Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Kidneys in Chinese Medicine: Physiology & Symbolism

Winter is the time when the energy of the Kidneys predominates. The Kidneys not only govern fluid filtration and urination, but, in Chinese Medicine philosophy, are considered the root and foundation of the body's energy. The health of our Kidneys determines our overall health, the health of our bones, our reproductive capacity, and the grace with which we age. They are responsible for our enduring strength, stamina, and clarity of mind over the long-haul.

Moreover, Kidneys are said to hold our connection to our ancestors. They also relate profoundly to our offspring as they hold the basic material for reproduction and fetal development.

For the sake of good health and longevity, nourishing the Kidneys is of paramount importance. Pregnant women and families thinking of becoming pregnant should be especially mindful of Kidney health.

Hormonal imbalances, conditions related to physical or cognitive development, conditions related to the bones, and issues of aging are all considered to be related to weakness of Kidney energy.

Kidney energy is most available in wintertime. It is vulnerable to being weakened if we don't eat well, rest sufficiently and protect ourselves from the colder weather. On the other hand, winter is the optimal time of the year for nourishing and supporting Kidney health. Please see my related articles for tips on how to do this:

Six Lifestyle Tips for Winter Health

Kidneys as the Foundation of Yin and Yang:

The Kidneys are the foundation of the Yin and Yang of all other organs in the body. Kidney Yin is the fundamental substance for birth, growth and reproduction. It provides the material foundation of the body. Kidney Yang, by contrast, is the motive force of all physiological processes in the body (i.e. digestion, fluid metabolism, respiration, etc.)

Among the precious substances that make up our body are Qi, Blood and Body Fluids. Of these, Qi relates to Yang; Blood and fluids relate to Yin. As the root of Yin and Yang in the body, Kidneys provide the foundation for all body substances and for the organs that produce, move and metabolize these substances. So, we see that Kidneys are truly the foundation of the material substance and the motivating energy of the body. In a related statement, Kidneys are said to be the origin of both Water and Fire in the body.

Kidneys Store Essence and Relate to Ancestry and Reproduction:

In addition to being the foundation of Yin and Yang, Kidneys are said to store Essence (or, in Chinese, Jing). Jing, like Qi and Blood, is one of the precious substances of the body. The Kidneys store two types of Jing: pre-Heaven and post-Heaven.

Pre-Heaven Jing is the inherited Essence (genetic material) from our ancestors that, before birth, nourishes the fetus and after birth controls growth, sexual maturation, fertility and development. This Essence determines our basic constitution, strength and vitality. Post-Heaven Jing is the refined essence extracted from food through digestion. We can tonify our post-heaven Jing through healthy, relaxed lifestyle, and by eating nourishing foods. However, our pre-heaven Jing is our inheritance, or our genetic programming or fate, so to speak, from our ancestors. It can not be changed.

Other Anatomical and Physiological Functions of the Kidneys:

Kidney Essence (or Jing) is the organic foundation of Marrow, which is said to generate the spinal cord and fill the brain. If Kidney Essence is strong, it will nourish the brain, memory, concentration, thinking and sight. If the brain is not adequately nourished by Kidney Essence, there may be poor memory, concentration, dizziness, dull thinking and poor sight.

Practitioners of Chinese medicine will seek to bolster the Kidney function in patients with cognitive or developmental delays.

The Kidney's Marrow is also the basis for the formation of bone marrow. Strong Kidney Essence is critical to healthy development of bones and teeth. Osteoporosis and loss of teeth in old age is related to decline of Kidney Essence.

In Chinese Medicine theory, the Kidneys play an important role in breathing, along with the Lungs. The Kidneys are said to 'hold' down the Qi inhaled by the Lungs. Thus, Kidneys are partly responsible for inhalation, while the Lungs alone are responsible for exhalation. Weak Kidney energy can be a factor in chronic asthma cases.

As already mentioned, Kidneys play a critical role in reproduction. Not only do Kidneys store the Essence which nourishes the fetus and controls growth and development. This Essence is also the basis of semen and menstrual blood. Kidney Yang generates the fire that motivates fertility, sexual desire and sexual function. It warms the uterus to enable it to hold and nourish an implanted fetus. Again, couples hoping to become pregnant are advised to pay attention to their Kidney health, and seek the help of an acupuncturist if needed.

Obviously, the Kidneys are related to water metabolism since they govern fluid filtration and urination. Kidney weakness might be a factor in edema, hypertension or, conversely, in conditions of dryness. In children with chronic bedwetting tendencies, Kidney weakness might be a factor.

The Kidneys are said to open into the ears and manifest in the hair. Decline in hearing and thinning or graying of hair relate to the decline of Kidneys with age.

Kidney weakness is often related to weakness and achiness in the low back, knees and feet. This is because of the Kidney's relationship with the bones, and because the meridians of the Kidney's paired organ, the Urinary Bladder, run through these areas.

Mental-Emotional Aspect of the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine:

In Chinese Medicine, each of the five major organs is said to be connected with an aspect of human spirit. The Kidneys are said to house will-power (translated variously as Yi or Zhi). A person with strong Kidneys has strong will-power and is able to focus on and accomplish goals. This person will be disciplined and skilled. Lack of such will-power or motivation is often an aspect of mental depression. Acupuncturists may tonify a patient's Kidneys in the treatment of depression.

Pathologies of the Kidneys:

Pathologies related to the Kidneys are as varied as the Kidneys' roles and functions. As Kidneys are the foundation of Yin and Yang in the body, both extreme exhaustion and, conversely, an inability to slow down, relax and rest relate to a weakness or imbalances of Kidney energies. As the Kidneys relate to development and maturation, many conditions of old age, or delays/abnormalities in physical or cognitive development, relate to Kidney weakness.

When working with Kidney energy, an acupuncturist often needs to consider the relative balance of Kidney Yin and Yang, since both of these places such a fundamental role in the body's physiology.

Symptoms of a weakness of Kidney Yin include: restlessness, hypervigilence, excessively speedy metabolism, insomnia, feeling of heat, dizziness, tinnitus, vertigo, poor memory, poor hearing, night sweating, hot flashes, dry mouth and throat at night, lower backache, ache in the bones, infertility, depression, slight anxiety.

Symptoms of Kidney Yang weakness might include: lethargy, coldness, slow metabolism, softening of bones, weakness of knees and legs, poor memory, loose teeth, loss of hair or premature graying, weak sexual function, low back ache, infertility, absentmindedness, decreased mental sharpness, edema, urinary and prostate problems, excessive fear and insecurity, bags or dark circles under the eyes, etc.

Issues perceived as hormonal imbalances in western medicine are often related to imbalance of Kidney energy. An acupuncturist is likely to treat the Kidneys in conditions such as "adrenal fatigue," diabetes, thyroid conditions, etc.

Finally, because the Kidneys provide fundamental energies of Yin and Yang to the other organs of the body, Kidney imbalances are often a factor in innumerable pathologies of other organs, such as Heart, Liver, Lungs or Spleen, especially when these conditions are chronic and related to old age.

Symbolic Associations of the Kidneys:

The Kidneys are associated with Water in Chinese Medicine. On a superficial level this is obvious, as a principle function of the Kidneys is metabolism and excretion of body fluids. Beyond that, water constitutes the largest portion of all living matter. Water is the basis of life, just as the Kidneys are the foundation for all material and physiological function in our bodies. Symbolically, water is the most yin of substances, yielding, receptive, cold, deep, dark, and sinking. In the ocean or a rushing river, these yin qualities can be dangerously powerful.

The Kidneys are associated with the season Winter. This is the most yin time of the year—cold and dark. Growth and development are slowed. It is time for resting and reflecting. It is truly the end of the cycle before the return of light and the warmth of spring. (Many of our winter festivals and rituals—Hannukah, Christmas, Yule-- acknowledge this powerful image of the return of light amidst deep darkness. In the somewhat paradoxical statement, Kidneys are the source of both fire and water in the body. Similarly, even in the depth of winter, we celebrate the return of warmth and light.)

As the end of the cycle, winter holds an important connection to the end of life. It is said that the ancestors are close at hand at this time of year. Winter is also the most common, and possibly the most comfortable, time for people to pass into the realm of death. The emotion associated with winter and the Kidneys is commonly thought to be fear in Chinese Medicine philosophy. Fear is perhaps the most pervasive and deepest of our negative human emotions. It is deeper than, say, anxiety or worry. It is related to survival and to the continuity of life and legacy of our ancestors. Fear is countered by hope, love and joy. By embracing hope, love and joy, we promote life and honor our ancestors. Again, our winter rituals and gatherings help to summon up these qualities during the dark season, reminding us of the return of light in spring.

One teacher of mine characterized winter's emotional quality as realistic acceptance or cautious caring, as opposed to fear. This relates to the nature of winter as the end of the cycle and implies a sort of inherent wisdom.

In the human body, the Kidneys are associated with the ears and with the bones. Symbolically, ears correspond with the receptive, reflective, yin quality of winter. Bones relate to the deep, inward quality of winter.

What can we conclude from this constellation of associations with wintertime and the Kidneys? By nourishing our Kidneys we promote our health and longevity. We also honor our ancestors and provide the best chances for our children. We should do this throughout the year, but especially in winter when the energy of our Kidneys is most available. We can do this by resting and reflecting deeply before, eating warm delicious nourishing foods, and pausing to spend time with friends and family in the darkest days before the next yearly cycle begins.

See related articles:
Six Lifestyle Tips for Winter Health

Winter blessings!


Macciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists.

Lectures by Liu Ming, Oakland, CA 2003-2011.

Bliss, Nishanga, Real Food All Year: Eating Seasonal and Whole Foods for Optimal Health and All-Day Energy.

Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition.

Haas, Elson M., M.D. Staying Healthy with the Seasons.

An Anecdote for the Beginning of Winter

I sat down to write an essay about the Kidney in Chinese Medicine and its symbolic relationship to winter, and I ended up writing about a set of surprising and delightful experiences I had in my community during the past week.

Because Chinese Medicine is not just about chemistry, anatomy, and physiology, but also poetically invokes the relationship between our bodies and our natural and social environments, I'm happy to share this anecdote with readers before I go on to write more specifically about winter health.


Last week, something special happened in my life that doesn't happen very often. And, it actually happened two times, on two separate occasions with two separate individuals.

Twice, I found myself sitting in a cozy room, chatting over tea and snacks with elders from my neighborhood. As we got to talking, and as I asked more and more curious questions, these wonderful elders ended up telling me their life stories (in abbreviated form, of course).

Both of these individuals had lived fascinating lives. One was an African American man who's family, through railroad jobs, had settled in a small town in the California Sierras in the 1940s. This man described to me his idyllic childhood in this cooperatively-oriented small town, and went on to tell me about his military training in the Jim Crow South, his work on freight ships, and more. His wife assures me, I haven't even heard the beginning.

The other individual shared with me equally interesting stories of a life lived between Germany, small-town California, Pakistan, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Also that week, at a cozy neighborhood cafe, I attended my neighbor's reading of his recently published memoir. This neighbor shared outlandish tales from his childhood in an Italian-American family in Buffalo, New York.

By the end of this week, I marveled to myself. What on earth accounted for this unusual confluence of events-- hearing wondrous tales from three colorful lives of people in my community? Mostly, in our modern urban life, we rush around, share pleasantries, and don't get to know one another too deeply.

My conclusion was that this week symbolized the beginning of winter for me, the beginning of Kidney time. Wintertime in Chinese medicine symbolizes the end of a cycle. It is a time for slowing down, drawing inward, and reflecting on our lives. It's a time for going deep. In wintertime, our yang energy sinks deep into our bodies warming us from within as the external environment becomes cold. The sensory organ associated with winter and the Kidney is the ear, symbolizing that winter is a time for listening deeply and being receptive, instead of active. Winter relates to the end of life, to ancestral spirits.

So, by mysterious coincidence, this past week, my neighbors and I slowed down for a few precious hours together. I had the chance to listen deeply. They had the chance to reflect on their lives. We tuned into the ancestral spirits by evoking old family stories. We shared cozy indoor warmth, despite the cold outdoor weather, and, through our camaraderie, warmed our spirits from within.

What a cozy way to welcome the Yin time of the year!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Six Lifestyle Tips for Winter Health

“During the winter months all things in nature wither, hide, return home, and enter a resting period... this is a time when yin dominates yang. Therefore one should refrain from overusing yang energy. Retire early and get up with sunrise, which is later in winter. Desires and mental activity should be kept quiet and subdued.”

---The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, circa 2nd century BCE

In winter, plants become dormant and pull their energy deep down into their roots. Rivers and lakes freeze and the ground hardens. Even here in California, where we have agriculture all year around, growth slows substantially. Birds migrate to the south. Many mammals go into hibernation. Our surroundings become cold, slow, damp and still.

The days become shorter and the hours of darkness longer until December 21st, the longest night of the year.

In terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) philosophy, Winter is the time when Yin predominates in our environment, and in our bodies. Just as the energy of plants goes deep into the roots at this time of year, the Yang Qi of our bodies draws inward and exists in a concentrated form deep inside of us, burning like a small ember, warming our internal organs. These same internal organs are, in Chinese Medicine theory, responsible for both physical vitality and emotional well-being. As Yang is pulled deep inside, the Yin Qi of our natural surroundings is drawn in to pervade and nourish the whole body, supporting our immunity by helping our bodies adjust to the cold winter environment.

What does the predominance of Yin mean for us 21st century urban dwellers?

Many of us spend this time of year busily preparing for winter traditions which anticipate and celebrate the return of light. Moreover, central heating and electric lights enable us to keep our busy routines despite the cold and darkness. Our winter celebrations are wonderful, and it is true that the even the dormant plants are at work, deep in the ground, preparing for their reemergence in spring. However, the signals of our natural environment, and the teachings of Chinese Medicine, suggest that we benefit mentally, spiritually and emotionally by honoring the dark, inward, Yin quality of this time of year.

Here are five simple tips for honoring winter and darkness in our lives:

1. Dress Warmly

As the weather becomes colder, we easily lose energy to our environment. Be sure to bundle up. In terms of TCM, the energy of the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder predominate in winter. Some people wear an extra layer wrapped around their low back and lower abdomen, to protect their kidney energy. A scarf around the neck and a hat on the head are highly recommended to protect the back of the neck and head, domain of the Bladder meridian, where colds are thought to enter the body. The feet are also the domain of the Kidney and Bladder meridians, so be sure to wear warm socks and shoes.

Don't be deceived by the occasional 70-degree December weather in the Bay Area! Though it's tempting to shed layers & catch some rays, it is important NOT to expose yourself too much to the elements on the. Keep yourself dressed warmly. Temperatures change quickly in the late afternoon. Adjusting to these radical daily temperature fluctuations is very hard on our bodies. Our physiology is prone to lose energy to the environment at this time of year. You're much more likely to catch a chill or a bad cold from dressing lightly at this time of year than your are in July.

2. Eat Earlier in the Day and Don't Overeat

Our bodies crave deep nourishment from food at this time of year, but because the days are colder and shorter, our digestive energies are rather sluggish and active for fewer hours during the day. In Chinese Medicine theory, our digestive energy is said to be abundant at dawn, empowered at noon and sluggish in the evening. This means that you should eat a large breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a light dinner. (Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a peasant.) Dinner should consist largely of savory liquids (soups, broths) which are easy to digest and assimilate. A little fermented food with each meal also helps digestion. A large dinner can remain half-digested and interfere with sleep at night.

Because we crave nutrients at this time of year, there is a tendency for us to overeat. Overeating impairs our vital energy by injuring our Spleen (digestive system) as well as our deeper Kidney energy. It is important to be meticulous and consistent about eat nourishing food daily. Eat moderate amounts and learn to stop when satisfied, especially at the evening meal.

(Please stay tuned for an upcoming blog on great foods and food preparation tips for winter!)

3. Stick to Routine

The Kidney thrives on routine and is harmed by erratic schedules and lifestyle patterns. Keeping routines is hard in December if we're attending holiday events and visiting family and friends, but it is important during this time of the year when the Kidney is already vulnerable to overexertion. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, going to bed at the same time each night. Especially important is keeping a regular schedule of meals. It's great if you can eat regular staple foods at each meal. A grain like rice, quinoa, millet, or rice, along with some protein and vegetables is ideal.

4. Rest

It is perfectly normal to feel tired at this Yin time of the year. It is healthy to honor this by going to bed early and sleeping longer. Rest more. Simplifying our daily routines and scheduling less activities allows us more time for resting.

4a. Rest Instead of Stimulants

At this tired time of year, stimulants like coffee, sugar and chocolate become more tempting. In terms of Chinese Medicine, these stimulants pull our Yang energy to the surface of our bodies, giving us a short-term artificial burst of energy. The trouble with this is that instead of warming our internal organs, our Yang energy becomes lost to the cold surrounding atmosphere, depleting our immunity both in the short term and the long term.

Tea is a much healthier source of stimulation than coffee, as tea has anti-anxiety and anti-stress properties as well as immune-enhancing antioxidants and enzymes. Darker, more robust teas like oolong, pu-ehr, and black teas are great in winter as they pull heat into the center of the body, rather than dispersing it.

5. Reflect

Summer is a great time for being active and getting things done. By contrast, winter is a time for reflection and evaluation. As nature draws its energy inward and downward, we should also focus our energies inward. Simplifying our routines to the bare essentials gives us more time for reflection.

Sleep. Relax. Take quiet walks. Pay more attention to dreams. Meditate. Practice qi gong or taiji daily. Wonder. Write poetry. Look deeply within.

A teacher of mine says, in winter, instead of taking the trip, watch the movie.

Now, as a mom of a small kid, I know that time for resting and reflection can be hard to come if you have family members to care for. Kids can be part of our daily practice of quiet reflection. Enjoy simple, unscheduled time with them. Listen to them. Watch. Learn from them.

The sense organ corresponding to winter in Chinese Medicine is the ear. I think this implies that this is a time of year to be receptive, to be quiet, to listen deeply.

This is the time to reevaluate what we've accomplished in the previous year, how we've spent our time, who our real friends and family are. This is a time to lay bare and reexamine our most fundamental values. These will help guide us as we become more active again during the spring of the coming year. Quiet periods of reflection are part of how we grow as human beings.

6. Spend Time with Family and Friends

As I mentioned above, in winter, our Yang Qi is pulled deeply inside of us to warm our internal organs. Spending joyful times with family and friends is like this. We share rituals. We light candles. We enjoying music or movies and eat delicious meals. All of these things warm our hearts and nourish our bodies and souls from deep inside at this cold time of year.

Happy Winter!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Autumn and the Lung in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Autumn is the season especially connected to the Lung, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory. This means that right now is a great time to bolster your own lungs, and your immune system, for the coming winter. It's also a good time for getting at the root of chronic lung conditions like asthma or allergies. You can do this by receiving acupuncture or herbal treatments.

Other ways of staying healthy in autumn include going to bed earlier. The days are getting shorter and our bodies will be wanting more rest. Dressing warmly in the evenings will protect your body from cooler temperatures. Especially remember to cover your neck and shoulders. Our bodies have been energetically open during the warmer summer months, and are particularly vulnerable to chills carried on cool autumn evening breezes, according to Chinese medicine theory. Finally, since this is Lung time, you'll benefit by incorporating a focus on the breath into your exercise and/or contemplative routines. Its a great time for pranayama, qi gong, or other martial arts practices focused on the lungs, or simply for taking walks, breathing deeply and enjoying the changing season.

According TCM physiology, the Lung inhales qi from the air and mixes it with the qi extracted from food. Then, the Lung distributes this precious qi throughout the body, especially to the surfaces (skin and mucous membranes), to protect it from viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. The Lung also regulates the opening and closing of the pores of our skin--guarding against external pathogens, but allowing waste products to be excreted via mild sweating. This, in a nutshell, is how the immune system functions according to TCM. Clearly, the Lung plays a central role.

The Lung shares a connection with the sinuses, bronchioles, and air passageways, as well as to the skin, body hair and mucous membranes. The Lung also has a special connection with the Large Intestine, which also plays a key role in immune health, by ridding the body of solid waste. So, autumn is also a good time to address chronic or acute skin conditions, like eczema or psoriasis, as well as colon-related conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, crohn's disease, constipation, etc.

TCM practitioners treat many problems related to this Lung-centered immune system (colds, coughs, asthma, allergies, skin problems, constipation, autoimmune dysfunction, etc.) through acupuncture and herbs. We might also take a step back and address the Spleen (basically the body's digestive and assimilative capacity), which is considered to be the parent of the Lung in Chinese theory. Healthy digestion and assimilation of nutrients is key to a healthy Lung/immune function.

(In TCM, we capitalize the organ names, i.e. Lung, Spleen, to differentiate them from the western anatomical lung, spleen, etc. In TCM theory Lung, Spleen, etc. represent a physiological system, often related to, but not exactly equivalent to its western anatomical counterpart.)

Recipe! --- Lung Soup

This simple recipe came from my first teacher of Chinese herbology at City College of San Francisco, Briahn Kelly-Brennan. It is good for cleaning and nourishing the Lung, good for dry lung conditions (dry cough, post-cold recovery). Briahn recommended eating it once per month to mitigate the effects of urban air pollution.

10 cups water
1 lb. pork or chicken (i.e. two chicken legs)
4 honey dates*
2 Tblsps apricot seeds*

Simmer 2 hours.
Serve as clear broth, or add a cup of rice in the last hour to make rice porridge.

*Honey dates and apricot seeds are mild Chinese medicinals for tonifying and cleaning the Lung.
You can find these in a Chinese market or get them from a Chinese herb supplier.
Contact me if you need help finding one of these near you, or ask for some at my clinic.

If you have a lot of mucous and phlegm in your lungs, airways, or sinuses, don't use this recipe. The herbs will exacerbate the phlegm by adding moisture. Ask me for alternative recipes.

TCM Tips for Autumn Health

The season Autumn is associated with the Lung, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory. This means that Autumn is a great time to bolster your own lungs, and your immune system, for the coming winter. It's also a good time for getting at the root of chronic lung conditions like asthma or allergies.

Below are some self-help acupressure and herbal medicine tips you can incorporate to support your lungs and and immune system in autumn:

Self-Treatment Tip:
Acupressure Point for Lung Health

Zu San Li, or "Leg Three Miles."

This point is found about three cm below the knee cap, in the fleshy area just lateral to the fibula (the prominent bone on the front of the shin). An oral tradition has it that in ancient times, when the primary means of travel was on foot, stimulation of zu san li was sufficient to relieve fatigue and allow a person to journey another three miles. The point is reputed to have been used by the Chinese military to revive war-weary soldiers to continue in battle.

The point is on the Stomach meridian. Because the Stomach/Spleen (digestive) system is essential to Lung health, the point is frequently used to address problems of the lungs: colds/flu, asthma, cough, excess phlegm in lungs, shortness of breath. It is key point for tonifying the body's qi, blood and immune system.

Clinical research studies have linked the stimulation of zu san liwith acupuncture needles to increases in leukocytes and immunoglobulins in humans and animals. Click on this link:
Zu San Li

You can boost your own immune health using acupressure: Use your thumbs to press your Zu San Li point. Then, using strong force and slow speed, rub in tiny circles for two minutes. Do this several times a day.

Your acupuncturist might send you home with a moxibustion stick (rolled mugwort herb) which you can use daily to warm the point, a wonderful way of tonifying your immune system.

Astragalus: the immune herb

Astragalus, called "huang qi"[pronounced hwang-chee] in Chinese, is a wonderful herb for strengthening the Lung and the immune system.
In the traditional Chinese herbal pharmacopoiea, it falls under the category of digestive tonic. (Remember that digestion and respiration are closely intertwined according to traditional Chinese physiology.)
Western herbalists have categorized this herb as a powerful adaptogen (a restorative tonic increasing the body's resistance to trauma, stress, anxiety and fatigue). In Chinese medicine, we say thathuang qi builds the body's qi and blood, i.e. improves the physiological function of the body, particularly in terms of digestive and respiratory health.

Huang qi strengthens the Lung and treats frequent colds, asthma, allergies and other problems related to ineffecient or suboptimal Lung function.

In an elegantly complex way,huang qi regulates underactivity or overactivity of the immune system, making it useful in preventing colds, flus and allergies. It regulates the skin pores, so that the body's exterior is less vulnerable to outside pathogens, while simultaneouly releasing pathogens through an appropriate amount of sweating. (In Chinese medicine, the first way of treating a new cold virus is to open the pores to produce a mild sweat.)

Other powers of huang qi:
  • It has a raising quality, and is used to treat prolapse and excessive uterine bleeding.
  • It is used in cases of severe trauma or in postpartum to counteract severe blood loss and quickly rebuild energy.
  • It has a mild diuretic effect and reduces edema.
  • It can help chronic sores and ulcers heal and regenerate healthy flesh.

Some cautionary notes:
Do NOT use huang qi when you already have a cold. Its tonic nature will strengthen that power of the cold, making you feel worse. Rather, you should treat colds with pathogen-releasing, circulating and antimicrobial herbal formulas. I'll discuss some of these in my next newsletter issue. Consult your herbalist for the right combination of herbs for your condition.

Because this herb is strongly tonifying and elevating, we use it cautiously in conditions like hypertension, headaches, stroke risk, etc.

In TCM, single herbs are rarely used alone in treating patients. Rather they are incorporated into formulas where they balance and work synergistically with other herbs. Your Chinese herbalist might likely incorporatehuang qi in your herbal formula this autumn. See the next column for a description of one famous herbal fomula incorporatinghuang qi.

Here are some additional references to the immune-enhancing affect of huang qi:

Astragalus alone is effective in preventing depletion ofwhite blood cells during chemotherapy. A clinical study involving 115 patients receiving various forms ofchemotherapyfound that 83 percent had higher whitebloodcell counts when given astragalus. Common cold - Chinese studies have shown that using astragalus during cold season reduces the number ofcoldscaught and shortens the duration of those that are caught. If you tend to get colds and flu often, astragalus can help you build up a natural resistance.
-Prescription for Herbal Healing: An Easy-to-Use A-Z Reference to Hundreds of Common Disorders and Their Herbal Remediesby Phyllis A. Balch, CNC

In a study of 28 people, astragalus given orally over a 2-month period significantly increased the production and secretion of interferon compared with controls. Remarkably, the levels of interferon remained high for 2 months after astragalus treatment ended. These results have been duplicated in laboratory studies. Astragalus also increases levels of natural killer (NK) cells, which roam the body via blood and lymph fluid, destroying a wide variety of invaders, includingcancer cellsand virus-infected body cells.
-The Encyclopedia of Popular Herbsby Robert S. McCaleb, Evelyn Leigh, and Krista Morien

Yu Ping Feng San: an herbal formula to strengthen immunity

This elegant formula contains three herbs which work synergistically to increase the body's resistance to colds, flus and allergies.

It's an old formula. First documented by a famous Chinese physician in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), it was likely used well before that time.

Yu Ping Feng San translates from Chinese as "jade screen wind formula."
The term "jade" poetically suggests 1. the preciousness of the formula, and 2. its reinforcing quality.
Jade was traditionally used to reinforce coffins in order to preserve the contents. As jade might reinforce a protective windscreen, this formula strengthens our bodies' exterior to keep out pathogenic influences, like cold or flu viruses. (Keep in mind that traditional Chinese medicine treats colds primarily by regulating/venting the body's skin surface. We regulate the body's inherent physiology prior to or in addition to eliminating infectious pathogens.)

Three herbs are combined for a synergistic effect:
1. Astragalus (huang qi) tonifies the Lung and Spleen, improves physiological function at a deep level, while regulating the surface of the body.
2. Atractylodes alba (bai zhu) also tonifies Lung and Spleen and improves physiological function to improve immunity.
3. Siler (fang feng) is pungent and opens the body's pores, promoting a gentle sweat, to vent any cold or flu pathogens that may have entered, without compromising the body's surface too much.

Don't take this formula when you have a cold, because the tonifying herbs will make your cold symptoms worse. Rather, use this formula when you are well during the winter months to keep your immunity up. Keep in mind that it acts gradually, and is most effective if taken in small amounts over the course of one or more months. Consult your Chinese herbalist. He or she might incorporate this formula along with other herbs to more specifically address your condition.

This article cites a relevant clinical trial:

Yu Ping Feng San for Allergic Rhinitis

Great Foods for Autumn Health

pears, apples, persimmons, mushrooms, watercress, carrots, pumpkin, cabbage, bok choy, califlower, chard, kale, collard greens, papaya, millet, barley, rice, seaweeds...

Incorporate mildly pungent/spicy foods to help clear sticky mucous from lungs and improve circlulation. Think of including white foods, since white is the color associated with the Lung and autumn:

radish, daikon radish, horseradish, turnip, fresh ginger, garlic, onion, white peppercorns, in addition to cayenne and child peppers....

Remember to include enough fiber from whole grains, fruit and vegies for colon health, as the Large Intestine is linked with the Lung from a Chinese medicine perspective.

Western Herbs for lung health:
fennel, fenugreek, chickweed, horehound leaf, nettles, coltsfoot, elecampagne, mullein, slippery elm, solomon's seal, lobelia, comfrey, burdock root, licorice root, yerba santa...

Eating warm, cooked foods, especially soups and stews is especially important in autumn as our bodies adjust to cooler temperatures.

If you've eaten more lightly over the summer, now is the time to begin building the body's energy reserves for winter by eating denser foods. This might mean eating a little more meat or eggs or, for vegetarians, nuts, beans, seeds and denser grains. Also, as less seasonal fresh fruit becomes available, eat more whole grains and vegetables.

The days are getting shorter. Eat a smaller dinner earlier in the evening to give yourself ample time to digest and assimilate nutrients before sleeping. Remember that digestive health is the basis for Lung health.

Always strive to incorporate seasonal, locally-grown foods into your diet.

Your acupuncturist can help you tailor your diet to your specific constitutional needs, which might mean emphasizing warming, cooling, circulating, moistening, or drying foods and herbs.