Winter is the season for the kidneys & bladder.
In Western medicine, kidneys are the organs that filter and purify blood. They maintain pH, mineral and electrolyte balance by removing excess water and salts to create urine. The urine is then stored in the bladder until you pee.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the kidneys and bladder are seen as an energetic system, bigger than just the physiological function of the organs themselves. To TCM, the kidneys govern reproduction, produce bone marrow, influence growth and development and control sexual energy.
From a TCM perspective, there are several kidney functions that differ from a Western perspective.
Like in Western medicine, the kidneys are responsible for water metabolism. However, instead of understanding water and salts from a bio-chemical perspective, TCM describes fluid as clear or turbid. Clear fluid is lighter and the kidneys send it upward to moisten the lungs. Turbid fluids are heavier and they are sent downward to be released through the bladder.
One of the kidneys’ primary roles is storing the vital essence called Jing Qi. Jing is the essence of Qi and is responsible for reproduction and regeneration. There are two types of Jing—the Jing inherited from your parents and forming your basic constitution, and the Jing acquired from the food, water and air of your daily life. The kidneys store and control Jing, and this process influences growth and development, sexual maturation, reproduction and aging.
The kidneys are also in charge of “Zhi”—mental drive and courage. Zhi is the will to live and provides determination and focus to accomplish your goals and realize your dreams.
It’s important to provide care and nourishment to your kidneys. Eat warming foods, and avoid raw foods and cold drinks. While a green salad is OK now and again, winter is not the season to be salad-crazy. Eat soups and stews. Add extra root vegetables, squash, beans, miso and seaweed to your diet. Use garlic and ginger for flavor. If you want fruit, eat blueberries or blackberries.
And keep your kidneys warm. Wear long shirts and sweaters that come down to your hips. Better yet, make a haramaki (see sidebar) and wear it every day.