disease etc.

Once you have identified your organ system, you can start to inquire your relationship to the related emotion.  For instance, if you have an issue with liver function what is your relationship to anger? Do you often feel frustrated and angry?  Or do you feel unable to express anger? Where you taught that anger is bad emotion?

Both the excess and absence of an emotion are problematic.  We want a healthy balance as there is no such thing as a good or bad emotion.  It has more to do with frequency and the ability to move through it.

Uncovering the root emotional imbalances and false limiting beliefs that fuel our lives and current health issues, is a key part of the Inside Out Program.  With the support of my team and me, my clients are able to not only identify where they are stuck, how it’s affecting their health but also learn how to change it.  

I feel that this is a crucial missing piece in many functional medicine health programs.  It’s all too easy to heal the gut and balance the hormones, but if we don’t address the emotions that fueled your choices that got you there in the first place then true healing will not occur.  

Did you like this article?

If you need help implementing the tips and want additional support, learn about my program, Inside Out or set up a complimentary 15-minute session email We’ll learn what getting healthy means to you and what your top goals are. We’ll also get to know each other to see if we’re a good fit!


The author (“Author”) is a holistic health coach who has been trained to specialize in health, wellness, and lifestyle coaching. She provides a non-medical, complementary approach to the medical healthcare system.

The Author is not acting as a physician, dietician, nutritionist, mental health therapist or other licensed or registered professional. All information in the guides or otherwise provided by the Author are for general health and educational purposes only and have not been evaluated by any government agency. Such Information does not replace professional medical advice, recommendations, diagnosis or treatment. It is your responsibility to keep your doctor informed and get medical clearance from your doctor before beginning or modifying any diet, supplements, exercise, or lifestyle program.

You should not modify or discontinue any prescription medications or course of medical treatment except as directed by your doctor. You expressly assume the risks of the Author’s programs, relying upon the guides, and using the information provided by the Author. Under no circumstances shall the Author be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, special or consequential damages arising from your reliance upon the foregoing.

How to use foods to strengthen digestion.


Digestion and gut health are increasingly becoming a hot topic as more information on the microbiome comes out.

Chinese medicine has long known that digestion is essential for health. In many ways, it is believed that digestion is the pivot point and central to health of all the organ systems because it is associated with the Earth element which is often seen at the center of the 5 elements.

The health of our digestive system in Chinese medicine is called our “digestive fire”. Digestive fire is a term used to describe the ability of our body to produce sufficient enzymes, stomach acid, and bile to break down our food into tiny particles which can be absorbed through our intestinal tract.

The more that I study functional medicine and the microbiome the more I appreciate the ancient wisdom of Chinese medicine and realize that they just use different terminology for similar things.

With a strong digestive fire we can keep our immune system and health strong. The bad news is that our ability to properly digest our food can easily be disrupted by chronic stress, poor diet, environmental toxins, pharmaceuticals (acid blockers or PPIs are particularly problematic), age (stomach acid starts to drop off in our 30’s and 40’s), and chronic illness, and often it is hard to determine which came first, the illness or the gut dysfunction.

Some signs you have weak digestive fire:

  • Skin conditions (acne, eczema, rosacea, etc)

  • Food and environmental sensitivities or allergies

  • Heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD

  • Gas and burping

  • Undigested food in stools

  • Stomach upset or pain after meals

  • SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)

  • Infections (yeast, bacteria, parasites)

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Anemia

Luckily there are ways to optimize and strengthen your digestion with foods and herbs. Because we want our digestive fire to be warm (obviously because who wants a cold fire?!), it’s important to follow the basic of food energetics.

These basics include: eating with the seasons, eating cooked veggies in the winter, raw veggies in the summer, and more or less not over consuming cold foods.

The following are some specific foods and herbs to strengthen digestion:

  • Organic raw apple cider vinegar – take one Tbsp before meals to increase digestion and nutrient absorption

  • Eat more bitter tasting foods such as chicory, dandelion, arugula, radicchio, endive, artichoke, lemon and black radish – bitter foods stimulate digestive function & strengthen the digestive organs (liver, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, etc.).

  • Thyme – stimulates the production of gastric juices

  • Cumin – reduces inflammation, prevents gas, relieves diarrhea and promotes secretion of gastric juices.

  • Ginger – relieves nausea, heartburn, gas, soothes and relaxes the intestinal tract Cayenne pepper – provides a cleansing effect on the bowels

  • Trikatu – an Ayurvedic blend of ginger, black pepper, and long pepper. Supports digestion & overall gastric function, stimulates digestive enzymes, promotes rapid absorption of nutrients.

  • Garlic – prevent bacterial infections such as h. pylori

  • Sea salt – stimulates stomach acid production

  • Dandelion tea or dandelion greens – increase production of stomach acid

It’s important to have strong digestion because if you aren’t digesting and assimilating your foods in creates an environment for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, parasites, and candida. Once you are in that situation then it is much more challenging to use food remedies alone to regain balance.

If you are interested in learning more information about how Dr Nancy can help you optimize your digestion and help you regain your health, send an email to

Living in Harmony with the Water Element


Winter is upon us.  (Well, at least most of us).  Technically we still have a couple weeks to go but I know my body has moved energetically into the water element, the element of Winter.

As you may know, each season has an associated element and with each element we are given powerful lessons and medicine to improve our health and awaken our spirit.  

Our health is beyond just what we eat and the exercise that we do.  It is also our emotional landscape and the beliefs that we hold.

Each season we are allowed the opportunity to gain a new perspective and understanding of ourselves.  Like peeling away layers of an onion, we get closer and closer to True Selves.

In Chinese medicine, we believe that all imbalances and disease are in most cases rooted primarily in an imbalance of energy and emotion.  This will eventually manifest into the physical.

The “negative” emotions of the Water element are fear and anxiety. When you feel anxious and your fears rule you, you begin a cycle of fear, tension, and pain that can wreak havoc on the body.  This stagnates the natural flow in the body.

Peaceful introspection turns to phobic fears; calmness becomes pathological detachment and dissociation; resilience turns to constant low-level fatigue or exhaustion; integrity turns to rigid belief patterns.

If the energetic imbalance in the Water element continues, it begins to block physical functioning as well, and symptoms such as lower back pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, vertigo, dizziness, high blood pressure, occipital headaches, infertility, lack of excitement, vaginal dryness, premature ejaculation, hearing problems, tooth loss and problems with urinary retention begin to occur.

The medicine for an imbalance in the Water element is trust, faith and surrender.  

Allowing ourselves to simply be still and quiet, containing our energy within ourselves, is to stand in the energy of the Water element. Living in a society of continual striving and exertion, we expect instant results and immediate answers. But nature has another idea: everything to its season. Within nature are already all the answers, we just have to be quiet enough to listen and be empty enough to be filled.

When we follow this natural rhythm of life, we are given all that we need.  We will have all the energy we need for Spring and the creation of goals. We are also given the health we desire because Winter truly is a time to rest and repair.  

Here are some practical tips on how to align yourself to Water element:

  • Drink enough water.  Sounds easy but many people forget to drink when it’s cold outside.  Room temperature or warm beverages are best. You want to avoid sodas, coffee, juice, milk and alcohol as much as possible as it requires digestion.  Water purely hydrates you.

  • Eat blue, purple, and black foods. These foods are associated with the Water element, and, not surprisingly, modern research has shown that the anthocyanins that give them their color concentrate in the kidney and brain. These anthocyanins have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and atherosclerosis and have protective effects against age-related neuronal and behavioral declines.

  • Eat warming foods.  Now is not the time of morning smoothies or daily salads.

  • Avoid added sugars. Sugars interfere with the absorption of anthocyanins. Added sugars have also been directly linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, liver cirrhosis and dementia, among other chronic health problems.

  • Get more rest.  This is nature’s season for rest, repair, and regeneration—a phase important for our next cycle of growth.  Try to rise and fall with the sun.

  • Quit your addiction to being busy and schedule in time for contemplation.  The winter season is an especially good time to begin the practice of meditation.

Now I want to hear from you! Share with me in the comments below.

What is your experience in the Winter? Do similar emotional patterns or health issues come up>?

Have you used any of the diet, lifestyle or supplement therapies in this article? What did you experience? Share with me in the comments.