Interstitium & The Triple Burner

Decoding the Mystique of Chinese Medicine with Tim Wright, Gower Acupuncture-Swansea

As a clinician who practices an ancient medicine with modern sensibilities, the Triple Burner always made me cringe. Chinese medicine prioritises 12 major organs as vital for functioning of health. These organs include the heart, lungs, gall bladder, kidneys, all organs you are most probably familiar with. The Chinese add another organ – the triple burner. An organ you more than likely are not familiar with… and one that has always made me uncomfortable if trying to explain it to a patient.

According to classical Chinese texts (dating back over 2000 years) this organ is responsible for disseminating qi (energy) throughout the body. Qi is all the energy potential needed for the body. It’s an organ for which there was no Western parallel – until now.

In March 2018 scientists declared they had found a new organ – the Interstitium. It’s the space between cells – a matrix of collagen bundles filled with fluid and it runs through the whole of the body.

That it exists is not in doubt. Whether it can be classified as an organ – and indeed the largest organ of the body – is currently in debate. Interestingly Chinese physicians have long debated whether the Triple Burner is an organ or whether the triple burner really referred to a function that the body was executing – carrying Qi (oxygenated blood and nutrients) around the body. Regardless, the interstitium exists and it functions in remarkably similar ways to the triple burner in chinese medicine.

The triple burner is classically defined as the “medium through which the process of transformation occurs throughout the body”. You could argue that the interstitium fulfills this definition. It transports nutrients around the body precipitating change. The interstitium is a conduit for the body’s energy. Much like arteries move oxygenated blood, veins carry de-oxygenated blood, nerves carry impulses so the interstitium transports nutrients and lymphatic fluid.

Many acupuncture meridians map main nerves and blood vessels in the body. The mapping has always been incomplete as some meridians follow neither nerve pathway nor blood vessels. Perhaps with further research the remaining unmapped meridians will overlap major interstitial pathways in the body.

All of this musing about the triple burner and the interstitium has led me to one conclusion. Science doesn’t always have the answers. Sometimes it’s just good to trust in the 2000 contiguous years of practice and research that preceeds me.

Tim Wright – Gower Acupuncture Swansea


Tel: 07764 254881

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