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The Kidneys

Green kidney illustration

The allopathic view of the kidneys

The allopathic understanding of the kidneys is that they are a pair of bean-shaped organs located either side of the spine under the ribs that perform several key functions. Their blood supply is from the aorta via the renal arteries and in spite of their relatively small size they receive one-fifth of the total circulation.

This blood then intimately exchanges across the membranes of the glomeruli in the kidneys which filter out all cells and platelets, but allow for ready transfer of the fluids.  80 litres of this filtered fluid is generated every day and then the vast majority is re-absorbed along with glucose and amino acids in the coiled tubules known as nephrons under direction of various hormones. This results in approximately 2 litres of waste urine passing to the bladder for excretion each day.

In this way the kidneys are responsible for excreting the water soluble wastes of metabolism such as urea (from protein breakdown), uric acid (from DNA breakdown) and ammonium.

The kidneys also work in concert with the lungs to maintain the acid-alkali balance in the body by regulating bicarbonate concentration in the blood and via the production of the hormones calcitriol (which regulates calcium) and aldosterone (which regulates sodium) to maintain the electrolyte balance of the blood. 

The kidneys are also responsible for the long-term regulation of blood pressure by maintaining sodium rennin. If the kidneys detect low levels of tissue oxygen, they produce the hormone erythropoietin which stimulates production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. 

Referred pain from the kidneys will be felt under the lower ribs in the back.


The Kidney meridian in Traditional Chinese Medicine 

The western understanding of the organs has come from dissection and other analysis whereas the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) understanding has come from observation of functional systems and describes a set of interrelated parts rather than a discrete organ. 

In fact, in TCM the kidneys are regarded as one organ which includes the right and left kidneys and the space between them known as the triple warmer which is responsible for heating the body. The kidney is a yin organ (female) which means that it has to work all the time, and it is paired with the yang bladder (male) which works intermittently filling and emptying. The peak time for Kidney meridian function is between 5 and 7 pm.

The kidneys are incredibly important in TCM and are held to make, store and secrete the life essence (jing) which is the root of everything in addition to transforming the blood, spirit, chi and fluids which nourish the body. In fact, even the allopathic understanding of the kidneys affords them importance beyond their primary function and small size. 

There are two types of life essence or jing. The first is congenital jing which is acquired from your parents at conception and determines your basic lifelong constitution, health and vigour and cannot be altered. The second is acquired jing which is produced from food by the spleen and stomach and also by the lung from the air and can positively influence congenital jing.  

Jing essence circulates in long cycles of seven years for females and eight years for males that govern the different stages of growth, development, reproduction and ultimately ageing and death. These cycles account for the young child getting their first adult teeth at around seven years of age, then the full complement of adult teeth, growing to adult height and puberty in the early teens and full physical maturity and wisdom teeth (if present) in their early twenties. 

The Kidney meridian in TCM is also thought to govern all the secretions and fluids of the body such as semen, saliva, vaginal fluids, breast milk and menstrual blood. They are considered to send pure fluids upwards to moisten the lung and waste fluids down to the bladder for excretion.  

As the Kidney meridian is thought to govern the bony support of the body, they also govern the support by the brain of the mind.  The status of the brain is also thought to be reflected in the condition of the hair in TCM.

So in their role as regulators of body fluids the Kidney meridian governs:

  • Sexual functions like erection and ejaculation in men and ‘wet’ dreams
  • Vaginal lubrication in women
  • Impotence and reproductive ability in men 
  • Dry mouth
  • Faecal continence and early morning diarrhoea
  • Urinary incontinence and other disorders relating to urination 
  • Breathlessness upon slight exertion 
  • Asthma and other breathing difficulties (especially exhaling)

In their other roles, the Kidney meridian is also responsible for:

  • Physical strength and vigour
  • Growth and development
  • The drying, greying and loss of hair 
  • Tooth mobility, weakness and loss
  • Ringing in the ears, hearing loss and other ear conditions 
  • Infertility in women due to a ‘cold’ uterus
  • Softness and malformation of the bones and osteoporosis
  • A burning sensation in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Lower back pain
  • Sore or weak knees and legs possibly leading to limited mobility
  • Feeling cold or having cold extremities 


Kidney meridian: The emotional and mental associations 

The primary emotion associated with the Kidney meridian in TCM is fear and this includes anxieties, phobias, paranoia, panic attacks, superstitious behaviours and insecurities to do with sexuality and creativity.

The Kidney meridian is also associated with cowardliness, timidity, cautiousness, indecisiveness and the flip side of careless and reckless behaviour. 

The health of the kidneys also governs will, determination, memory, loyalty and the ability to keep a secret. As the Kidney jing becomes depleted, a weak will, poor memory and disloyalty may result.

Finally, the Kidney meridian is associated with aloofness and isolation.


Muscles associated with the Kidney meridian

Muscles associated with the Kidney meridian include the psoas, upper trapezius and iliacus muscles. 

The two psoas muscles run internally within the pelvis and maintain the lumbar curvature of the spine. If these muscles are weak on both sides it causes a loss of lumbar curvature. Whereas if the weakness is on one side only this may cause the  foot to turn in or the hip to drop on one side producing one leg that is apparently longer than the other, nagging low back pain or foot problems.

The upper trapezius muscles are found on the back of the neck and shoulder and tend to become weak with kidney related eye and ear problems.  

The iliacus muscles run within the pelvis and weakness can be associated with poor regulation of the ileocaecal valve. This valve regulates the opening of the small intestine into the colon and may become painful (a pain that is often mistaken for appendicitis). 


The Kidney meridian

The Kidney meridian starts on the balls of the feet and then arcs upwards in the arch of the foot before describing a circle around the inner ankle, passing up the inside of the leg, across the groin and either side of the midline of the torso to end on inner edge of the collar bone, 

Because the kidney meridian starts on the feet, keeping the feet warm may enhance kidney function and certainly in countries such as Germany the need to keep your kidneys warm is well accepted with special kidney belts widely available. 

Rubbing the end points of the Kidney meridian in the first depression under the clavicle either side of the midline will help to promote kidney function and also the reset the entire meridian system. This is especially indicated if these points are tender when rubbed (may take a few seconds to manifest).


Further resources

You might also be interested in the following: 

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The Issue of Drink for Fatigue Syndrome Sufferers

How the Body Heals

Supporting Kidney Function


Traditional Chinese Medicine

Synthetic Chelating Agents

Meridians Reference

The Body Clock

For a comprehensive approach to detoxifying mercury and toxic metals using natural means, please refer to The Natural Recovery Plan book

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Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4 of The Benefits of Drinking Water
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Urinary System: The Nephron

Amalgam/Mercury Detox: Top 3 Tips


Or for all media use the Search facility at the top of the page


The kidneys: Article summary

This article looks at the allopathic understanding of the role of the kidneys and at the Traditional Chinese Medicine understanding which affords enormous importance to the Kidney meridian as the seat of life essence or jing. 


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The Natural Recovery Plan Ezine October 2010 Issue 10. Copyright Alison Adams 2010. All rights reserved
Dr Alison Adams Dentist, Naturopath, Author and Online Health Coach

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