The TCM approach to better kidney health
A Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner explains how you can restore imbalances in the kidney system in a holistic manner.
Kidneys are one of the most important organs in our body. Located just below the ribs, kidneys are our body’s natural filters – they remove waste and extra fluids, help the body to maintain a healthy balance of electrolytes, and regulate the body’s pH level.
From the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, the kidney system plays an essential role in storing the “essence”, or “jing”, said senior TCM physician He Qiu Ling of Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic at Chinatown.
TCM practitioners believe that essence in the kidneys is important for growth and development, reproduction and water metabolism. Any imbalances in the kidney system may lead to health issues, said Ms He.
Symptoms such as swelling in the legs and painful urination may suggest kidney-related issues like proteinuria (when an abnormal amount of protein is present in the urine) or kidney stones (solid deposits of salts and minerals that develop inside the kidneys).
Individuals who are looking for ways to help them manage these issues may consider TCM in conjunction with western medical treatment as well as lifestyle and diet modifications.
Here, Ms He shares more about kidney-related problems and the TCM approach of managing them.
In healthy kidneys, protein is filtered and reabsorbed back into the blood, and an insignificant amount of protein is excreted in the urine, said Ms He.
“When the kidneys are damaged, problems arise in the glomeruli (the components that carry out the kidneys’ filtering action). This causes protein to leak into the urine more easily, resulting in a condition called proteinuria,” she explained.
According to Ms He, people with this condition may experience foamy urine, frequent urination, backaches, puffy eyes and leg swelling.
In TCM, leakage of protein implies a malfunctioning of the kidneys in keeping the essence, Ms He said. TCM practitioners also believe that external pathogens can affect one’s health. Patients are advised to keep warm and prevent catching a cold as the “wind” pathogen may increase the risk of protein leakage.
There are also dietary measures to take note of. For instance, patients should restrict their salt intake so as not to hinder the kidneys’ function, Ms He shared.
For patients with edema (swelling in the legs) or foamy urine, TCM practitioners may prescribe herbs used for removing “dampness” in the body, such as Chinese barley (yi mi), corn silk (yu mi xu), black atractylodes rhizome (cang zhu), plantain herb (che qian cao), talcum (hua shi), water plantain rhizome (ze xie) and rhizoma dioscoreae hypoglaucae (bi xie), based on each patient’s condition and constitution, she added.
While many patients with kidney stones may not experience symptoms, others may experience pain, especially when the stones pass into the ureter and obstruct the flow of urine.
When this happens, symptoms may include severe pain in the back and abdomen, blood in the urine, difficulty urinating, pain while urinating or small stones being passed out while urinating, Ms He said.
“In TCM, the formation of kidney stones is mainly due to heat-dampness accumulated in the body, which can be caused by eating spicy, oily and fried food or heavy drinking. Fluids in the body will be depleted by the heat-dampness, eventually leading to the formation of kidney stones,” said Ms He.
“The formation of kidney stones can also be due to ‘qi’ and blood stagnation in the body. When the ‘qi’ and blood in the body are not able to flow smoothly, the minerals and salts in the urine can accumulate and form kidney stones,” she added.
According to Ms He, certain groups of people are at a higher risk of developing kidney stones. They include those with gout and pregnant women, as well as people with a history of kidney stones.
She advised patients who have had kidney stones to take preventive measures to lower the risk of the condition recurring. Patients should drink sufficient water (about 2 litres) every day and avoid holding their urine. They should also avoid consuming spicy, oily food and alcohol.
According to Ms He, common TCM herbs used to manage minor kidney stone problems include coin grass (jin qian cao), Japanese climbing fern spore (hai jin sha) and chicken gizzard lining (ji nei jin), which remove heat-dampness and aid the excretion of kidney stones through urine.
However, while TCM and lifestyle changes may be able to help patients pass out smaller kidney stones, western medication and surgery are required if the kidney stones are larger, she added.
Ms He also emphasised that TCM focuses on preventing illness rather than curing it. Hence, adjusting one’s lifestyle and diet is the key to a healthy body.
“Maintain a low-salt and balanced diet, avoid the consumption of processed food, and drink adequate water. Exercise regularly and clear the bladder whenever necessary,” she advised.
Get a consultation with three days of herbal medication for S$42. The promotion is valid until March 31, 2020, for new patients. This promotion is valid only at participating Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinics and Eu Yan Sang TCM Wellness Clinics.