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Winter is Kidney Time

See also Naturopathic Causes and Treatment of Kidney Stones

As it is now winter, I would like to focus on some attention on an often underrated organ, or actually two organs, the kidneys. In Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM, the organ that corresponds to the season of winter is the kidneys. The paired kidneys are part of the urinary tract. The urinary tract also consists of ureters, (tubes that connect the kidney to the bladder), the bladder and the urethra, which connects the bladder to the outside.

Functions of the kidney

The major function of the kidneys and urinary tract are to transport waste products for disposal, kind of like the toilet and bath draining into the sewer or septic.The kidneys eliminate excess water, ammonia and urea, bilirubin, uric acid, some bacterial toxins, hydrogen and other ions, some heat and carbon dioxide are also lost through the kidney.

The kidneys eliminate ammonia and urea, both toxic nitrogen containing compounds derived from the breakdown of protein, bilyrubin from the breakdown of red blood cells, uric acid from the breakdown of nucleic acids i.e RNA and DNA and waste carbon dioxide from breathing. Besides waste management, the kidneys also;

  • Regulate the amount of blood
  • Regulate the blood pH ie Acid to alkaline balance. Normal range is 7.35 – 7.45
  • Regulate blood pressure (BP) by secreting a hormone called renin that, with the help of the liver, lungs and arterial walls normalises blood pressure.
  • Contributes to metabolism. The kidney converts the vitamin D we get from the sun to its active form calcitriol, which helps calcium absorption from the small intestine. The kidney also secretes another hormone, erythropoietin, which stimulates the production of red blood cells and even makes glucose (gluconeogenesis) when we need it. So as you can see, the kidneys are much more than just about wee.

When things go wrong

Common disorders of the urinary tract are urinary tract infection including urethritis, inflammation of the urethra, cystitis, inflammation of the bladder or pyelonephritis, inflammation of the kidney itself. Other diseases affecting the kidney are glomerulonephritis (Bright’s disease), nephrotic syndrome, kidney failure, polycystic kidney disease and diabetes insipidus. The last is a type of diabetes is due to a defect in production of anti-diuretic hormone, leading to increased thirst and urine.

Kidney weakness can also manifest as bed-wetting and weak bladder. Apparently 1/3 women suffer from urinary incontinence after childbirth. Incontinence is a symptom of weak pelvic floor and a weak bladder. Strengthening the kidneys can treat bed-wetting and incontinence.

Healthy bladder habits should be no more that once every 2-3 hours during the day and not at night. Urine should be very light yellow. It is normal to have darker urine in the morning.

Symptoms to cause concern

Burning or painful urination, increased frequency and urgency to urinate, lower back pain or kidney pain accompanied with fever requires immediate attention. The kidneys sit just above where you place your hands on your waist in your back. There can also be a discolouration of urine due to the presence of blood and pus. The urine can also have a strong odour. Get to a doctor or naturopath and have your urine tested ASAP.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the kidney

Winter is the season belonging to the kidney in Chinese medicine. Our energy is not set in stone. Just as the moon affects the ebb and flow of the tide, our energy is also affected by nature. We are but a microcosm in the macrocosm of the universe. In winter, just as the energy of the tree goes into the roots, so to does the energy of our bodies. The kidneys are the roots of the body. If we use this time to strengthen the kidneys, then our leaves and fruit will be strong also.


The kidneys in Chinese medicine have a very important function in that they are the source of your constitutional strength. Some people are born with a better constitution. That is, they are much more able to bounce back after illness. This strength is called kidney jing. The jing is the thing, and the kidneys store it.

Kidney jing is both pre-natal and post-natal. Pre-natal kidney jing governs growth and development and sex and reproduction. Congenital abnormalities, retardation and speech difficulties are because of kidney jing deficiency. Sexual dysfunction and infertility are can also be viewed as kidney jing deficiency. The testicles are called the palace of semen and sperm is pure jing.

Post-natal jing in TCM governs the life cycle itself. Jing naturally declines with age. It can be likened to our metabolism. Our metabolism also slows with age. Aging, grey hair and tooth loss are due to jing deficiency. Kidney jing nourishes the brain and spinal chord, bones and bone marrow. Deficient jing can lead to senile dementia or poor memory and concentration. Thinning of the bones is also because of kidney weakness.

The kidneys govern water in the body. Water is yin in nature and cools the body. Not enough of it can cause an excess in fire or yang causing symptoms such as sweaty palms, feet and chest, red face, red skin conditions, hypertension, headaches, migraines, stroke and epilepsy. Excess or deficient water can lead to either too much urine or not enough. Nighttime urination is a sign of kidney weakness. Bedwetting in children is easily treated with herbs, diet and moxa.

Kidney Yang is responsible for the power to fuel every other function in the body. Yang makes things move. Yang warms the limbs. The Chinese love snake wine as a tonic to improve their love life, this is because snake tonifies kidney yang and the kidney yang is responsible for the erection.

The kidneys also grasp qi as it comes into the body. Weak kidneys can be one cause of asthma. They are also responsible for the health of the lower back, knees, hair and ears. Thick hair is a sign of strong kidneys and hair loss and baldness is from kidney deficiency.

In TCM the kidney has a lot more functions that wastewater. Basically, in TCM strong kidneys mean strong vitality, abundant fertility, a great sex life, optimum brain power, strong lower back and knees, strong will power, good bladder and bowel control, healthy hair and good hearing.

TCM Approach Chinese herbs can tonify kidney jing, kidney yin or kidney yang deficiency. Moxibustion is best for warming the kidney yang and herbs will strengthen the stomach so the body may produce more yin.

Jing tonics include the following;

Black foods

Black is the colour of the kidney. Black circles under the eyes or as we affectionately call them, “allergic shiners” are an indication of kidney involvement. Eat black-eyed beans, black beans, black soybeans and black sesame seeds.


Walnut, shaped like brains and kidneys are good for both. Grind a paste of walnuts and black sesame seeds. Keep this in the fridge and have a tsp, three times a day. Kidney beans of course are good for your kidneys. Eating kidney is good for your kidneys. Make a home made steak and kidney pie (I mean pastry and all) Cold foods and liquids weaken the kidneys. The kidneys hate cold.


  • Drink 6-8 galsses of filtered water a day.Cold water weakens the kidneys. Cold drinks will cause a child to bed wet. Bacteria can be washed off the shiny bladder walls. This is a natural defence mechanism. Please do not use plastic to filter your water or buy water in plastic bottles. Plastic contains endocrine disrupting and cancer promoting BPA. For a solution to your water filtration please see also Carahealth Gravity Fed Water Filters. Postage is available worldwide.
  • Next time you have corn, throw the corn silk in a teapot and have tea. Alternatively use them in a stock. Corn silk is healing and anti-inflammatory to the urinary tract
  • Barley broths. Barley is a urinary tract demulcent and soothes the urinary tract.
  • Caffeine is a bladder irritant. Keep away.
  • Remember your grandmother told you. Wear appropriate clothing to avoid getting a chill in the kidneys.
  • Running around with no shoes on in cold weather weakens the kidneys. There is a acupuncture point on the bottom of the foot called kidney 1 and cold can transmit directly to your kidneys. Acupuncturists transmit heat into the body wiith moxa to warm kidney yang.
  • Personal hygiene is important as bacteria can rise up the urinary system. Wipe from front to back.
  • Treat you sexual partner. If you have thrush or chronic cystitis your partner also needs treating. Interestingly, nuns have 1/10 the incidence of cystitis.
  • Avoid getting “p****d off’ and stop saying that things P**s you off
  • Avoid jealousy. In Chinese terms, cystitis develops after a large dose of the green eyed monster. Stop keeping up with the Jones and be yourself.


Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder. It must be addressed urgently as the infection can rapidly rise to the kidneys and causes serious problems. Approximately 25% of woman get cystitis at least once a year. Symptoms are burning, urgency and frequency. There can be accompanying discolouration of the urine and lower abdominal pain in the region of the bladder. Remember to drink lots of warm water and follow the other lifestyle advice from last week.


Bacteria is not a dirty word. Somehow, some of us have become obsessed with ridding bacteria from our homes. Certain bacteria are required for optimum health. Most of us now know that good bacteria exist in the digestive tract. Certain foods enhance the production of theses bacteria. Just like the digestive tract, these bacteria also line other organs, including the bladder. Any person with cystitis requires acidophilus supplements.

Overuse of antibiotics for this problem may temporarily rid the body of infection, however will further contribute to an imbalance of bad bacteria that can result in further infections. A common scenario is a woman with repeated history of cystitis often accompanied by vaginal thrush and digestive symptoms. This pattern needs the attention of a doctor of complementary medicine and not another round of antibiotics. Naturopathy is primarily about removing the causative factors of disease and creating an internal environment in which bacteria do not flourish.

Immune weakness

Any infection, especially chronic in nature, means that there is immune system dysfunction. This can be due to stress or nutritional deficiency. As a nutritionist I have a large range of herbs and supplements that will stimulate your immune system;

Vitamin C. Anti-bacterial and anti-viral. Assists with the production of antibodies and T-lymphocytes.

Vitamin E. As an anti-oxidant it scavenged free radicals produced in disease. Enhances cell mediated immunity, lymphocyte response and Natural Killer cells. Is anti-bacterial and anti-viral.

Selenium. Anti-oxidant and enhances lymphocytes, phagocytes, the thymus gland and all white blood cells · Zinc. Anti-viral and important for the health of the thymus gland. Come and have your zinc levels checked at my clinic.

Echinacea. Increases white blood cells, T lymphocyte, macrophages and natural killer cells. Anti-viral and anti-bacterial Remember, if you are considering any long-term use of supplements or are on medication; please consult a nutritionist to avoid any adverse reaction.


Foods are either acid or alkaline. The body must have the correct balance to be free of disease. Too much acid forming food will create acidic urine. Bacteria love this acidic environment. Basically, red meat, milk and cheese are acid forming and green leafy vegetables are alkalising. Lemon juice in warm water has an alkalising effect on the body also. A full dietary assessment is recommended, as certain foods need to be prescribed.

Herbal medicine for the kidneys

See also my Jing Tonics called Carahealth Hair

Carahealth Kidney/Antiageing Tonic

and for Bladder infections, Carahealth Urinary

There are a plethora of herbs for kidney health. Most herbs have at least a mild diuretic effect enhancing elimination of wastes. Herbal medicine is rapidly effective to relieve cystitis. It can even taste good in this case! Here is a couple.


Cranberries ontain flavanoids, catechins and anthocyanodins. These have been scientifically proven to inhibit adherence of bacteria to bladder They deodorises the urine essentially. Taking cranberry supplements on their own however is not naturopathic. Unless you take diet and emotions into account, you are not addressing the cause. Cranberry juice is high in sugar. Sugar feed bad bacteria. Please water it down at least.


Bearberry, or affectionately, uva ursi is commonly prescribed. It contains hydroquinones, iridoids and flavanoids. It is a urinary antiseptic, particularly against E coli. This herb must be professionally prescribed.

Homoeopathy for bladder/kidney infections

Good for the strange, rare and peculiar symptoms. Homoeopathic medicine provides fast relief! The following symptoms indicate certain remedies that I can prescribe;

  • Urine is dark and highly offensive, smells like horses urine
  • Urine smells like violets
  • Frequent urination and burning pains
  • Frequency, urgency and only a few drops pass with stinging pain
  • High fever with pain, urgency, frequency

Remember the advice here is designed to educate and empower you to help yourself. In relation to cystitis and kindey infectionss, if you would like to treat them in a natural way and avoid antibiotics make an appointment. I do international consulations. If you are treateing yourself make sure you go to the A&E or ED if symtoms owrsen and fever and back pain develop as this is an indication the infection has travelled to your kidney.

    Naturopathic approaches to kidney stones

    For a full detailed explanations of kidney stones, please see also Naturopathic Causes and Treatment of Kidney Stones.

    The rate of kidney stones is increasing. At least 5% of females and 10% of males experience a kidney stone in their lifetime. Kidney stones usually have no symptoms until one blocks the urinary tract. This results in excruciating pain originating in the kidneys. There can be accompanying fever, chills and nausea and vomiting. How crystals are formed There are three types of stone;

    1. Calcium salts 85% of stones are made from calcium.

    2. Uric acid 5-8%

    3. Struvite 10-15%

    Excess vitamin D

    Since most are formed from calcium, I will focus on this. Calcium is excreted in the kidneys. Certain underlying conditions can result in kidney stones. Alarmingly, one of these is excess vitamin D. High vitamin D intake causes excess calcium to be excreted. It is disturbing how companies like to strip our foods of nutrients only to add them at the end in the hope they can convince us they are good for us. Nature had already perfected food.

    Milk and antacids

    Fortified milk with added calcium can lead to kidney stones. Unfortunately, the calcium added to milk, most calcium supplements and antacids are made from calcium carbonate. This is the most poorly digested form of calcium. The hydroxyapatites and citrates are preferable. If we do not digest it, it does not end up in our bones as intended but is excreted through he kidneys. Over a long period this will cause stone formation. Calcium absorption is an article in it’s own right however. Osteoporosis has more to do with trouble absorbing calcium rather than not having enough. Avoid added calcium and vitamin D and limit dairy.

    Magnesium and B6 deficiency

    Magnesium is vitally important to prevent kidney stone formation. Magnesium is deficiency is commonplace. Nutrients work in pairs and groups. Too much calcium and vitamin D results in not enough magnesium. Magnesium helps the calcium dissolve correctly in the urine and decreases the production and excretion of calcium. Magnesium is more effective with B6.

    Smoking and coppersmiths

    Smoking causes high amounts of a heavy metal called cadmium to accumulate in the body. This cadmium then concentrates in the kidneys. High cadmium unfortunately results in low zinc, which is incidentally the reason why smokers have such a poor sense of smell and taste. Coppersmiths, who work with cadmium, have an extremely high incidence of kidney stones, especially the ones that smoke!

    High oxalate containing foods

    Oxalates inhibit calcium absorption. People with kidney stones should avoid excess amounts of high oxalate containing foods such as black tea, rhubarb, silver beet, parsley, beetroot leaves and cocoa. Under normal circumstances, these foods are OK in moderation.

    Herbal Medicine for the kidney

    Please see also Carahealth Kidney/Antiageing tonic. This mix is specific for bladder weakness and incontinence.

    Carahealth Urinary, specific for cystitis and stones.

    From a naturopathic perspective, kidney stones are entirely preventable with proper diet, and prevention is better than the pain. The Chinese use walnut paste that dissolves the stones, giving a milky urine. Vegetarians have a lower incidence of kidney stones. Kidney stones require professional treatment. There are specific herbs to prevent and treat stone formation called anti-lithic herbs and also strong antiinflammatories that can be prescribed by a qualified herbalist. If you have kidney stones, I can help. International phone consulations are available.  Enjoy you food life!

    Carina is available to lecture for your group or institution on this subject.

    Carina Harkin BHSc.Nat.BHSc.Hom.BHSc.Acu. is a practitioner of 11 years, complementary medicine lecturer of 4 years and mother of six in Galway, Ireland who practices what she teaches.

    For an appointment call Carina directly on 083 34 66 333.

    All products are available through www.carahealth.ie. Remember, we are here for a good time not a long time, enjoy your food life!

    Carahealth Galway Ireland. Acupuncture, Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Herbal Medicine, Nutrition, Nutritional Therapy, Flower Essences, Iridology, Short Courses, Cosmetic Acupuncture