In Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are recognized as an important component of healthy water metabolism but they are also said to be involved with growth and maturation, as well as aging gracefully. These functions can be understood by examining the course of the kidney meridian. Beginning from the kidneys themselves, the kidney meridian runs upwards parallel to the center-line of the torso, up into the throat and ends just below the brain. On its route it intersects the adrenal glands, the thymus, thyroid, pineal and pituitary glands. Thus the functions ascribed to the kidneys in Chinese Medicine include both the function of the organs themselves as well as those of the endocrine glands to which the channel connects. Here is the description of the TCM kidneys:
Tissue Type: Bones
External Manifestation: Hair
The first three parts of this summary are readily understood given the kidneys’ role in water metabolism. The kidneys serve as a filter for the blood, removing waste products which are then excreted as urine. The kidneys also help to regulate electrolyte levels and long-term blood pressure, the latter of which is accomplished primarily through adjusting plasma sodium concentrations. It is quite common for people with high blood pressure to be put on a low-sodium diet. The related emotion no doubt stems from the involuntary loss of bladder control that can sometimes accompany extreme fear.
The final three parts of the summary relate more to the role the kidneys play in healthy aging in Chinese medicine. As we age are bones become more fragile, our hair thins and losses its color and we often have decreased hearing. These changes occur, at least in part, because the endocrine system becomes less efficient at maintaining homeostasis in the body. In Chinese medicine this is called “Kidney yin deficiency”. Yin refers to an organ’s nurturing and supportive functions. Chinese Medicine has developed many excellent herbal formulas to tonify kidney yin. Because the endocrine system is responsible for hormone levels in the body, these formulas are very helpful for menopause, often decreasing or eliminating symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes. These formulas are also often used for longevity in China and modern research has shown that many of the herbs contained in these formulas help protect the liver and kidneys from damage, have anti-tumor properties and can help keep blood pressure and blood cholesterol at healthy levels.