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Kidneys, Bladder & Adrenals : winter self-care tips according to Chinese medicine

In Chinese medicine, each season is associated with a pair of organs, a color, a flavor, and a pathogenic factor that causes disease. And even if it might not always feel like it here is southern California, we have already entered Winter a few weeks ago now.

Winter starts way earlier than Winter solstice according to the lunar calendar. Keeping this in mind will help you understand the basic recommendations of this seasonal node.

The days feel short and cold and the darkness of night arrives early. It’s a time of slowing down and going inward, in order to preserve energy and seek warmth.

two pairs of hands holding a heart shaped stone with kidneys drawn on it

Chapter 2 of the Huang Di Nei Jing says Winter is the time of “closing and storage” (閉藏). It is the season of hibernation, a phase of ultimate Yin silence and stillness, so that Yang can be reborn again in the spring.

The organs associated with the Winter are the Kidneys, the Bladder (and by extension the Adrenal glands). The associated phase is Water, flavor is Salty, color is Black, and the pathogenic factor that causes the most problems in Winter is Cold.

Support adrenals, kidneys & bladder

It is not uncommon that weaknesses in those organs manifest in the Winter. The adrenal function will be tested this time of year, and for many working long stressful days energy reserves will feel diminished.

woman holding a hot beverage

Here are some typical manifestations of kidney/adrenals depletion:

  • weakness or pain in the low back or knees

  • loose stools early in the morning

  • increased urination

  • water retention

  • lowered libido

  • fatigue

  • a sensation of cold in the lower abdomen

  • dark circles under the eyes (link)

The first steps to counteract adrenal exhaustion should include :

  • Slowing down, going out less, looking inward more with meditation

  • Eating warming foods

  • Cutting back stimulants like caffeine

  • Cutting iced and cold drinks

  • Cutting back raw and cold foods

  • Increasing the amount of sleep, quiet time and rest

Eat warming foods to keep the cold away

Focus on creating simple, well-cooked meals to promote easy digestion, such as soups and stews. To be in harmony with the energy of the season, we would want to hibernate and spend more time at home rather than eating out.

That’s also the best way to know exactly what goes into your body. If you’re a carnivore like I am, remember that only well sourced organic hormone free meat is worth eating.

man holding a bowl of soup

Favor the following foods for Kidney health:

  • Walnuts, Almonds, Chestnuts

  • Clove, Ginger, Cinnamon bark, Turmeric

  • Black beans, Brown rice, Oats, Lentils

  • Onion, Leek, Scallion, Garlic, Chives

  • Lamb, Chicken

  • Salmon, Trout, Mussels

  • Sweet potato

  • Royal Jelly & Bee Pollen

  • Algea: Spirulina, Chlorella, Nori

  • Mushrooms: shiitake, wood-ear

You can increase foods that have a black color, because black corresponds to winter and the kidneys according to the 5-element theory. Read more in our article here.

Treat your feet!

bladder and kidney acupuncture meridians

Winter is the season of Kidney/Bladder, and our bodies are susceptible to cold. The kidney meridian starts right at the sole of the foot, while the bladder meridian ends at the outside of your little toe.

Therefore, your feet are one of the main access points to both these channels, and keeping your feet warm will help prevent damage to the meridians and related organs.

Did you know that keeping your feet warm can help prevent heel pain, knee pain, and even low back pain? So remember these tips :

  • Keep your feet warm

  • Do not walk bare foot at home, but wear socks and slippers

  • Massage your feet with warm oil (Ayurvedic tradition called abhyanga)

  • Soak your feet in warm water with these DIY foot soaks

foot soak

Epsom salt: Add 1½ cups of epsom salts to warm water. Alleviates constipation, reduces fatigue, improves sleep.

Ginger & cooking wine: Boil Ginger slices (50g), and add Chinese white wine (50ml) to the hot water. Especially good for those with cold extremities in winter.

Ginger & dandelion: Boil Ginger (50g) & dandelion (50g) in water. This soak can help relieve symptoms of flu, fever or headache.

And of course, talk to your acupuncturist for a winter balancing protocol !



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