Kidney Functions & TCM Guide
The kidneys are a pair of vital organs that perform many functions to keep the blood clean and chemically balanced.
As far as Western medicine is concerned, these are the most important kidney functions.
TCM, however, goes many steps further.
The main functions of the Kidney include:
• storing Essence
• producing Marrow
• filling up the brain
• control the bones
• governing and regulating water
• controlling the reception of chi
• opening up into the ears
• securing the two lower gates
• showing its health on the hair
• pairing with the Bladder
Storing Essence (Jing) is one of the most important kidney function.
It is therefore responsible for growth, development and reproductive functions, i.e. sperm and egg production.
As described in the Suwen, “Essence is the foundation of the human body.”
Essence consists of two parts: Original or Congenital Essence (this is the reproductive essence) inherited from our parents, and Acquired Essence, transformed from food.
The original essence is the essence that is stored in the kidney, and can be transformed into Kidney chi.
According to the Suwen:
“At the age of fourteen, a woman will begin to menstruate. Her Ren meridian becomes unobstructed, and the chi of her Chong meridian is replete. This is why her menstruation becomes regular and she is able to conceive.
At the age of forty- nine, a woman’s Ren meridian becomes deficient, the chi of the Chong meridian becomes weakened and scanty, sexual energy becomes exhausted, and menstruation stops with the result that her body becomes old and she is no longer able to conceive.”
In reference to men, it continues:
“As to a man, at the age of sixteen, his kidney chi becomes even more abundant, he begins to have sexual energy and is full of semen that he can ejaculate.
When he has sexual intercourse with a woman, he can cause conception.
At the age of fifty-six the liver chi begins to weaken, the tendons become inactive, sexual energy begins to run out, the semen becomes inadequate, the kidney becomes debilitated with the result that all parts of the body begin to grow old.
At the age of sixty-four his hair and teeth are gone.”
This shows the importance of the kidney functions in reproduction, growth, and is the source of life. Since it houses the true yin and yang, therefore it is also called the organ of water and fire!
From birth, youth, maturity to aging and death, the life cycle involves the essential Kidney chi, which changes from abundance to exhaustion.
If Kidney function is abnormal, infertility, infantile underdevelopment, maldevelopment, weakness of bone development, etc. will manifest. In other words, we aged faster. This is bad news for those indulging in over-sexual activities.
The “Bony” Story
Related to the topic of aging is our bones. In TCM, the concept of Marrow is unlike the Western concept of (just) the bone marrow. TCM sees Marrow as made up of the Bones, Bone Marrow, Brain and Spinal Cord.
Kidney essence is the basis for producing Marrow, which according to TCM, is needed for the nourishment of the bones and brain health.
The Kidney, not only governs the Bones, but also influences the filling up and development of the Bone Marrow, Spinal Cord and the Brain. (In TCM, the Brain and Spinal Cord are known as the “sea of marrow”.)
So when the Kidneys are functioning healthily, the Bones and teeth will be strong. Not only the Bones benefit, the mental strength too will gain.
Inadequacy of Kidney chi or essence may lead to a variety of syndromes, namely aching bones, weak lumbar region and knees, weakness of the lower limbs, infantile maldevelopment, delayed closing of the fontanelle, etc.
And also not forgetting looseness and loss of teeth!
It is known that vitamin D is crucial for bone health. But what’s the connection between the Kidney and vitamin D?
When the Kidney function fails to convert vitamin D into its active form, calcium does not get into the body from food, and the blood level of calcium can fall. Besides calcium, another important bonemineral is phosphate.
Thus the functions of the Kidneys to maintain proper levels of calcium, phosphate and vitamin D is important to prevent kidney bone disease, a condition that weakens the bones in the body.
Of Hair and Jing
The Kidney governs grasping of the descending Lung chi. The “grasped” chi is absorbed and results in a smooth, even and uninterrupted breathing. In a deficient state, uneven breathing, dyspnea (difficulty in breathing), and asthma will occur.
While the Lung manifests itself on the skin and body hair, the Kidney flourishes in the hair of the head. The nosediving of Kidney essence (chi) is reflected in the growth, loss, glossiness and dryness of the hair.
Since essence and blood generate each other, ample essence makes sufficient blood. The health of the hair also relies on blood nourishment. When Kidney chi declines, lack of luster and moisture, roughness, white hair, and falling out of hair, follow.
As the Suwen once again says, “The kidney is in tune with the bones, its prosperity is reflected in the luster and moisture of the head hair.”
The Water Connection
Another Kidney function that has a close affinity with the Lung (and Spleen) is in the governing of water and regulating its balance. Water is received in the Stomach and transported by the Spleen which controls the ascending function.
Part of the water received by the Lung is dispersed throughout the whole body, including its descending function to the Kidney and its accompanying organ, Bladder. While the Spleen separates clear fluid from the cloudy, the Kidney filters it further.
The useful clear fluid is sent back up to the Lung for dispersion, the unwanted fluids down to the Bladder to form urine, which is excreted.
Other than the organs mentioned above, the Small and Large Intestines, and the Skin too have roles to play in the distribution of body fluids. But they all rely on the warm and active function of Kidney yang.
Listen, Guard Your Lower Gates!
Another important Kidney function is the auditory function. Kidney opens into the ears. Deficiency in Kidney essential chi can cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and diminished hearing.
The Kidney also opens into the two lower gates (orifices), also known as the anterior yin and posterior yin.
The anterior yin includes the urethra and genitalia. Their action is of reproduction and discharging urine. The posterior yin is the anus, which excretes the stool.
Although the storage/discharging of urine and stool is controlled by the Bladder (Kidney’s paired organ) and the Large Intestine respectively; their effectiveness also relies on the well-being of Kidney function and its chi. When Kidney chi is weak, controlling and securing the gates become an uphill task for the Kidney.
A pathological phenomenon, the “destructive cycle,” can occur when the Kidney chi is trapped and “heated up.”
Based on the Five Element Theory (Wu Xing), in normal conditions, metal (Lung and Large Intestine) mutually promotes water (Kidney and Bladder). But an overly strong water can also tear down (“destroy”) weak metal structures by rusting it! See charts on right.
Both the above pathological Kidney functions will manifest as frequent urination, scanty urine, urinary incontinence, long-term diarrhea, constipation, and even rectal prolapsed!
Too weak a Kidney chi too will not be able to secure properly the gates of reproductive organs, and may result in spermatorrhea, impotence, premature ejaculation and nocturnal emission for men; and low libido, irregular menstrual cycle, fetal malnourishment and infertility for women.
Another organ which is closely related to the Kidney, and the Conception Vessel (Ren) and Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai) meridians is the Uterus, one of the five Extraordinary Fu organs. Its main functions are to govern menstruation and pregnancy.
Also related to the Uterus is the Liver, as the latter stores blood. Stagnated Liver chi therefore can cause clotted menstrual blood and painful periods.
Supplements for the Kidney
To keep the Kidney functioning at its peak, go for supplements that not only treat the “beans” well, but also the Lungs as both have very close connections with fluids. The Lung’s element, metal is also the controlling element of the Kidney’s, i.e. water.
If you want to save your sex life, build your bones and strengthen your immunity, save your Kidneys (and Lungs). And you would love to have that glowing velvety hair and skin as well, wouldn’t you?