Traditional Chinese Medicine Internal Organ Syndromes

Kidney Syndromes

Kidney syndromes can have an effect anywhere in the body, since the kidneys are the source of yin and yang for the entire body. They are the storage site for the essence, the substance responsible for growth, fertility, and vitality, so the kidneys are only subject to syndromes of deficiency. Patterns of deficient qi, yin, or yang are often traced to a corresponding syndrome of deficiency within the kidneys; similarly, a long-term depletion in any organ eventually depletes the kidneys.

Kidney Yang Deficiency: The kidney yang is the source of metabolic fire (the heat needed for digestion and other bodily functions) for the entire body. When kidney yang is depleted, symptoms are cold hands and feet, frequent urination with clear urine or water retention and edema, night urination, pallor, pain in the lower back and knees, low sex drive, apathy, and an aversion to cold environments. This chronic condition can correspond to the Western conditions of nephritis, hypothyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, chronic lower back pain, depression, and sexual dysfunction. Treatment involves tonifying the "life-gate fire" by applying heat from moxibustion at a point below the second lumbar vertebra. The standard herb formula is Rehmannia Eight (Ba Wei Di Huang Wan), which contains herbs that nourish the kidneys along with hot metabolic stimulants such as cinnamon bark (rou gui) and aconite (fu zi).

Kidney Yang Deficiency with Dirty Water Flooding: This syndrome exhibits all the above symptoms of yang deficiency, but in this case the lack of yang leads to a debility in fluid transformation (fluids don't move to their proper locations; instead, they collect in organs or limbs). The specific symptoms related to this metabolic failure include edema in the lower body, abdominal fullness, nausea, difficulty breathing, cough or asthma with thin mucus, and small amounts of clear urine. This syndrome can correspond to congestive heart failure or nephritis. Treatment consists of tonifying kidney yang as above, with the addition of diuretic herbs such as Plantago seeds (che qian zi) and ginger root skin (sheng jiang pi).

Kidney Yin Deficiency: This condition of deficiency heat is due to a depletion of the yin. Typical yin deficiency signs of red cheeks, night sweats, "five palm heat," dry mouth, a red tongue with little or no coat, and a thin, rapid pulse occur. In addition, depletion symptoms specific to the kidneys occur, such as concentrated urine, nocturnal emissions of semen, premature ejaculation, overactive sex drive, vertigo, ringing in the ears, insomnia, and sore low back and knees. This pattern might match Western diagnoses of lumbago, hypertension, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and psychological or emotional disorders. The standard base formula for all varieties of kidney yin deficiency is Rehmannia Teapills (Liu Wei Di Huang Wan).

Kidney Essence (Jing) Deficiency: The kidney essence is responsible for growth, development, and reproduction. Children with this deficiency may exhibit late closure of the soft spots in the skull, slow growth, late development of speech and walking, or mental retardation. Adults may experience premature aging, fragile bones, loss of teeth and hair, infertility, and poor memory. In children, the syndrome is entirely genetic; in adults the pattern arises from old age or "burning the candle at both ends." Treatment consists of tonifying kidney yin and yang; the balance of warm and cold herbs is tailored to fit the individual situation. In addition, herbs are used that specifically strengthen the essence, such as privet fruit (nu zhen zi) and Cuscuta (tu si zi).

On the next page, discover how to identify syndromes associated with the intestines, and learn how Chinese medicine can treat these illnesses.

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