By Amy Hsu 4:33 am PST


The kidney system governs reception of Qi. That is, the kidney system can receive fresh air inhaled by the lungs and can assist the lungs in governing respiration. The fresh air inhaled by lungs from the natural world has to flow into kidneys to ensure free and smooth respiration, and keep the respiration at a certain depth so as to meet needs of viscera. Only when kidney-qi is abundant can the lungs respire evenly and can the air passages be clear.

If kidney-qi is deficient and the function of the kidney system to receive qi is weak, the fresh air inhaled by the lungs cannot flow to the kidney. This then brings about pathological changes, like shortness of breath.

With deficiency of kidney-essence and the upward floating of weak yang qi, lung-qi has trouble descending and thus rebels upwards and causes asthma. If this illness lasts long, kidney-qi will be more depleted. If Qi does not return to its origin (the Kidney system), one will have trouble lying down due to shortness of breath. Therefore, by nourishing the kidney system, many illnesses, caused by the kidney failure to govern reception of Qi, or even lung or heart-related disease, like chronic bronchitis, asthma, pulmonary emphysema, can be improved.


Essence stored in the kidney system can produce marrow to fill the brain, called “the sea of marrow” in TCM. With abundant kidney-essence, “the sea of marrow” is full; with depleted kidney-essence, at old age, a person may suffer shenkui, a syndrome in which an individual suffers somatic symptoms with anxiety, believed to be caused by a loss of semen. With insufficient kidney essence, “the sea of marrow” is empty, which results in dizziness. If deficient fire is blazing upwards due to the kidney Yin deficiency, water fails to moisten wood. Then dizziness will worsen to such an extent that one feels as if the room is turning upside down.


Huangdi Neijing mentioned, “The waist, the house of the kidney, cannot be turned or swayed, or the kidney will be fatigued.” The statement explains the close relationship between pain in the waist and deficiency of kidney-essence.

Zhang Jingyue, a famous Ming dynasty physician, said in his Complete Works, “Eight or nine out of ten is lumbago with kidney deficiency syndrome. But when observed, there is neither superficial pathogen nor dampness and heat. Caused by aging, or laboring, or indulgence in alcohol and sex, or emotional disorder and melancholy, it is deficiency syndrome of Kidney Yin.” Soreness and pain of waist is a basic reflection of kidney-essence depletion. Male indulgence in sex, drinking, smoking, female metrorrhagia caused by kidney-essence deficiency or repeated abortions are likely to cause kidney-essence depletion as well as soreness and pain in the waist and knees.

Hair Loss and Gray Hair

Huangdi Neijing mentioned, “The bones and marrow correspond with the kidney, which manifests in the head hair.” Hairy density and hair graying are closely related to the rise or the decline, and the deficiency or excess of kidney-essence. “The kidney stores essence, manifesting externally in the hair. … The liver stores blood; hair is the sign of blood condition.” The kidney system stores essence, while the liver stores blood. Healthy essence and blood will make hair appear thick and lustrous, soft and pliable. Depleted kidney-essence will result in deficiency of both liver and kidney, which in turn causes hair to lose nourishment. Worse yet, dry, lusterless hair results in hair loss and premature hair greying.

Kidney Yin Deficiency

Hyperactivity of deficient fire due to Kidney Yin deficiency often causes problems, like a low fever and malar flush, dysphoria with feverish sensation in the chest, palms and soles, profuse sweating and a dry throat, lower back pain, weak lower extremities, hair loss and loose teeth, nocturnal emission and frequent urination.

Kidney Yang deficiency

Kidney Yang deficiency or weak Kidney Yang is associated with the following problems: soreness and weakness of waist and legs, cold limbs, frequent urination, edema, poor appetite, and loose stool.

Kidney yang deficiency is a symptom of the kidney’s failing performance. Multiple factors are responsible for Kidney Yang deficiency: Yang Qi or elderly kidney deficiency, kidney injury by chronic illness, and excessive sex. Clinical manifestations of Kidney Yang deficiency are: soreness and weakness of waist and knees, aversion to cold, cold limbs, particularly cold lower extremities, dizziness, low spirits, pale or white face, pale tongue with white fur, weak pulse, impotence, infertility due to a cold womb, diarrhea, indigestion, diarrhea at dawn, edema particularly so serious  below the waist that pressure leaves a persistent depression in the tissues, abdominal pain, palpitations, and asthma.

Water Diffusion due to Deficiency of Kidney Yang

With deficiency of Kidney Qi, the kidney system has trouble controlling the absorption of water. Worse yet, it can cause the symptom of water diffusion due to deficiency of Kidney Yang. Clinical manifestations of water diffusion are: edema all over the body, abdominal fullness, scanty urine, abundant phlegm, and recurrent asthma.

Traditional Chinese Medicine used to Invigorate the Kidney System:

Velvet Antler

Velvet antler refers to the whole unossified pilose antler of a male deer; the ossified part is called antler. Antler tablets can be grouped into wax tablets (of the greatest tonic properties), blood tablets (the rearmost part with slight blood), and ossified tablets (slices of completely ossified antler).

Velvet antler invigorates the kidney system, warms the Kidney Yang, fills essence, benefits marrow, as well as strengthens tendons and bones. As a result, it is the first choice of those suffering Kidney Yang deficiency. The Dictionary of Chinese Herbal Medicine records the effects of velvet antler as: “Invigorate Kidney Yang, nourish blood and qi, benefit marrow, and strengthen tendons and bones. It heals consumptive disease, thinness and weakness, fatigue due to exertion, and a cold womb.” The effectiveness of velvet antler is also described in Bencao Gangmu (The Compendium of Materia Medica), a Chinese materia medica work written by Li Shizhen during the Ming dynasty. “It generates essence and nourishes marrow, nourishes blood and benefits Kidney Yang, strengthens tendons and bones, heals deficiency-related disease, deafness, dim eyesight, dizziness, and diarrhea.”

In Chinese legends, deer are also known as Banlong. According to legend, one Taoist was selling a kind of pill called Banlong Pill or Rongzhu Pill in the medicine market in Western Shu (a state within present-day Sichuan province). Getting drunk all the time, the Taoist hummed to himself, “Depletion of essence will never be cured by any panacea. Only velvet antler above Banlong can nourish essence and benefit marrow.” His pill was made up of such ingredients as velvet antler, antler glue, and degelatined deer-horn. The legendary story was recorded in The Compendium of Materia Medica.

Chinese Cassia

Cinnamomum cassia, called Chinese cassia or Chinese cinnamon, is sweet, pungent, and hot in nature and flavor. Chinese cassia can nourish Kidney Yang, warm the spleen and stomach, get rid of accumulated cold, promote blood circulation, and ease pain. It is also highly effective against cold syndrome due to kidney deficiency, like impotence, a cold womb, cold and pain in waist and knees, asthma due to kidney deficiency, flaring-up of asthenic Yang, dizziness and red eyes, cold and pain in heart and abdomen, cold and deficient type of vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal pain due to cold and indigestion, amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea.

Tuber Onion Seeds

Tuber onion seeds are dried ripe seeds of Allium tuberosum Rottl. The dried seeds nourish the kidney system and liver, warms the waist and knees, invigorates Kidney Yang. Therefore, the seeds are highly effective against liver and kidney deficiency, the deficiency of Kidney Yang, soreness and weakness of waist and knees. Tuber onion seeds can be used alone or along with nourishing herbs like Dodder, Psoralea corylifolia, Short-horned Epimedium herb. With the function to nourish Kidney Yang, secure essence, and reduce urination, tuber onion seeds can cure nocturnal emission, frequent urination, enuresis, and morbid leucorrhea.