Five Elements Chinese Medicine: Theory and Applications

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), five elements, or five phases, theory outlines the relationship between the different elements in nature and the life force, or "qi," that flows through them. The basic elements are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.

Each individual is a blend of these elements, and in order to be truly healthy, they need to be balanced. Dr. Bret Mosher can explain to patients how he utilizes the theory of five elements Chinese Medicine in treating patients at his Poway, CA, practice.

Image of theory of five elements in Chinese medicine

Understanding how the five elements affects one's health can help the doctor develop a comprehensive and effective treatment plan to eliminate chronic conditions.

Relationship to Health

In this conceptual system, the five elements are constantly moving and changing, each becoming dominant at different times in the natural cycle, and affecting an individual's health. The five elements are used to interpret and explain physiology and pathology. Each element is associated with different body organs, colors, flavors, senses, emotions, and weather.


  • Body: Liver, gallbladder, tendons, eyes
  • Color: Green
  • Emotion: Anger
  • Flavor: Sour
  • Weather: Wind


  • Body: Heart, tongue, pulse
  • Color: Red
  • Emotion: Joy
  • Flavor: Bitter
  • Weather: Heat


  • Body: Spleen, stomach, mouth, muscles
  • Color: Yellow
  • Emotion: Pensive
  • Flavor: Sweet
  • Weather: Damp


  • Body: Lungs, nose, skin
  • Color: White
  • Emotion: Sadness
  • Flavor: Pungent
  • Weather: Dry


  • Body: Kidneys, ears, bones
  • Color: Black
  • Emotion: Fear
  • Flavor: Salty
  • Weather: Cold

Each element both promotes and controls another:

  • Wood promotes fire
  • Fire promotes earth
  • Earth promotes metal
  • Metal promotes water
  • Water promotes wood
  • Wood controls earth
  • Earth controls water
  • Water controls fire
  • Fire controls metal
  • Metal controls wood

Use in Diagnosis

Health conditions arise when the five elements become imbalanced: one element will become too strong or active. As a master of TCM, Dr. Mosher is able to determine the disharmony between the elements of the patient. The assessment and diagnosis process is very thorough: in addition to testing your blood sugar and cholesterol, Dr. Mosher will note factors such as the color of your skin and the sound of your voice. He will also ask questions to determine your sensory experiences, as well as discover what areas of your body or mind are troubling you.

Each individual is a blend of the elements, and in order to be truly healthy, these elements need to be balanced.

All of the information that the doctor gathers will be viewed comprehensively using the five elements model. For example, if a patient has a yellow cast to her complexion and is experiencing bloating, lethargy, and muddled thinking, the doctor will examine the Earth element more closely (the spleen and stomach).

The treatment plan is aimed at restoring the balance of the patient’s qi. Acupuncture adjusts the flow of qi through the body’s meridians to restore healthy function. Acupuncture is just one of the treatment modalities that Dr. Mosher may employ in your customized treatment plan. Clinical nutrition, structural alignment, detoxification, and Chinese herbs are other treatments that can help you attain optimal whole-body health.

Learn More

The five elements theory is a sophisticated system developed over millennia in China. Modern TCM practitioners use this wisdom to treat patients safely, without invasive surgery or the harmful side effects of pharmaceuticals.

If you would like to learn more about how an understanding of the elements can drastically improve your health, please schedule your consultation with Dr. Mosher today.

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