Excess or Deficient! What a silly phrase! Yet Excess and Deficiency are two of the vital 8 Principles in Chinese medicine that help acupuncturists decide how to treat patients.
Classifying a condition as one of excess or deficiency hugely increases the likelihood of treating it successfully.
Another way describing the same principle, is ‘full’ or ‘empty’, or ‘fullness’ or ‘emptiness’.
By the way, if this is the first page on this site that you’ve alighted on, be warned! There are a lot of new concepts to get your head around. If you’re just starting, you could try something easier, like this one.
Just as, in life, you feel full of energy in the morning and tired by the evening, or you know someone who has more money than sense (excess) and someone else who is spendthrift and impoverished (deficiency), so we can classify disease conditions the same way.
Excess or Deficient: a very important Distinction!
For any health professional, whether a doctor, herbalist, homoeopath or acupuncturist, learning how to distinguish between a Full and an Empty condition or a mixed Full/Empty condition will be vital for the continuing health of the patient, the reputation of the therapist and his or her success.
It really is that important.
Excess or Fullness
Suppose you have a cold! Your nose is blocked with phlegm, your throat hot and sore, you have a fever, a throbbing ‘don’t-touch-me!’ headache, and you feel tired.
Lying down to rest or sleep doesn’t help because your symptoms prevent easy sleep: you’re too hot and bothered.
Don’t be confused by that tiredness! If you didn’t have the other symptoms which show you have a cold, you wouldn’t feel tired.
So the tiredness is a consequence not a cause – but see below for more about this.
The other symptoms, the blocked nose, the phlegm, the sore throat, fever and headache? Between excess or deficient, all these signs point to excess or fullness.
Why? Because there is fullness of phlegm, your sore throat is hot (excess), your headache is excess because it dislikes being touched or held. So, between excess or deficient, this is definitely Excess, or Full.
These symptoms are like something bursting outwards or upwards.
In practice, the existence of the bug – technically called the ‘external pathogenic factor’ – trying to invade your body, together with a strong response (fever, headache, sore throat etc) by your body, defines the condition as being Full or Excess.
Definition of Full: If you have a pathogenic factor (internal or external) with a strong Upright Qi (your body’s immune system) defending itself, you have a Full or Excess condition.
Internal or External? By the way, the fact that the invading pathogenic factor came from outside makes it an external pathogenic factor rather than an internal pathogenic factor. But many pathogenic factors arise internally. Read more under Internal-External, two more of these special 8 Principles.
(Read more about how bugs invade, as understood in Chinese medicine, by clicking here.)
A Pathogenic Factor but Not a Bug?
So, between these excess or deficient conditions, you could easily have a Full condition when there was no preceding pathogenic factor – in other words, no bug.
For instance, poor circulation can lead to Blood Stasis, which may manifest as severe pains in the heart region, and if so could mean a heart attack. This is also a Full or Excess condition, but an internal one. As with an external Full condition, the aim is to clear the Blood Stasis before trying to harmonise or ‘tonify’ the circulation.
Full conditions are often thought of as being acute, but they can be chronic, as for example with a long-term invasion of Damp.
Damp is a Yin factor. So is Phlegm. So is Cold. (And so too is Blood.)
So you can also have a Full Yin condition. For example, this could be a condition of Full Cold, where someone feels freezing cold even though they have a fever.
Almost always we should clear any Full Yin conditions before attempting to strengthen the system. (In practice, if the Damp occurs because of deficiency of Spleen Yang or Kidney Yang, we might clear Damp at the same time as strengthening Spleen and Kidney Yang.)