THE FOUR HUMORS
Agents of Metabolism
The Four Humors are the metabolic agents of the Four Elements in the human body. The right balance and purity of them is essential to maintaining health. The Four Humors and the elements they serve are as follows:
BLOOD - AIR
PHLEGM - WATER
YELLOW BILE - FIRE
BLACK BILE - EARTH
All four of these humors, or vital fluids, are present in the bloodstream in varying quantities:
Blood, or the Sanguine humor, is the red, hemoglobin-rich portion.
Phlegm, or the Phlegmatic humor, is present as the clear plasma portion.
Yellow Bile, or the Choleric humor, is present as a slight residue or bilirubin, imparting a slight yellowish tint.
Black Bile, or the Melancholic humor, is present as a brownish grey sediment with platelets and clotting factors.
Digestion: Origin and Metabolism of the Four Humors
The Four Humors are responsible for the nutrition, growth and metabolism of the organism. They originate in the digestive process.
In Greek Medicine, digestion happens in four stages:
The First Digestion happens in the gastrointestinal tract, and produces chyle; its waste product is the feces, or stool.
The Second Digestion happens in the liver, and produces the Four Humors. Its wastes are eliminated via the bile, urine and sweat.
The Third Digestion happens in the blood vessels, and feeds the principal organs of the body. Its wastes are eliminated via the urine and sweat.
The Fourth Digestion happens in the tissues, and is the final congellation of the Four Humors into living tissue. Its wastes are eliminated similarly to the Third Digestion.
The Four Humors originate in the liver in the Second Digestion as follows:
Blood, or the Sanguine humor, is the first to arise, and receives the richest, choicest share of nutrients. It is the most plentiful humor, and enters the general circulation.
Phlegm, as Plasma or the Phlegmatic humor, is the second to arise and receives the next richest share of nutrients. It is also very plentiful, and enters the general circulation.
Yellow Bile, or the Choleric humor, is the third to arise and receives a rather coarse, meager share of nutrients. It is not so plentiful. Only a slight residue enters the general circulation; the rest is stored in the gall bladder, its receptacle, to be used as needed.
Black Bile, or the Melancholic humor, is the last to arise, and receives the coarsest, most meager share of nutrients. It is the least plentiful. Only a slight residue enters the general circulation; the rest is stored in the spleen, its receptacle, to be used as needed.
The first two humors, blood and phlegm, are moist and flourishing, and are the metabolic agents of the Wet elements - Air and Water, respectively. Most of the nutrition, growth and metabolism of the organism depends on them.
The last two humors, yellow bile and black bile, are dry and effete, and only needed by the organism in small amounts. They are the metabolic agents of the Dry elements - Fire and Earth, respectively. Although only needed in small amounts, they are potent and essential catalysts where needed.
Blood / Sanguine Humor / Air
Blood is Hot and Wet, or Warm and Moist. It is the very essence of vitality and health, nutrition and growth. Blood is perfect nourishment perfectly digested. Its receptacle or home is in the arteries and blood vessels. Blood carries the Vital Force and Innate Heat, which power cellular metabolism. The essence of blood is exchange and contact, as it is the basic nutritional and metabolic currency of the organism. Blood has an Attractive virtue, or force, since all cells, organs and tissues have an absolute need for it, and are therefore attracted to it.
Phlegm / Phlegmatic Humor / Water
The Phlegmatic humor is Cold and Wet. It includes not just phlegm, but all the other clear fluids of the body: mucus, saliva, plasma, lymph, and serous and interstitial fluids. Together, these fluids cool, moisten, nourish, lubricate, protect, and purify the organism. The Plegmatic humor has an Expulsive virtue, or force, which flushes out impurities, transports vital nutrients, and helps eliminate wastes. The home of the Phlegmatic humor is in the veins and lymphatics. The Phlegmatic humor nourishes the body on a deep and fundamental level.
Yellow Bile / Choleric Humor / Fire
The Choleric humor is Hot and Dry. It is produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. Bile has a hot, caustic nature and a Digestive virtue, or force, which gives it a strong affinity with the other digestive secretions of the middle GI tract. Fire and bile digest and consume, metabolize and transform. Digestively, bile powers digestion; digests, assimilates and excretes fats and cholesterol; and acts as a natural laxative to stimulate intestinal peristalsis and defecation. It also colors the stool brown. Systemically, Choleric residues in the bloodstream thin the blood, enabling it to penetrate through the finest capillaries; empowers the inflammatory response; and opens up the lungs and respiratory passages as a surfactant.
Black Bile / Melancholic Humor / Earth
Black Bile is Cold and Dry. Healthy black bile is a normal sediment of blood, or the Sanguine humor. Black Bile has a Retentive virtue or force, and a cooling, drying, astringing, precipitating, condensing, coagulating, solidifying effect on metabolism necessary for building the bones, teeth, and all dense, solid structural connective tissues of the body. Digestively, Black Bile awakens the stomach and appetite, solidifies the stool, and enables the digestive organs to hold on to their contents long enough to process them properly. Systemically, Melancholic residues in the bloodstream thicken the blood, enabling it to clot; this is vitally important in wound granulation, scar tissue formation, and all structural repair of the body. Black Bile also governs mineral metabolism and bone formation.
The Psychological Effects of the Humors
The Four Humors are not just gross, physical substances. They also pervade the whole organism as subtle vapors, even affecting the mind, thoughts, and emotions. And so, the Four Humors also have psychological effects, making them capable of affecting both body and mind:
Blood promotes a feeling of joy, mirth, optimism, enthusiasm, affection and wellbeing.
Phlegm induces passivity, lethargy, subjectivity, devotion, emotionalism, sensitivity and sentimentality.
Yellow Bile provokes, excites and emboldens the passions. Being inflammatory, irritating and caustic, it provokes anger, irritability, boldness, ambition, envy, jealousy and courage.
Black Bile makes one pensive, melancholy and withdrawn. It encourages prudence, caution, realism, pragmatism and pessimism.
The Four Humors tend to have negative effects on the mind and emotions only when they're excessive or aggravated. Otherwise, they can also strengthen positive aspects of character.
Confluence of the Humors
Health is a harmonious balance and interworking of the humors. Although the Four Humors work together to ensure the optimum nutrition, growth and metabolism of the organism, healthy humors still maintain their own identity and functional integrity.
When the humors are harmonious, balanced and working well together, that is a condition called eucrasia, or "good mixture". When the humors are unbalanced, aggravated, or out of sorts, that is a condition called dyscrasia, or "bad mixture".