Modern investigations on Qi
An Approach to the Nature of Qi in TCM - Qi and Bioenergy (7)
By Xing-Tai Li  and Jia Zhao 
7. Modern investigations on Qi
In China, Qi has been known for 4000 years. In Japanese literature, the documentation of Qi goes back 1500 years. This is not limited to the East. In the West, Biblical literature suggests that curing sickness by extending a hand was practiced by a gifted individual. Since then, thousands of accounts have been published, and millions of people have talked about Qi-energy. Practical, clinical, philosophical and scientific studies on Qi have been actively reported in journals of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). However, no reasonable mechanism, which can be examined or refuted from the scientific point of view, has been presented (Ohnishi and Ohnishi, 2009b).
Scientific investigations of Qi started about 30 years ago, but we still know very little and have so much to learn.
Scientific investigations of Qi started about 30 years ago, but we still know very little and have so much to learn. Flowers (2006) mentioned that the speed of Qi investigation seems to have slowed down in recent years. Now the question comes as to what is the nature of Qi? As to the nature of Qi, Chinese and Japanese scientists have already reported that it involves infrared radiation. It was also reported that other forms of energy may be involved in Qi which include electromagnetic waves, electrostatic energy, magnetic energy, sound waves and so on (Kiang, 1978; Yuasa, 1993; Machi, 1993; Shinagawa, 1990). However, in the study of Qi, one difficult problem encountered. Namely, Qi can’t be measured quantitatively with modern technology now (Ohnishi and Ohnishi, 2009a). We do not even know the qualitative nature of Qi yet, not to mention quantitative methods of measuring it. One of the pitfalls in the study on Qi is obviously that there seems to be no ‘scientific’ objective measure to evaluate its ‘quantity’. Thus, the concept of Qi would be as important and effective, and also as difficult to quantify, as the concept of ‘stress’.
7.1 The effects of Qi-therapy on health
External Qi-therapy (QT) is a process by which Qi is transmitted from a Qi master to another person for the purpose of preventing and curing disease, as well as protecting and improving health through regulation of mind and body. This may be a very useful intervention. Research studies have shown that QT is effective for relief of pain, relaxation of stress states and increasing immunity (Lee et al., 2001a–c). Several studies attempted to reveal a specific effect of external Qi by modern biochemical and immunological methods (Chien et al., 1991; Fukushima et al., 2001; Lee et al., 2001a and b; Shah et al., 1999). Chien et al. (1991) reported that facilitating Qi from a Qigong masters increased the rate of cell growth and DNA synthesis. Lee et al. (2001a and b) reported psychoneuroimmunological effects of in vivo QT on humans and stimulatory effect on natural killer (NK) cell activity in vitro by emitted Qi. QT has an acute stimulatory effect on neutrophil superoxide generation (Lee, 2003). The studies show that Qi positively affect human innate immunity.
TCM considers chronic fatigue to reflect a disharmony and depletion in the supply of Qi, with blockage, stagnation, imbalance or change in the pattern or organization of Qi resulting in disease (Shin, 2002; Xing, 1987). Disruption to Qi manifests in symptoms such as pain, fatigue and mood disturbances. TCM practitioners consider that chronic fatigue reflects a disharmony and depletion in the supply of Qi in the body. Qigong is one of the traditional complementary interventions used to strengthen Qi through self-practice, and to manage the state of Qi to prevent and cure disease. Qigong seems to improve factors related to chronic fatigue such as sleep, pain, mental attitude and general mobility after 3 and 6 months. Qigong’s positive effects indicate that it represents a potentially safe method of treatment for chronic fatigued patients (Mike Craske, 2009).
People attempt to find the mechanism behind the healing effects of Qi. Why do students of NBM continue to attend the class (many of them once a week, but some of them more often) for 10 or even 15 years? Because they feel healthier, or because they have a more youthful feeling than before. Through their study, students were shown to have higher immune activity and lower stress levels (Kimura et al., 2005). Some students overcame cancer themselves by attending the class almost everyday to lift their Qi level. This experience may be related to in vitro results that Qi inhibited the growth of cancer cells (Ohnishi et al., 2005). As to the anti-aging effect of NBM, Mr Nishino has long proposed that Qi may stimulate mitochondria to become more active, and thus, to provide more energy to the cells. Ohnishi et al. (2006) demonstrated that in isolated rat liver mitochondria, the respiratory control ratio was protected from deterioration by Qi, and lipid peroxidation was inhibited by Qi. These results suggest that Qi may inhibit apoptosis of the cells in our body, thereby inhibiting aging. Some students were shown to have higher bone density than their age- and gender-matched contemporaries who do not practice NBM (Nishino, 2006). Through in vitro tests, Ohnishi et al. found that Qi may be beneficial in preventing osteoporosis (Ohnishi et al., 2007). They are accumulating data on health-related benefits of NBM, and also, trying to correlate this with the molecular and cellular mechanisms of Qi effects.
7.2 The effects of Bu-Zhong-Yi-Qi-Tang on health
TCM, with its long history of clinical practice, occupies an important place among the "alternative medicine" that has been gaining attention in recent years. Because of the general mildness in nature and the emphasis on relief, balance and harmonization rather than forceful suppression, a good many Chinese medicines are particularly suited for the frail, the elderly, the very young and those already weakened by diseases. Bu-Zhong-Yi-Qi-Tang, a basic prescription as an Qi tonic (Chinese medical concept: Bu-Qi) and a general health tonic, also one of the typical formulae in Japanese Kampo which is prescribed for people with the Qi deficient conditions in order to enhance their Qi (Terasawa, 2004; Li, 1992; Kawakita and Nomoto, 1998), composed of Astragali radix, Ginseng radix, Atractyloidis rhizoma, Glycyrrhizae radix, Angelicae sinensis, Aurantii pericarpium, Cimicifugae rhizoma and Bupleurum radix, has been prescribed for the alleviation of fatigue and depressed vitality as well as the improvement of gastroenteric circulation (Shih et al., 2000). It has been reported to possess anti-tumor (Ito and Shimura, 1985), anti-bacterial (Li et al., 1992), anti-nociceptive and anti-depressive activities (Koshikawa et al., 1998), and to have some effects on impairment of hematopoietic organs (Ikeda et al., 1990), stress incontinence (Murakami, 1988) and male infertility (Ishikawa et al., 1992), to reduce the extent of radiation-induced apoptosis and protect the jejunal crypt (Chai et al., 2009) and improve health status in general but slows down or partially reverses aging in particular (Shih et al., 2000).
From the clinical experience, the Qi deficiency state is diagnosed very ‘objectively’.
7.3 The effects of Qi on health
Qi is the concept of the state of the mind/body as a whole. It is thus not a ‘subjective’ state, which can only be known introspectively. From the clinical experience, the Qi deficiency state is diagnosed very ‘objectively’: those with ‘Qi deficiency’ are weak in voice, have no ‘strength’ in their eyes and their posture is poor. In this sense, Qi is a very objective entity. It is not an abstract and subjective entity like soul or spirit. Practitioners of TCM can judge a patient’s Qi state by just glancing at their skin condition. Those people healthy in mind– body, or with good Qi, have bright and ‘full’ skin. Though difficult to quantify, these are ‘objective’. Qi can be approached ‘objectively’. There is thus a definite possibility that we can elaborate on the concept of Qi as an objective ‘scientific’ term. It is a basic East Asian ‘philosophy’ of health/disease that those with a good Qi state are highly immune to diseases (Kobayashi and Ishii, 2005). It is very nice to see that Western clinical researchers such as Irwin have undertaken the challenge to tackle this difficult problem of Qi or mind– body unity. Now is an exciting era, when for the first time it has became possible for a western psychiatrist and an Eastern dermatologist to work together towards reconciling this fundamental difference between the medicines of the East and the West.
In Asia, the use of Qi in enhancing one’s vitality and improving health is employed even today. For example, Qigong therapies are popular in China as Qi-therapies are in Japan. More recently, similar healing techniques were known in Europe as the working of mesmerism or hypnosis. Unfortunately, these techniques are not well accepted as a branch of today’s main-stream sciences, especially in the Western hemisphere. Many people consider them as folk medicine. Some people believe that they are ‘supernatural’ and ‘parapsychological’ phenomena. In fact, Qi is neither a paranormal nor para-psychological phenomenon but is a normal phenomenon. Since it is a normal phenomenon, Qi can be studied by modern scientific methodology. Only a limited number of investigators have been studying them as the object of scientific, medical investigation for the past 30 years. In the past 30 years, many Chinese scientists regarded ‘Qi’ as a real substance flowing in our body, which can be represented by mass. On the contrary, most Japanese scientists treated ‘Qi’ as energy, except for Shinagawa who considered it to be information. Although neither Qi itself nor the mechanism of its effects is understandable or explicable within any paradigm of modern medical science, its effects on the human body are apparent and some studies have been tried to find the underlying mechanism with laboratory experiments (Ohnishi, 2007).
Ohnishi et al. are demonstrating that so-called ‘Qi-energy’ is a natural phenomenon, and therefore, it can be analyzed by rigorous scientific and objective investigations. A ‘breathing method’ was developed by a Japanese leading Qi-expert, Kozo Nishino, Since ‘breathing’ is directly related to oxygen respiration, he has long proposed that mitochondria may play a key role in maintaining vitality and health (Nishino, 1997;2004). This led them to undertake the project to explore a possible relationship between Qi-energy and mitochondrial function (Ohnishi et al., 2006). Kozo Nishino has hypothesized for many years that the breathing method would increase oxygen delivery in the body, activate cell metabolism including mitochondrial function, thereby bringing us tangible health benefits (Kimura et al., 2005; Ohnishi et al., 2005). Recently, Ohnishi et al. found that his Qi protected isolated rat liver mitochondria from heat-induced deterioration, possibly by reducing the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The protection of mitochondria and the reduction of ROS generation would produce more energy from the nutrients and would result in healthier cells and organs. The protection of mitochondria from adverse effects of ROS would reduce the likelihood of premature apoptosis, and therefore would contribute to the longevity of the practitioners. His prediction that mitochondria would play key roles in maintaining health and longevity seems to be supported by these experiments (Ohnishi et al., 2006).
Isolated rat liver mitochondria are a well-established model for studying biophysical and biochemical aspects of energy metabolism. The simplest marker for the integrity and intactness of mitochondria is a respiratory control ratio (RCR, which is the ratio between State-3 and State-4 respiration) (Chance and Williams, 1955). Ohnishi et al. measured the RCR and analyzed the degree of lipid peroxidation in the mitochondria by measuring the amount of TBARS (thiobarbituric acid reactive substances). Using this model, they found that a heat treatment (incubation at 39°C for 10 min) decreased the RCR by about 60%. While the Qi-energy emitted from the fingers of Nishino could inhibit the decrease. They also attempted to find the mechanism for the Qi-effect. After the early work by Boveris and Cadenas (1975), ROS has been recognized as an important factor to damage mitochondrial functions. In order to test whether Qi-energy could reduce the ROS production, they measured the amount of mitochondrial lipid peroxidation after the heat treatment using a well-known assay technique for TBARS. Lipid peroxidation was increased during the heat deterioration, suggesting that mitochondria were exposed to oxidative stress. Lipid peroxidation is known to damage the mitochondrial membrane. However, lipid peroxidation was inhibited by Qi-energy, and the mitochondrial integrity was preserved.
From the standpoint of health and longevity, their results may have the following significance: (i) Qi-energy may protect mitochondria from oxidative injury. If the same reaction takes place in the practitioners’ body, then mitochondria may produce more energy, and therefore, it has beneficial effects on cellular metabolism. (ii) Mitochondria are known to play key roles in apoptosis of many cell types. If cytochrome c and other apoptosis-inducing factors (AIF) are released from mitochondria, they activate a series of cascade reactions to cause apoptotic cell death (Green and Reed, 1998; Narita et al.,1998; Susin et al., 1999; Lorenzo et al., 1999; Shimizu et al., 1999). Although apoptosis is a fundamental feature of almost all animal cells and it is indispensable for the normal development of tissues, organs and immune systems (Jacobson et al., 1997), excessive apoptosis could cause diseases (Thompson, 1995). Therefore, protecting mitochondrial integrity would help prevent cytochrome c release, thereby inhibiting inappropriate apoptosis from taking place. In conclusion, Qi-energy maintains mitochondrial membrane integrity during the heat deterioration process. Mitochondria are constantly exposed to the danger of ROS-induced oxidative injury. The effect of Qi seems to be related to the inhibition of oxidative injury on mitochondrial membranes caused by ROS. Therefore, Qi would have a beneficial effect on protecting mitochondria; thus, it would maintain efficient cellular metabolism and decrease the chance of unnecessary apoptosis.
‘Qi-energy’, which can be enhanced through the practice of Nishino Breathing Method (NBM), was reported to have beneficial health effects. It has been known for 20 years that the practitioners of Qi experienced beneficial health effects (Yumi, 2005). It was shown that the practice increased immune activity and decreased the stress level of the practitioners (Kimura et al., 2005). From the collaboration with Master Nishino, Ohnishi et al. showed that ‘Qi’ is not a paranormal or parapsychological phenomenon, but a natural phenomenon. An interesting observation from the standpoint of CAM was that the Qi-energy, which inhibits cell division of cultured cancer cells (Ohnishi et al., 2005) or protects isolated mitochondria from oxidative injury, was the same as that which could move other individuals in the Taiki-practice (Ohnishi and Ohnishi, 2006). This suggests that the training gained from the Taiki-practice may produce beneficial health effects. This is the reason why they are studying the mechanism behind the Taiki-practice.
Ohnishi et al. explain the philosophical and psychological background of Qi, emphasize that the unique aspects of Eastern philosophy are ‘non-linearity’ and ‘holistic’ approach and then present physics aspect of Qi. Their experiments demonstrated that a ‘Qi-beam’ carries ‘entropy’ (or information), which is different from ‘energy’ (Ohnishi and Ohnishi, 2009a). We believe that the human will uncover the secret of Qi in the near future with the rapid development of modern life science.
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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
 ^ College of Life Science, Dalian Nationalities University, Dalian, China, is given as the professional location of Xing-Tai Lii.
 ^ Norman Bethune College of Medicine, Jilin University, Changchun China, is given as the professional location of Jia Zhao.
Graphics added by Qi Encyclopedia.