Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH — Written by Julie Ryan Evans — Updated on October 2, 2018


Chances are you had no idea you even had a qi, much less knew that yours could potentially be deficient. However, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a balanced qi is vital to your good physical and mental health. If yours is out of whack, it could be the reason you’re not feeling well.

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Read on to find out just how being qi deficient may be affecting your health and how to keep it balanced.

Loosely translated, qi is the life force that drives every activity in organic life forms, according to TCM. It’s present in everything from physical objects such as your phone to immaterial aspects of the world like light, heat, and emotion. In Korean culture, it’s known as “ki,” while in Vietnamese culture, it’s known as “gi.”

There’s not a word in Western medicine that translates directly to a body’s qi, but it’s similar to one’s energy. So, a qi deficiency translates loosely into a lack of energy. But it’s much more than that.

Qi, along with the theory of yin and yang (the harmony of seemingly opposite forces), are the two core components of TCM. It’s thought that a sufficient amount of qi is required to maintain the yin and yang of your body. When a person’s qi is balanced and in harmony, they’ll benefit from health, well-being, and contentment. When one’s qi is deficient, pain, suffering, and illness may occur.

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What are the symptoms of qi deficiency?

Symptoms vary widely, as every organ and every process of the body has its own qi associated with it. A qi deficiency can happen anywhere the body doesn’t have enough energy to perform its functions.

Symptoms may affect the following:

Digestive system

TCM practitioners refer to the digestive system as the spleen, which serves a different function than the organ by the same name in Western medicine. Symptoms of qi deficiency in this system include:

poor digestionlow or no appetite


Symptoms of qi deficiency related to the lungs include:

weak or breathy voiceweak immune systemspontaneous sweating


Symptoms of qi deficiency related to the heart include:

lack of joy


Symptoms of qi deficiency related to the kidneys include:

memory lossknee or back pain

Other symptoms

Other symptoms may include:

brittle hairweaknessweight problemsemotional exhaustion

Qi deficiency is also believed to be at the root of many common Western disorders, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, indigestion, menstrual cramps, and others.

In TCM, a variety of things determines your qi. It begins with your genetic makeup. It’s also affected by your diet, emotions, and habits from birth onward. It’s always changing.

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There are a variety of physical and emotional conditions that are thought to diminish your qi. Among the most common causes are chronic stress and sleep deprivation. Both of these can elevate the stress hormone cortisol, which can interfere with immune function and increase the risk of depression and burnout. You may be able to lower your cortisol levels naturally, using both home remedies and a TCM supplement like ashwagandha.

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