Kidney Functions

by Mark Whalen

Kidney Functions

While all organs play a role in our bodies function,  the Kidneys hold a special place as the foundation for all of the other organs.

The Kidneys are considered the root of life in Chinese medicine. The Kidneys store something known as the Essence- a substance derived from our parents at the time of conception.   Think of this as our genetic makeup.

The function of the Kidneys storing essence has some interesting parallels with the latest in genetic sciences. The Essence has two aspects:

  • Inherited Essence- acquired at birth from our parent
  • Refined Essence- extracted from food

This notion of Essence coming from food will seem strange to many. Stay with me here. I mentioned earlier that Essence is similar to our genetic make-up. The idea that food could affect our genetic imprint may seem crazy. However, an emerging field in the study of genetics, known as Epigenetics is looking at such ideas.

It was once thought that our genes were encoded permanently and unable to change. The idea of epigenetics is that although we have a certain gene, it can be turned on or off based on lifestyle- genes may be turned on/off based on the state of our nutrition, exposure to chemicals, drug use etc..

Kidney Essence also drives the changes we go through in life-birth, puberty, menopause, aging and eventually death. As such, the kidneys are linked with fertility problems as well.

The Kidneys govern birth, growth, and reproduction; and provide the motive force for all physiological processes.

What else do the Kidneys do?

Control bones, produce marrow, fill up the brain Origin of skill and intelligence. Memory, concentration, sight and thinking Poor memory, concentration, dizziness, poor sight, weak bones, loose teeth
Governs Water Controls the flow of body fluids –opens and closes the ‘gate’ to control urination . Assists the bladder in storing and transforming urine Urinary issues- incontinence, leaking, dribbling etc
Open into the ears Ear function relies on the health of Kidney essence Poor hearing, tinnitus
Manifest on the hair Hair needs nourishment of kidney essence to grow. Early graying of hair, thin hair
Controls two lower orifices Urination and elimination Urinary incontinence, diarrhea, spermatorrhea



Problems with the Kidneys may manifest as problems with urination, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction, infertility, energy levels and fear based emotions.

The emotion associated with the Kidneys is fear. The Kidneys share an anatomical space with the adrenal glands. The Adrenal glands are small triangular glands that sit atop the kidneys. The Adrenals are responsible for releasing the hormones associated with the ‘fight of flight’ response. This response kicks off in times of fear or stress. The Adrenal are not separately identified in Chinese medicine but their function neatly overlaps with the Kidneys in this regard.

The Kidneys are weakened through excesses. Too many stimulants- caffeine, nicotine, drugs, too much cold in the diet can weaken the ‘fire’ that stirs the physiological processes; excess sexual activity can weaken the kidneys. Extreme shock/fear can damage the kidneys(witnessing a terrible accident or tragedy).

Foods that help Kidney Function:

Adzuki Beans



Black Beans


Bone Marrow





Coconut Milk






Green Beans

Kidney Beans











Sweet Potatoes




The Kidney function naturally declines as we age.  The speed of the decline can be up to us- lifestyle again plays a major role in our health.  Get plenty of rest, limit your use of stimulants, eat a diet rich in health promoting warming foods.

Yours in health,


Mark Whalen is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist and the founder of Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness in Reading, MA.

Mark Whalen – who has written posts on Acupuncture Reading MA - Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness.


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