The Traditional Chinese Medicine ApproachWesterners often fail to understand the intimate interconnectedness of every part of the body. We are generally taught that everything is separate; if you want healthy skin, you go to a dermatologist. If you have teeth problems, you visit a dentist. For trouble losing weight, you take a trip to a nutritionist. We seem to specialize in everything; however, other functional bodies of medicine see things drastically different. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, one of the foundational understandings is that the whole of the body is connected through energy channels. Every organ and gland affects the other, every cell is in communication with the next.
Understanding the KidneysAccording to Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are considered to be one of the most important organs in the body. The kidney organ system consists of the kidneys, bladder, and adrenals. These have many very important functions. The broad range of kidney functions include:
- Stores Jing; responsible for growth, development, reproduction, maturation, and longevity
- Sexual energy, fluid, and overall fertility health
- Aging and longevity
- Managing stress responses
- Creativity and skill
- Hair health
- Bladder function, urination
- Regulate fluid/mineral balance
- Filter the blood and bodily fluids; the kidneys filter 200 quarts of bodily fluids per day.
- Blood cell and Bone marrow development; the kidneys secrete the hormone erythropoietin, which stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells. Regulate blood pressure: the kidneys secrete the hormone renin, which regulates blood pressure.
The Kidney-Skin ConnectionConsidering the primary physiological functions of the kidneys, we can see more clearly how the kidneys affect skin health.
Skin Dryness/MoistureKidneys are responsible for fluid balance. They secret calcitriol (the active form of Vitamin D), which helps maintain calcium levels in the body. Additionally, the adrenals are part of the kidney organ system; they rest on top of the kidneys and are responsible for other mineral balance, fluid retention, and stress response. When the body is stressed the adrenals use up potassium and sodium to manage the stress by secreting stress hormone.
Skin DetoxificationOne of the most important factors in healthy skin is clean healthy blood, which is dependent upon a good working detoxification system. The kidneys are one of the body’s primary detoxification systems. They filter 200 quarts of blood daily; if they become weak and fail to do this job properly, the blood can become toxic. If the blood contains any pathogens and is not free of impurities, this unideal blood is sent to the skin to be nourished, but instead, causes inflammation and skin disorders. When the kidneys are healthy and strong, they properly filter the blood of pathogens and toxins, providing nutrient-rich, clean blood to the skin. This results in healthy, glowing skin.
Clear Under Eye SkinAccording to Chinese Face Mapping, the delicate skin under and around the eyes is connected to the kidney organ system. When the body is under too much stress, followed by insufficient rest, it can burn out the kidneys and adrenals. This makes it difficult for them to manage fluids and minerals. Consequently, this can show up as eye bags or puffiness and wrinkling around the skin of the eyes. The surest way to keep the area around the eyes looking bright and youthful is to keep the kidneys healthy. This way they can properly circulate and filer the blood, regulate fluids and minerals and keep our skin hydrated and full of healthy blood. In conclusion, the kidneys play a huge role in determining skin health and beauty by a few primary functions; regulating fluids and minerals and detoxifying and nourishing the blood. If these biological functions fail, the skin can become dry, dehydrated, wrinkled, aged, toxic and inflamed. To prevent these issues at the root and ensure healthy and radiant skin, we want to learn how to care for our kidneys.
Improving Kidney HealthIf you feel that your kidneys need some love or you simply would like to better care for them to guarantee lasting beauty and vitality, then here are a few simple ways to strengthen them:
Resolve Chronic StressThe most important thing to know about your kidneys is that they are the organs most negatively affected by stress. They are in charge of managing your stress responses. When under too much stress, they become fatigued and weak. Therefore, one of the best ways to nourish them is to get your stress under control. Any activity that helps relieve stress and tension will greatly benefit your kidneys and skin. Some ideas are moderate activity, playing a sport, yoga, Tai Qi, meditation, fishing, dancing, or a walk through nature.
Practice Balance or ModerationIf you further your study and understanding of the kidney system in TCM, you’ll discover that these organs are ruled by Yin and Yang. In other words, they are calibrating organs that are constantly regulating activities and seeking biological homeostasis. When we engage in too much Yang (outward) activities, like work, exercise, sexual activities, and so on, then they can become fatigued from secreting too much stress and androgen hormone. The kidneys hold our Yin Jing energy, which is our internal reserve of energy. Too much Yang and this Yin energy that gives the body life can wear out. Therefore, finding the right balance between activity and rest will greatly improve the health of your kidneys and prevent burnout. By all means, exercise, be motivated and active, just make sure you balance these stimulating Yang activities with appropriate rest, rejuvenation, and recovery. Moderation in all things is very important for longevity, we must respect our energy levels by resting when we need rest and working when we are motivated to work.
Manage EmotionsIn Chinese Medicine, every physical ailment and every organ system has a corresponding emotion. For the kidneys, that emotion is fear. Fear stimulates the Kidney-Adrenal axis to secrete stress hormone and “overcome”. Moving beyond simple handling stress, to be optimally healthy according to the Chinese, we must also learn to master our emotions. Find out what makes you feel fearful or worried and take proactive steps to resolve that fear. A good tip is to know what fear actually is, according to Daoist Philosophy, fear is a consideration that one cannot hold their position. Looking at this from a primitive survival standpoint, if a person was confronted by a tiger, one would have secreted enormous amounts of stress hormones in response to this threat of one’s position. If you are fearful without any obvious threats, then perhaps they can be resolved by trying something that is outside of your comfort zone. This can help you realize that you are more capable than you imagined. In any case, learning to master fear will only serve to enhance kidney health.
Exercises, Stretching, and MassagesIn TCM, every organ system is connected to a physical part of the body. To learn more about that, you can read this previous post on Chinese Face Mapping. The physical realm of the kidney system is connected to the lower back and knees. Therefore, it may be helpful to stretch, exercise and massage these areas to help stimulate the kidney system. A good exercise used by Chinese Practitioners is to pat your lower back to stimulate your kidneys. You can also try acupuncture for stimulating the kidneys.
Eat “Jing Foods”Foods that are particularly nourishing to your kidney Jing include those that are very dark (even black!) in color. Some of the best “Jing foods” include animal proteins, especially red meat like bison, beef, venison, etc. Also black walnuts, black sesame, and dark leafy green vegetables. Additionally, foods from the sea are great for the kidneys. This includes both animals and plants, such as wild-caught cold-water fish like sardine, anchovy, salmon, and seaweeds like kelp. These are all excellent kidney tonics. Lastly, there are tonic herbs that support kidney health. Tonic herbs are an elite class of herbs that can be treated like food. The best kidney tonics include He Shou Wu and Schizandra, which are both found in our Alitura Revitalize Adaptogenic Supplement. Are you familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine? Let us know your thoughts on the kidney-skin connection in the comments below!
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