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      article: The Comparisons between Qi and Bioenergy  |  author: Xing-Tai Li and Jia Zhao  |  date: 2016-02-22 14:19:15




    The comparisons between Qi and Bioenergy

    An Approach to the Nature of Qi in TCM - Qi and Bioenergy (9)

    By Xing-Tai Li [1] and Jia Zhao [2]


    Peter Dennis Mitchell


    Paul Delos Boyer

    9. The comparisons between Qi and bioenergy

    Qi, an important category in the ancient Chinese philosophy, is a simple understanding of natural phenomena. According to ancient Chinese philosopher, Qi is the most basic material that constitute the world, the everything in the universe were produced by the motion of Qi, and it is roughly similar to the concept material of Western philosophy. The theory of Qi in ancient philosophy was introduced into the medical field, the basic theory of Qi in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) was formed, i.e., the concept of Qi in TCM was established during the mutual penetration between the materialist philosophy and medicine in ancient China, it is a concept of material. In TCM, Qi is constantly in motion, is the subtle substance with a strong vitality which constitute the human body and maintain the activities of human life, is one of the most basic material, it is also known as the "essence Qi". When the concept Qi in TCM was used to discuss the human body, it often has the meaning of both life material and physiological functions. Therefore, Qi in TCM is one of the most important basic concepts. Bioenergetics research in life sciences have played an important role, Mitchell's chemiosmotic theory earned the 1978 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, as the coupling between electron transport in the respiratory chain and adenosine diphosphate (ADP) phosphorylation which is caused by electrochemical gradient of protons between internal and external mitochondrial membrane was expounded; Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997 was awarded academician PD Boyer in the U.S. Academy of Sciences for elucidating generation mechanism of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the most important energy molecules. The work was closely related to the energy production and consumption which is required for life activities, and the binding-changes and rotation-catalytic mechanism of ATP synthase was proposed. ATP synthase is the smallest molecular motor in the world. In this paper, the relationship between Qi and bioenergy was approached to.

    9.1 The generation of Qi and ATP


    9.1.1 The generation of Qi

    Qi in TCM, constitute the body and maintain life activities, has the following three sources and is a combination of them. (i). Congenital essence: This essence, which is born before the body, is the basic material of life, is intrinsic from the parents. (ii). Acquired essence: is acquired from the diet to obtain nutrients from the transportation and transformation through the spleen and stomach, that is, the essence of water and food. (iii). The clear air in the nature: the fresh air inhaled through the breathing exercise of lungs.

    From the generation process of Qi, Qi depends on the normal function of the organs and tissues of the body, but the physiological functions of the viscera kidney, spleen and stomach, lungs are closely related to it. The lung, being the dominator of Qi, operates the Qi of the whole body; spleen and stomach, being the acquired foundation, their function of transformation and transport is particularly important in the Qi generation process; kidney, being the source of Qi generation and the congenital foundation, store the essence of life which includes congenital and acquired essence. For example, Qi, blood and body fluid are formed in the following manner: ingested food is changed into food essence, and food essence is, in turn, transformed into Qi, blood or body fluid, and these can then be changed into any one of the others according to the physiological need of the body. The waste from the eaten food and the products produced in the course of metabolism are changed, separately, into feces, urine and sweat which are ready to be removed from the body.

    The Qi in the human body is different in classification and formation. But, generally speaking, it has no more than two sources. One is the innate vital substance one inherits from one's parents before birth. The other is the food essence and fresh air one receives from air, water and food in the natural world. The materials obtained in the two ways above have to be processed and transformed by the viscera and bowels before becoming the Qi of the human body. The process for Qi to be formed is as follows: The innate vital substance acted on by the kidney comes out of the gate of life (the portion between the two kidneys) and goes up to the middle warmer. There it combines with the food essence coming from the spleen and continues upwards until it combines with the fresh air inhaled by the lung. The food essence transformed and transported by the Spleen must be sent up to the Lung to combine with fresh air to produce the nutrients necessary for man's life activities. Finally it turns into Qi. It is easy to see from the above that the Qi of the human body is formed through the joint work of the kidney, the spleen, the stomach and the lung in combining the innate vital substance taken from one's parents, the food essence received from water and food, and the fresh air obtained from nature.


    9.1.2 The generation of ATP

    The major function of mitochondria is the generation of ATP, the energy currency of the cell, by oxidative phosphorylation. Essential mechanisms of energy production, signaling, biosynthesis and apoptosis are contained within mitochondria, and their orchestration plays a determinant role in cell physiology (Benard et al., 2006; Bailey et al., 2005). Since mitochondria generate between 80% and 90% of all ATP produced in the cell, the rest of the energy was provided from anaerobic glycolysis and the conversion of creatine phosphate (PCr) by creatine kinase (CK) (Papa, 1996; Radda et al., 1995), it is understandable that in tissues like the cardiac muscle and liver (each hepatocyte contains 1000–2000 mitochondria) these organelles occupy 20–30% of the cell volume, having mitochondrial function, or dysfunction, a critical role in the performance of these tissues ( Smith et al., 2008; Yang et al., 2010). An adult needs about 3000 kcal, or 400 mol ATP (about 200 kg) every day. Mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) enzymes including 5 oligomeric protein complex, i.e. complex I (NADH dehydrogenase), complex II (succinate ubiquinone reductase), complex III (cytochrome c reductase), complex IV( cytochrome c oxidase, COX) and complex V(H-ATP synthase). Complex I and II capture electrons from the reduced coenzyme I (NADH) and succinate respectively, and transfer them to coenzyme Q (CoQ), CoQ is oxidized by complex III and IV. These complexes (except complex II) are coupled electron flow to proton pump and to ensure that the generated proton driving force was used by complex V to form ATP from ADP and phosphate (Pi) coupling reaction, each complex is composed by different subunits, and complex I, II, III and IV contain several redox active prosthetic groups (Papa, 1996).

    Bio-energy materials - ATP generation process in modern medicine is as follows: ATP, the "Universal Currency" of bioenergy in the cell, is a direct provider of energy required for the body, provide efficient energy for any endergonic reactions. Therefore, life is basically dependent on the activities of ADP -ATP cycle. There are two types of ATP-generating mechanisms: substrate level phosphorylation in the original fermentation pathway and photophosphorylation and OXPHOS that use electron transport system in the evolutionary pathways. The efficiency for generating ATP of the latter is about 20 times compare to the former, the key reasons for high efficiency in photophosphorylation and OXPHOS system depend on the proton pumps and ATP synthase in biomembrane, for example, ATP synthase catalyze endergonic reaction by binding the protons that accumulated in one side of the membrane: ADP + Pi (phosphate) → ATP. Then, proton pump coupled with the electron transport system to generate energy.

    Now, let’s look at the overview of the mitochondrial ATP production. Mitochondria are intracellular organelles mainly devoted to energy production. From the point of the main generation process of bio-energy substance-ATP, at first, the three major nutrients carbohydrates, lipids and proteins are decomposed into the simple sugars, fatty acids and amino acids respectively by different enzymes in the body. Then pyruvate was generated from glucose by glycolysis, acetyl coenzyme A (CoA) was then formed from pyruvate through the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex, acetyl-CoA, can also be generated in mitochondria from fatty acids by ┚-oxidation, then enter the Krebs cycle, and the 20 kinds of standard amino acids that make up proteins can be decomposed in the body to generate acetyl-CoA, oxaloacetate, fumarate, succinyl-CoA and ┙-ketoglutaric acid and other substances to enter the citric acid cycle. The hydrogens stripped off in the Krebs cycle were accepted by nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) or flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) to enter in the respiratory chain of inner mitochondrial membrane through a series of electron carriers (low potential to high potential), the electrons were finally transported to oxygen accompanied by the phosphorylation of ADP to generate ATP.

    The following describes the basic processes occurring in a typical normal cell, using glucose as a major source of energy. The breakdown of glucose into water and CO2 includes two steps, namely, glycolysis (the anaerobic phase) taking place in the cytoplasm, and OXPHOS (the aerobic phase) occurring in the mitochondria. Of the total yield of 38 ATP per mole of glucose, two are produced in the glycolysis process and 36 during the OXPHOS. It is important to note that oxygen availability in the mitochondrion is a critical factor for the normal ATP production in the cell. Glycolysis depends on the entrance of glucose from the capillary into the cell via the glucose transporter. The end product of glycolysis, pyruvate, is transported into the mitochondria by a specific carrier protein. The pyruvate is transformed, in the matrix of the mitochondria, into acetyl coenzyme A that activates the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. In the mitochondria, the TCA cycle generates NADH which enters the electron transport chain (ETC) leading to the OXPHOS that generates ATP (Mayevsky, 2009).

    The mitochondrial respiratory chain consists of four enzyme complexes (complexes I–IV), and two mobile carriers (coenzyme Q and cytochrome c) along which the electrons liberated by the oxidation of NADH and FADH2 are passed, and ultimately transferred to molecular oxygen. This respiratory process generates the electrochemical gradient of protons used by the F1Fo ATP synthase (i.e., complex V) to phosphorylate ADP and produce ATP. Briefly, nutrients such as glucose, amino acids and fatty acids are transformed by intermediary metabolism into their reduced equivalents (NADH, H+ or FADH2), which are further oxidized by the mitochondrion to generate ATP. Mitochondria of normal tissues typically oxidize combinations of these energy substrates (fatty acids, the glycolysis end product pyruvate and amino acids) to establish the electrochemical gradient of protons (ΔμH+) used by the F1Fo–ATP synthase to produce ATP (Benard et al., 2010). In this regard, mitochondria play a pivotal role by producing almost all the cellular energy (Freyre-Fonsecaa et al., 2011). It is quite evident that the generation of ATP requires both acquired essence —the essence of water and food (which can be regarded as decomposition products of the three major nutrients—monosaccharides, fatty acids and amino acids) and the clear Qi in the nature - the fresh air (mainly oxygen, around 90% oxygen inhaled by the body was consumed by the process of ATP production through mitochondrial electron transport), mitochondria are also needed. But modern biochemical research show that human mitochondria are maternally inherited, that is, mitochondria of everyone are from the mother genetically, and this can be called the congenital essence. Therefore, the Qi and ATP have common sources.

    9.2 The functions of Qi and bioenergy

    Generally speaking, Qi of the human body has five functions: promoting, warming, defending, consolidating and governing, promoting metabolism and transformation, these functions of Qi are consistent with those of energy metabolism. All cells in the body depend on a continuous supply of ATP in order to perform their different physiological and biochemical activities (Mayevsky, 2009). In modern medicine, all the physiological activities of the body are dependent on bio-energy source (ATP) generated by substance metabolism (including oxygen metabolism), various forms of physiological functions can be played by ATP through different effectors to maintain all life activities. Large amounts of ATP are used in muscle contraction, nerve impulse conduction, compound biosynthesis or other biological processes (Benard et al., 2010).

    Qi is a vigorous substance that flows fast in the human body. So it promotes the growth and development of the body, the movement, distribution and discharge of Blood and Body Fluids, and the physiological functional activities of viscera and bowels, channel, collateral, tissue and organ. Qi, as a Yang substance, heat source of the body, is rich in heat, which can warm viscera and bowels, channels, skin, and muscles and tendons, to maintain normal body temperature and the normal functional activities of these organs and tissues. This Qi function is of important to physiological significance of the human body. "Qi hua" is a specific term in the science of TCM. It refers, in general, to various kinds of changes taking place in the body under the action of Qi. Specifically, it refers to the metabolism of fundamental substances, Qi, blood and body fluid, and the transformations which can occur between them, it is actually material conversion and energy conversion process. Although the above mentioned five functions of Qi differ from each other, they enjoy close cooperation and mutual support. Qi is the foundation of all movement and growth in the body.

    According to TCM, "if Qi gets together, it will result to the birth; if Qi is harmonious, then the human body is healthy; if Qi is disordered, the human will be sick; if Qi is depleted, the human will die." According to the modern life science, energy metabolism is the center for life activity, if the energy metabolism is normal, the body can carry out normal vital activities, If no bio-energy is supplied for the body, the life activities cease immediately. Therefore, Qi and bioenergy have identical functions.

    [Click here to continue to section 10, "The Effects of QIHM and QRHM on Energy Metabolism—An experimental perspective"].


    This and the other entries herein appeared in: Xing-Tai Li and Jia Zhao (2012). An Approach to the Nature of Qi in TCM–Qi and Bioenergy, Recent Advances in Theories and Practice of Chinese Medicine, Prof. Haixue Kuang (Ed.), ISBN: 978-953-307-903-5, InTech, DOI: 10.5772/28416. Available from: http://www.intechopen.com

    [1] ^ College of Life Science, Dalian Nationalities University, Dalian, China, is given as the professional location of Xing-Tai Lii.

    [2] ^ Norman Bethune College of Medicine, Jilin University, Changchun China, is given as the professional location of Jia Zhao.

    Graphics added by Qi Encyclopedia.

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