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Qi Deficiency

Qi – The Vitality of Life

Chinese philosophers and thinkers of all times, have engaged with the concept of Qi, right from the beginning of Chinese civilisation up to our modern times. It is the vital energy that circulates throughout the universe. It fills the air we breathe, it’s the constituent parts and nutrients contained in the food we eat. It is the life that starts the heart beating and our first breath after leaving our mother’s womb.

It is excellently described in the Chinese symbol for Qi (vapour, steam, & rice), illustrating that Qi can be as rarefied and immaterial as vapour, and as dense and material as rice. It also signifies that Qi is a subtle substance (vapour, steam) deriving from a coarse material (rice) just as steam is produced by cooking rice.

The translation into any other language from Chinese proves a difficult task and many different translations have been proposed, none of which gives even an approximation of the essence of Qi exactly.  It has been translated as “energy”, “vitality”, “ether”, “matter-energy”, “vital force”, “life force”, “vital power” among more.  The reason it is so difficult to translate the word “Qi” correctly, lies  in the particular fluid nature whereby Qi can manifest differently and be different things in different situations.


In traditional Chinese medicine when Qi is out of balance, the clinical manifestations of its four basic disharmonies are many. It is important to note that the clinical manifestations mentioned here are a complete picture of most of the manifestations recorded and that in real life someone may experience only some or more of these manifestation. This short article could never convey a complete description of Qi in medical terms.

The clinical manifestations of a Qi Deficiency may include all or some of the following:

Fatigue, Tiredness, exhaustion, muscle weakness, general weakness, lack of energy, apathy, poor concentration, lack of appetite, profuse perspiration, spontaneous sweating or sweating on light exercise like just walking a short distance, loose stools, lethargy, disillusionment, dislike to speak, and all these manifestations may be made worse on exertion or with exercise. It is not necessary for someone to experience all these manifestations. When diagnosing according to Traditional Chinese Medical theory, it cannot be over emphasised the importance of a holistic clinical picture, which includes all symptoms and signs of disharmony.

Causes of Qi deficiency

This syndrome often results from excess mental work, often in highly organised people.

overwork, excessive exercise, lack of good nutrition usually due to lack of optimum nutritional knowledge. A sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to a Qi deficiency.

Treatment of Qi Disharmony

Treating any Qi disharmony requires a complete history taking with analysis to diagnose which disharmony the person is suffering from. If you experience any of the above symptoms over a long period of time, I would recommend seeking out a competent practitioner or you may consult myself online by completing my extensive 350 question consultation form. When a diagnosis is achieved, the next step is to formulate a treatment protocol which usually involves some acupuncture points that can be stimulated by acupressure with herbal and dietary advice.

Foods to Nourish Qi

Where possible, try to eat lightly cooked, fresh, local, seasonal produce. The emphasis is on complex carbohydrates in vegetables and unrefined grains and eating small frequent meals.

The following foods are considered excellent foods to strengthen Qi.

Beans/grains/pulses Chickpeas, lentils, wheat bran, millet, quinoa, rice,
Vegetables Asparagus, Carrot, button mushroom, cabbage, eggplant, peas, potato, pumpkin, shiitake mushroom, squash, sweet potato, tomato, yam, garlic,
Fruit Apple, Coconut, Cherry, Dates, Figs, Grape,
Bean Products Tofu
Nuts and seeds Almond, black sesame seeds, coconut (meat)
Fish Eel, herring, mackerel, mussel, octopus, oyster, sturgeon, tuna, trout
Meat Beef, chicken, chicken liver, duck, goose, ham, lamb, pheasant, quail, venison
Dairy Chicken egg, milk,
Herbs and spices Bay leaves, liquorices
Condiments Barley malt, honey, molasses, rice syrup
Supplements Algae, ginseng (American, Chinese, and Korean), pollen, royal jelly


What to Avoid

  • Avoid or at least moderate use of the microwave and processed foods.
  • Avoid all cold or raw foods (particularly citrus and sprouts)
  • Avoid fried greasy foods
  • Avoid processed sugars, large meals and rich foods.
  • Moderate your dairy intake

Other ways to Nourish Qi

  • Relaxation.
  • Mindfulness Meditation.
  • Moderate exercise.
  • Breathing (deep) fresh clean air.
  • Life-affirming activities.
  • Maintaining a positive attitude.
  • Spending time in nature or natural environment.
  • Tai chi / Qi gong.

James O’Sullivan - that's me, a people friendly practitioner and lecturer of Integrated Medicine, serving my patients, my students and the public with the positive benefits of both Conventional Western Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It's a wonderful life
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose or assess. The information provided is not to be considered a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care practitioner.
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