What is Five Element Theory? 

 October 19, 2019

By  Juli Kramer, PhD

Chinese medicine developed over thousands of years through observation and trial and error. More like scientists in the field, Chinese doctors worked with people in their actual settings not in labs. They recorded their findings which had to stand up under the equivalent of peer-review to make sure recommendations worked over time. Numerous volumes compile this knowledge, with continued refinements over the centuries into present times.

Even before doctors developed Chinese medicine, the ancients in China watched the sky. They watched the universe and the movement of objects in space, and in particular five stars that they associated with the seasons and the different directions. They related their observations of the sky to what was happening on Earth. They believed that people live in the universe and should follow the order of the universe.

If you are the kind of person wants to get down to business – just tell me what to do – here’s the “What I need to know” condensed version.

If you like to dig in and understand a topic more in-depth, read the full article.

Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water

The ancient Chinese noticed five seasons: spring, summer, long summer, autumn, and winter, each associated with the position of the five stars they observed. When they saw each star in a different position in the sky, they knew it was a different season. They recorded Yin Yang and the 5-Elements from their observations of the five stars. Their charts eventually evolved into the Yin Yang symbol (or Tai Ji symbol) you know and then into 5 Elements Theory.

This star chart is thousands of years old and shows the development of Yin Yang and 5 Elements Theory


They associated the five stars with 5 Elements, as well as a season, direction, climate, and symbolic color:

  • Wood star = Spring = East = Wind = Green = Liver = Anger (excited Liver) or Depression (deficient Liver)
  • Fire star = Summer = South = Heat = Red = Heart = Happy (if too happy, overexcited) or Anxiety (deficient Heart)
  • Earth star = Long Summer = Middle = Damp = Yellow = Spleen = Worry and Over Thinking
  • Metal star = Autumn = West = Dry = White = Lung = Sadness
  • Water star = Winter = North = Cold = Black = Kidney = Anxiety and Fear

Understanding the natural order of things helps us see our bodies as connected to nature and can guide us in how to live a healthy life.


The month and year in which you were born affect your body constitution. If you were born under the Wood Star, you are more likely to struggle with emotional issues, including depression and anger because your Liver system is more likely to be affected. There are lifestyle strategies you should follow and foods you should eat in order to help you overcome these Wood Star constitution issues.

We will cover each of the 5 Elements body constitutions in later articles. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to receive notifications of new posts!

5 Elements Summary Chart

SeasonSpringSummerEnd of seasonsAutumnWinter
Organ SystemLiverHeartSpleenLungKidney
Over thinking

Five Elements Theory Basics

  • The ancients in China, based on observations of nature and the skies, developed the 5 Element Theory.
  • The 5 Element Theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine is the root for understanding people’s interactions in the world and what makes them healthy.
  • Each element corresponds to a season, direction, climate, body part, emotion, shape, and color.
  • Although the elements seem separate, they are all connected and interact with each other.
  • Each person has a body constitution based on the element when they were born.
  • A person’s constitution should inform what they eat and drink, as well as what types of exercise they should do, and lifestyle choices they should make.

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Juli Kramer, PhD

Dr. Juli Kramer earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, with a cognate in Counseling Psychology and her M.A. in Psychology. She has a diploma in Chinese Medicine Nutritional Therapy, and certificates in Chinese medicine from Dr. Zhang Yifang, Shanghai World Hospital, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. With over 30 years of experience as an educator, Dr. Kramer founded Radiant Shenti to teach people how Chinese medicine (TCM) can help them lead healthy, happy, and long lives.

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