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HoloSapiens - the TCM "Food as Medicine" Project


The Lung is the uppermost organ in the torso therefore in traditional Chinese medicine the Lung is viewed as a shield that protects the body from external pathogens. The Kidney on the other hand is the lowest solid organ therefore in Traditional Chinese Medicine the Kidney is considered to be the “root organ” that supplies the body with vigor and nourishment.




Just like the growth, development, and life span of a plant depend on the strength and vitality of its roots, in humans the growth, development, and life span depend on the strength and vitality of the “root organ Kidney”. Thus the Kidney in humans contains “the Essence” of life.

The “Kidney Essence” determines the growth, development, maturation, and reproduction and is responsible for the vitality and longevity in every person. There are two types of Essence - prenatal Essence and postnatal Essence. The prenatal Essence is acquired from our parents (some compare it to DNA). The postnatal Essence is gathered during life through the energy of the food and drinks we consume and our overall lifestyle.

Prenatal Essence is something rather constant. It is given to us by our parents, thus the health state of our parents determines “the quality” of our prenatal Essence and somewhat the quality of our life. The prenatal Essence nourishes the fetus and predetermines the growth, development, sexual maturation and fertility. People with insufficient prenatal Essence suffer from infertility, impotence, mental and physical underdevelopment in children, and premature senility in adults (1)




The postnatal Essence is variable and depends on our own choices. Healthy eating habits and an overall healthy and spiritual lifestyle generates postnatal Essence, while unhealthy and insufficient diet, cigarettes, alcohol, living in polluted areas, stress, etc. disturbs the postnatal Essence. Based on the choices we make we will influence the length and the quality of our life and the various life stages we go through, such as puberty, maturation, menopause, and aging. Thus although our life span and life quality may be somewhat predetermined by our inheritance it is essential to remember that a big part of it also depends on our own selves.


The Kidney Essence (pre- and postnatal) “produces” the substance that formulates the bone marrow and the brain. Therefore in Traditional Chinese Medicine it is considered that the Kidney governs the brain and the intelligence. People with sufficient Kidney Essence have good memory, good concentration, and sharp thinking. People with insufficient Essence have rather poor memory and concentration, dull thinking, and overall “lethargic brains” (1)

Bone marrow nourishes the bones thus the Kidney also governs the bones. Strong Kidney will manifest in strong bones and healthy teeth. Weak Kidney will manifest in all kinds of bone problems, especially those of the lower back and knees, as well as unhealthy teeth.

As the Kidney is the root of the body it is the foundation of all Yin and all Yang qualities in the body. This means that the state of Kidney Yin determines the state of Yin in the other organs, while the state of Kidney Yang determines the state of Yang in the other body organs, and in the whole body (2) (for more information about the concept of Yin and Yang please go to “Yin and Yang in Chinese Medicine” in the Physiology chapter)

Although the Kidney is the root of the body and nourishes the body as a whole it also works locally. The Kidney is the lowest  "solid body organ" thus governs the remaining lower body organs such as the Urinary Bladder (the partner organ of the Kidney) and the sexual organs in man and woman. Thus any reproductive, sexual, and urinary problems in Traditional Chinese Medicine are assigned to the Kidney.

The Kidney opens to the ears. Healthy Kidney manifests in good hearing, while weak one manifests in some hearing loss or ear sounds.

The Kidney manifests in the hair. Abundant, strong hair shows abundant Kidney Essence, while thin, brittle hair or prematurely gray hair points to Kidney Essence deficiency.




On a mental level the Kidney houses the will power. People with strong Kidneys easily set up a goal and persistently pursue this goal. On the other hand people with weak Kidneys get easily discouraged and detached from their goals. (1)

The emotion of the Kidney is fear. Like the Kidney fear is deeply rooted therefore often unaccounted for. Chronic unaddressed fear will interfere with one’s ability to experience love. This is because the Kidney is element Water and the Heart is element Fire. In Five elements theory Water extinguishes Fire thus the Kidney has a restrictive influence on the Heart. Deficient fear-ridden Kidney will have a restricting effect on the loving and joyful manifestation of a healthy Heart. (2) People who lack the feelings of love and joy should search deeply within themselves to locate, recognize and transform hidden fear.



1) Maciocia, Giovanni (1989). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Nanjing: Harcourt Publishers Limited

(2) Pitchford, Paul (2002). Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books


Related Articles:

Deficiency of Kidney Yang

Deficiency of Kidney Yin

Deficiency of Kidney Essence

Deficiency of Kidney Qi

The Kidney and fear

The Kidney, season winter, and foods that benefit the Kidney during winter

Herbs that tonify Yang and benefit Kidney Yang deficiency

Herbs that tonify Yin and benefit Kidney Yin deficiency

Herbs that tonify Qi and benefit Kidney Qi deficiency

Astringent herbs


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