In 2018, scientists “discovered” a new organ in the body called the interstitium, which holds roughly 20% of the fluid in the human body. Unlike the 80% of water that’s found in human cells, the 20% of the fluid in the interstitium describes the non-intracellular fluid and tissues that’s found elsewhere in the body, below the skin and in the urinary, digestive and respiratory systems.
This so-called new organ was right under scientists’ noses but they never knew it. It was only when new microscope technology was used inside a living person that scientists became aware of this network of fluid-filled tissue in between the spaces of organs and cells.
If you’re a fan of TCM, this story is interesting because this “new organ” has many similarities to an ancient and esoteric concept called the Triple Burner.
What is the Triple Burner and why does it matter?
Interstitium & Triple Burner Similarities
Although scientists are still debating whether the interstitium is indeed an organ, the consensus is that it’s a network of densely-packed connective tissues and fluid-filled compartments.
If you’ve ever seen a TCM organ clock, you’ve probably been curious about the Triple Burner. Unlike other TCM organ systems that have exactly the same name as Western physical organs (Liver, Heart, Pericardium, Spleen, etc.), there’s no western equivalent of the Triple Burner—at least until the discovery of the interstitium.
So in case you’re doubly curious about the triple burner, here are some basic facts about this mysterious pseudo-organ.
The triple burner is a series of three interconnected chambers that house all the visceral, physical organs of the body.
The triple burner is a series of three interconnecting chambers that house all the visceral, physical organs of the body. Both the interstitium and triple burner have a primary role of transporting fluids through the body. Whereas a physical organ like the stomach is a solid substance, the triple burner is a hollow chamber. In other words, organs are like a bluff whereas the triple burner is like a cave.
If you have difficulty urinating or an excess accumulation of water in your body, it could be that you have excess Damp Heat in the triple burner. (If you can relate, learn about the time-tested TCM formula, Ba Zheng Pian.)
Where is the Triple Burner Located?
In TCM, the Triple Burner (San Jiao) contains the lower, middle and upper burner:
- Upper – This chamber is home to the heart and lungs. The acupuncture points along this meridian also include energy pathways in the head and throat.
- Middle – It’s here where the transformation of fluids begins. The location of this chamber ranges from the diaphragm to the belly button and includes the following physical organs: spleen, liver, stomach and gallbladder.
- Lower – This area is the domain of elimination. The kidneys and bladder reside in this chamber, as do the intestines and genitals.
What Does the Triple Burner Do?
In addition to the taking in of fluids, the transformation of fluids (stomach) and their elimination (intestines, kidneys and bladder), the triple burner may play an important role in regulating stress and maintaining balance in the immune system.
The reason why the triple burner may have a role in controlling stress response is because the adrenal glands are located along this meridian (an invisible energetic system of myriad points). Some people consider the triple burner the “furnace of the body” because many glands involved with metabolism are located along the meridian. This includes the hypothalamus, thyroid and pituitary gland.
There’s debate in western medicine if the interstitium is an organ. The same thing is sort of true in TCM. The triple burner plays the role of an organ but really isn’t because it doesn’t have clear form or shape. Call it a meridian or call it an organ without form. Either way, the triple burner not only circulates fluids in the body, it also circulates Qi.
And because TCM is holistic in scope, like all other organ systems, the triple burner also affects our emotions. If there’s imbalance in the triple burner, there will be a disharmony of spirit.
The Triple Burner is an organ that’s not really an organ and more like a meridian. It’s a series of three chambers that house all the physical organs. Because the meridian acts on many organs, it impacts health in many ways. But arguable, the primary role of the Triple Burner is the transformation and elimination of water. If you have difficulty with water retention, learn more about our water metabolism formula, Wateroff.