Acupuncture Basics Part 4: 5 Elements

This is the fourth and final installment of the Acupuncture Basic series. You can find the pervious articles here.
Part 1: Yin and Yang
Part 2: What is Qi?
Part 3: Meridians and Acupoints

A tree is strong, grows in all directions, and needs water to grow. Fire is spontaneous, shoots upward and needs the Wood from that tree to keep going. Earth is heavy, nourishing soil that keeps everything centered and grounded. It needs the Fire to burn and decompose things that keep the soil mineral rich. Metal vibrates, is rare and precious, and descends into the Earth. And Water is soft yet persistent, and permeated by Metal minerals that give Water it's health promoting benefits.

As you can see, each of these elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water have a relationship with each other, a cycle that helps the elements nourish each other. This is why you may also sometimes hear them called the 5 Phases.

Most traditional cultures use elements to describe their world, including their health and medicine. In the West, they named 4 elements: water, fire, earth and air - but in the East they see 5. Not only do these 5 elements nurture each other, but they also control each other, so that one doesn't grow too strong. In addition, each element has particular qualities and correspondences, such as a color, a season, body organs and parts, and even emotions. We use these correspondences to help diagnose patients in their acupuncture treatments. Using the relationships between them can help us to come up with a treatment plan. For example, Fire is hot, and it rises. So if you have headaches and bloodshot eyes you may have too much Fire. To cure this, we would look to the cooling Water element, and the Metal element which descends.

Just like in the previous articles, I'm bringing on some help from the cast of Breaking Bad to help you get an intuitive sense for each element, and how it might manifest in a person.

Acupuncture Elements - as Breaking Bad characters!
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The Wood Element

Walter White is a great example of Wood, especially as the show progresses. Strong, dominant and growing in all directions, a tree's roots grow down into the ground, it's trunk high into the air, and the branches out to the sides. Wood people tend to take leadership roles, and they get things done. They can also be a bit overbearing at times if they get out of control.


Green is the color of Wood, and it's season is Spring. The related organs are the Liver and the Gallbladder, and body parts include tendons, ligaments, eyes and finger/toenails. Anger, irritability and frustration are the emotions involved with the Wood element.

Imbalances in the Wood element cause many PMS ad menstrual symptoms, including cramps, moodiness, breast tenderness, constipation, headaches, all around the time of menstruation. Irregular or heavy periods can also be attributed to Wood disharmony. Pain or digestive symptoms that get worse with stress more than likely have some Wood involvement as well.

The Fire Element

Fire is hot, it goes upward and is spontaneous, sometimes even reckless. It also has a magnetic quality that draws you in and charms you. The Breaking Bad character with the most Fire is Jessie Pinkman. The young druggie with a soul. We've seen him go off the handle and get impulsive many times, but he also is good with the ladies. He's charming, and he really cares about people. Fire people like to entertain and connect with people, and are usually pretty extroverted. Too much Fire can cause mania.


Red is the color of Fire, and the season is Summer. The Heart and Small Intestines are the organs that go with this element, and it's body parts include the blood, tongue and the complexion. The Heart, a part of the Fire element, is in charge of the Spirit of a person, therefore all emotions go through the Heart. However, anxiety is the most common emotion coming purely from Fire.

Emotional and mental imbalances always have a root in the Fire element. Other things that can be caused by Fire include headaches, insomnia, thirst and dry mouth, palpitations, and mouth/tongue sores.

The Earth Element

Earth is the caregiver, the nurturer. It keeps us centered and grounded. While this is traditionally the Mother Earth archetype, in Breaking Bad that character is Saul Goodman, the lawyer. He makes sure that everyone is taken care of, and acts as the voice of reason. The Earth personality is sociable and likes to make sure that everyone is comfortable. They also have lots of stamina.


Yellow is the color of Earth, and Late Summer is the season. It is also known as "Indian Summer", but it actually represents the transitions between all seasons. If your health takes a nosedive whenever the seasons change, you probably have an Earth imbalance. Spleen and Stomach are the organs associated with this element, and it's body parts include the muscles, mouth and lips. Worry or overthinking is its emotion.

The Earth element is in charge of digestion, so symptoms like gas, bloating, abdominal cramping, constipation and diarrhea are all caused by Earth disharmonies. On top of that, poor digestion can cause what we call accumulation of dampness, so things like phlegm, edema, tiredness, or heavy head and limbs fit into this category too.

The Metal Element

Metal is the odd element. It is represented in nature by the minerals in the soil, rocks and precious metals. It is more rare than the other elements, and you have to work hard to get it. Metal is sharp, structured, and it vibrates. This comes out in personality traits like attention to detail and sensitivity. Gustavo Fring is the character most showing these qualities. You can see how he's very private, another Metal characteristic; also orderly and detailed.


White is the color of Metal, and Autumn is it's season. The Metal element's organs are Lung and Large Intestine, and the body parts include skin, nose and body hair. Grief, sorrow and sadness are emotions that correlate to this element. With it's relationship to the Large Intestine, the ability to let go of things you no longer need is a function of Metal.

Metal imbalances include immune system issues, like getting sick a lot, allergies of all kinds, and auto-immune diseases. Problems involving the ear, nose and throat, like sinusitis, colds, allergies, or lung issues like asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia show as a disharmony in the Metal element, as well as unusual sweating or shortness of breath.

The Water Element

The final, most powerful element; Water is slow acting, but determined. It may not be able to cut down a tree with a single swipe, like Metal, but over time can erode a mountain. Water can be still and calm, or it can be rushing and dangerous. Water types are complex and mysterious, holding wisdom in the depths of their soulful eyes. Mike Ehrmentraut is the Breaking Bad cast member showing off the most Water qualities. He's quiet, acting behind the scenes, but his actions are powerful, and affect everything.


Black or dark blue is Water's color, and it's season is Winter. Kidney and Bladder are it's organs, and the ears, reproductive tissues and bones are it's body parts. Emotions include fear and fright.

The Water element includes the Kidneys, which are responsible for all of the deep root energies in your body. They are also in charge of genetics and reproduction. Therefore, imbalances in the Water element can show up as infertility, exhaustion, issues relating to age or diseases you were born with. Menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes and night sweats, also have their root in the Water element.


Elizabeth Williams is an acupuncturist in Greenville, South Carolina, specializing in pain management, women’s health, and psycho-emotional issues. She’s passionate about helping people feel their best and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the community. Elizabeth is the owner of Dragonfly Acupuncture & Massage, on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Appointments can be made by calling 864-451-4313, or scheduled online here.