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Winter Tips for Nourishing Kidneys and How to Identify Dysfunction
Our kidneys play a vital role in the healthy function of our bodies. Knowing how to nourish, treat, and identify dysfunction of the kidneys, especially in the winter months is valuable.
Jonathan Liu, a professor at Georgian College in Canada and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner, provides tips to strengthen the kidneys in the winter months and how to recognize early symptoms of illness.
Kidney Disease Tends to Develop in Winter
According to a report from The International Society of Nephrology, more than 850 million people worldwide have some form of kidney disease.
In winter, bouts of kidney disease are more prevalent. Liu said that blood circulation is poor in cold weather. The kidneys are full of balls of capillaries, also known as the glomerulus, which metabolizes waste in the body. When it is cold, blood flow slows and can hinder the toxins from being properly excreted causing strain on the kidneys.
10 Warning Symptoms of Kidney Disease
Kidney dysfunction is sometimes called a “silent” disease as it can often be asymptomatic.
Knowing what to look for and early detection of illness is important. Liu provided ten warning signs and emphasized that fatigue and edema are clear early symptoms of kidney disease, and require immediate attention.
- Fatigue that is not alleviated by rest.
- Swelling around the eyes, known as periorbital edema.
- Calf or ankle edema.
- Frequent nighttime urination.
- Persistently foamy urine that increases over time.
- Sudden hypertension.
- Nausea and vomiting in the morning, especially for patients with high blood pressure or diabetes.
- A metallic taste in the mouth.
- White frost on the skin.
- Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting that occur at the same time.
Diagnosing Kidney Disease: Checking Urine Foam
Foamy urine may be a symptom of kidney disease. Liu pointed out that there are various reasons that urine appears foamy with the following three being of no concern:
- Speed of urination creating foam.
- Reduction of water intake due to lack of thirst.
- Increased secretions in the urinary tract, such as prostatic fluid.
However, the following three reasons for the foamy quality do require your attention:
- Higher urine glucose in middle-aged men due to higher blood sugar levels.
- Urinary system infection: Discomfort and incomplete urination are symptoms of urethritis, prostatitis, and cystitis.
- Proteinuria: The urine has an odor similar to beer, and has fine foam that does not disappear within 10 minutes. This situation requires scrupulous attention.
It’s important to note that “benign” proteinuria can also cause increased foamy urine. Causes of benign proteinuria include strenuous exercise, medication, acute hyperthermia (fever or heat stroke), dehydration, hypothermia, and large fluctuations in blood pressure.
How Does TCM Suggest Treating Kidney Disease?
Liu pointed out that TCM treatment of kidney disease starts from what is called the “Three Warmer” (TW). The TW has been recorded in the classic text, “The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon,” written more than 2,000 years ago.
The TW is a channel for transferring water. It is divided into three sections—the upper, middle, and lower warmers from top to bottom. Whether the TW exists anatomically has been controversial since ancient times. Liu believes that scientists have recently discovered that the interstitium and fascia around the internal organs comprise the TW referred to in the “Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon.”
According to a study published in 2018 in Scientific Reports, a journal of Nature, the interstitium is a fluid-filled complex network that transports fluid. When an organ is diseased, tumor cells and toxic substances diffuse through the interstitium.
When the edema occurs on the top warmer, including swollen eyelids, swollen face, and sore throat, the method of “sweating” to encourage the body to discharge the water from the upper warmer is recommended. When edema occurs on ankles, calves, or thighs, the method of promoting urination to facilitate the drainage of water from the lower body will be used.
Liu said that he once treated a child who was infected with the flu virus and had acute kidney disease. The child had a sore throat, swollen eyelids, and was unable to urinate for several days. After the treatments of sweating and promoting urination, the child was completely cured.
Invigorating Kidneys in Winter Depends on Individual Constitution
Winter is a season for strengthening the kidneys. TCM believes that there are different ways to maintain health throughout the year. As the temperature is cold in winter, the energy of nature is in a state of convergence to reserve energy for the upcoming spring.
Liu suggested that to keep the kidneys well, the winter diet should be light and balanced in five tastes, including sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, and salty, and that eating more garlic can warm your kidneys. Garlic can also have the effects of antimicrobial activity, reducing blood fat, and increasing appetite.
Liu also recommends eating mushrooms, which contain plant polysaccharides, known as natural immune modulators. In addition, avoid eating high-sugar, high-fat, and high-salt foods, while increasing the intake of dietary fiber, which is good for gastrointestinal health.
According to TCM, people have different constitutions, thus the ways of replenishing can differ. The two common constitutions are the cold constitution and the hot constitution. According to Liu, people with a cold constitution are more affected by cold—and suffer from cold hands and feet. They also have white and swollen tongues. People with a hot constitution are more affected by heat and suffer from dry mouth, constipation, bad breath, red lips and tongue, and less tongue coating.
People with a cold constitution are suitable to eat more chives, lychees, and longan, which can warm the body. Those with a hot constitution should eat more Chinese yams, lentils, and wolfberries. These foods all have the effect of strengthening the kidneys.
Acupoints and Exercise to Nourish the Kidney
In addition to dietary supplements, there are acupuncture points on the body connected to the kidneys. Massage of the acupuncture points can nourish the kidneys.
In TCM theory, the meridian is the tunnel in the human body for transmitting energy, and the internal organs are connected to the surface of the human body through the meridian. Some points on the meridian that have special functions are called “acupoints.” Acupuncture and moxibustion (application of dried mugwort using “moxa” wool) on the acupoints can treat the diseases of the corresponding viscera.
Liu pointed out two major acupoints for nourishing the kidney: Great Ravine (KI 3) and Kidney Shu (BL 23). The Great Ravine point is located in the depression between the tip of the medial malleolus and Achilles tendon; the Kidney Shu point is 1.5 cun lateral to the lower border of the spinous process of L2.
Liu recommends massaging the acupoints every night after bathing. In addition to improving kidney health, it is also good for enhancing cold hands and feet, backache and leg pain, and memory loss.
TCM believes that the kidneys store the “essence” of energy in the body. The brain, central nervous system, and bones all need nourishment from the kidney essence. Therefore, taking care of the kidneys can also strengthen the muscles and bones and improve memory.
Liu also recommends Kegel training for pelvic floor muscles, including hip lifts twice a day, 30-50 times a time. These two exercises will activate the Long Strong(GV 1) of the Du channel (Governing Vessel) and the Meeting of Yin (CV 1) of the Ren channel (Conception Channel), which can strengthen the most important life energy in the human body—vitality. In addition to being good for the kidneys, people will feel energized and clear-headed after doing Kegel exercises.