Kidney Yang Deficiency

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Key Learning Points for Kidney Yang Deficiency

  • What it is
  • How you get it
  • What you can do about it
  • What happens next if you don’t mend it

Kidney Yang deficiency is common. Probably we all get it at some time, especially as we age or from chronic illness or physical strain. In Chinese medicine, it’s a syndrome.

If you are young or fit, you can soon get over it, because your supplies of Jing-Essence and Mingmen, and your lifestyle, give you the resources to recover.

Eventually, as these deep resources of your body and genetic inheritance erode, you take longer to recover and may find other processes in your body also wear out.

Good treatment can delay this if you take the right action. 

Do consider acupuncture and Chinese medicine! A huge amount of time, over thousands of years, has been spent thinking about how to slow this ageing process!

Kidney functions

The rest of this page will make much more sense if you read two other pages on this site:


You will also benefit from understanding Kidney YIN. Kidney Yin and Kidney Yang work very closely together: like the accelerator and brake in a car, you need both.

You may also find Balancing Yin and Yang helpful.

Understanding the thinking behind it

First, think of your house. If you live in Scotland, you almost certainly have central heating, a source of warmth – YANG.

Summers are seldom intolerably hot here, so few people need air-conditioning, which is cooling – YIN.

white AC condenser units
Air conditioning, a source of yin – Photo by Chromatograph

If you live in a hot country – naturally hot, so providing free Yang – you probably don’t bother with central heating. On the few days when it’s cold, you light a fire and just wrap up a bit. But you would definitely like to have air-conditioning – Yin – to keep you cool the rest of the time.

Kidney Yang is how Chinese medicine explains the warming function in your body. (Actually, for geeks, that’s not quite right, but it’s good enough for the rest of us here.) 

Kidney Yang draws its energy from Mingmen and Jing Essence, as does Kidney Yin, but it applies it to make things warmer.

This warming process is mighty important! Animals who lack it, like snakes and lizards, depend on the sun to warm them up before they can get active. Mammals, such as humans, have mitochondria. How we acquired this is apparently due to a ‘virus-like’ bug that colonised our cells millions of years ago, and which produces heat.

I suppose that is where our Kidney Yang, or to be more accurate, our Mingmen energy, comes from.

Symptoms of Kidney Yang deficiency

So when Kidney Yang deficiency appears, what are its symptoms?

  • Feeling of coldness; not good at keeping warm; always wearing lots of clothes; can’t easily get warm
  • cold back (especially lumbar area, because that’s one of the areas of the body ‘ruled’ by the Kidneys)
  • cold knees (another of the areas ‘ruled’ by the Kidneys)
  • profuse urine: if your Kidney Yang can’t warm your body, fluids will pass through too fast and easily, since they haven’t been warmed and concentrated 
  • clear, colourless, urine: your Kidney Yang hasn’t supplied the energy to concentrate it
  • odourless urine: your Kidney Yang hasn’t the energy  to concentrate and heat it, hence no smell
  • increasingly frequent urination at night. Here we get to another Kidney Yang function. This normally supports the Yang of other Energy Organs (‘zang-fu‘) in the body, like the Bladder and Spleen. If these lack Yang, they can’t keep things in place. So you need to urinate more often, even at night. and …
  • … for the same reason, a tendency to incontinence, or to dribble even after you think your bladder is empty
  • oedema of the lower part of your body, starting with your legs but if it worsens, rising up to your abdomen. Oedema means swelling from water retention: your legs swell up and, if pressed by your thumb, have ‘pitting’ oedema’. After letting go, the flesh takes a while to return to its normal shape. So here, your Kidney Yang hasn’t even been able to transform the liquids in your body into urine, so as it worsens you may get …
  • … urinary retention, the inability to pee enough, though any urine would still be colourless.


Warming …

people sits in front of fire: help for kidney yang deficiency!
Fire – a source of yang. Photo by Troy T

Because Kidney Yang warms things, when deficient it fails to warm and dry, so along with the coldness mentioned above, there are digestive weaknesses:

  • stools are loose, runny, with little or no smell
  • cold food (food that is uncooked/raw, or unheated when eaten, or chilled or frozen) may go straight through you, because Kidney Yang deficiency means that there is no ‘fire‘ to ‘cook’ what you eat
  • with the accumulation of fluids, you may appear to be overweight, but because Kidney Yang deficiency leads to Spleen Yang deficiency, you cannot turn the food and liquids you consume into Blood, so your body lacks nourishment and your flesh lacks tone and firmness.


The next group of Kidney Yang deficiency symptoms relates more specifically to the function of the Kidney, so are shared with Kidney Yin deficiency symptoms.


Back Pain, a frequent sign of kidney yang deficiency
Photo by freepik

Backache, Weakness and other symptoms

  • backache in the low back or lumbar area: this worsens the longer you stand, carry things or walk slowly, and tends to deteriorate through the day. This form of backache is usually much better for resting, sitting, lying and after sleep: and from warmth on it. Curiously, if you can walk fast, you may find it doesn’t get sore so quickly – it’s walking slowly that is the problem.
  • weakness in your knees
  • weak legs: no strength to walk far, let alone climb hills or stairs, and if you do have to climb, you need to stop for breath or better, to sit down.
  • ears – noises (tinnitus) and sometimes, reduced hearing
  • ears – dizziness
  • lassitude, a state that goes beyond tiredness and includes disinclination to do anything
  • apathy
  • facial colour is a kind of bright-white shade: it comes with the exhaustion
  • depression, not from Qi stagnation (probably the most common cause of depression, see also my book, below) but from lack of bounce, or lack of will or spirit. This kind of depression takes various forms, but usually has elements of apathy and hopelessness, a kind of ‘giving up’.
  • in the long term, weakness in Kidney function also brings difficulty remembering things. Concentration may be poor. Eventually you get the beginning of dementia-like symptoms. However, this can often be delayed, at least according to Chinese medicine, if the right action is taken. It is not inevitable for everyone.



Kidney Yang deficiency means difficulty re-producing because it cannot ‘warm’ the Jing-essence. We might call this the individual’s genetic code and the urge to re-produce. This causes:

  • Lowered libido in both sexes
  • Impotence in men (find out more under sexual impotence)
  • Premature ejaculation in men
  • Low sperm count in men, or the sperm is substandard
  • Infertility in women


Pulse and Tongue in Kidney Yang deficiency

Pulse Taking on Left Wrist
Pulse Taking on Left Wrist
  • Pulse: deep and weak
  • Tongue: pale and very moist: may lack a coating if Kidney Yang deficiency has led on to Stomach Yang deficiency. The moisture of the tongue occurs because the body cannot get rid of fluids (hence the oedema), and is a sign of Yin-excess and cold.

What happens next?

If you are unable to do anything about your Kidney Yang deficiency or its causes, and can’t get treatment for it, what might happen next?

Well, first of all, do not abandon hope! If it teaches nothing else, Chinese medicine’s knowledge of the working of Yin and Yang leads its practitioners to believe that nothing stays the same for ever.

If you are alive, things may change. In fact things always change: sometimes too fast and often too slowly! But change they do. It would be nice if they always did what you wanted, but as you age, you learn that what you wanted isn’t necessarily what the universe ‘wanted’, nor is it necessarily what leads to your happiness and health.

When I was 10, I decided I wanted a Rolls Royce for my birthday. My parents ran a farm, not a very big one and certainly not a very rich one.

Whenever I explained how much I wanted a Rolls Royce (yes, we’re talking about a real Rolls Royce car, not an aero engine or a toy), I was much encouraged by their smiles.

If you’ve ever spent much time on a small hilly farm with pigs, cows and chickens, and rain, you may be aware of something called ‘mud’.

I have to tell you that, while they are marvellous cars, (though I’ve now decided I want a Bentley Continental, as Rolls Royce cars are a bit ‘bling’ and, anyway, I don’t like their new-style radiator grills), Rolls Royce cars were not really built for muddy farm life.

I still have what I actually received for that birthday – a small box to keep my pencils in.

What Can You Do about your Kidney Yang deficiency?

First, address the Cause!

  • If Chronic illness has exhausted your body, you may need treatment to improve your health. Part of this would focus on improving general health and part on your Kidney Yang deficiency.
carrots, garlic, onions, and herb spicing meat on skillet: mostly good for Kidney Yang deficiency
Warming foods – Photo by James Kern
  • Food: you must stop eating foods that cool you. Some foods, even when eaten warm, have a cooling action. Find out more at Cold Foods. Then read our page on Warming Foods. Learn to chew well what you eat before swallowing it. Learn better eating habits. Read more under Nutrition. Check the section below on Kidney Yang foods.
  • Physical over-work. What might strain ME might be EASY for YOU. We’re all different! The question is how long it takes you to recover. If after physical work (which might be weight-lifting, running, straining, hot yoga, pilates …) you then need several days to recover, especially if with your tiredness you get backache or some of the other symptoms listed above, you are overdoing it. Listen to your body, not what someone tells you should be happening. That means you should do less and rest more.
  • Physical overwork includes getting badly chilled. So make sure you wear enough and keep warm. Maybe read our page on ‘How to Warm up if you’re always Cold‘!
  • Too much Sex. Men! Your sexual partners may not welcome this, but you should reduce the frequency of your orgasms: they are exhausting your limited supplies of Kidney Yang and Jing Essence reserves. That may lead to loss of libido and even sexual impotence.
  • Overuse of Jing Essence. Women! This could occur from having more babies without recovering your reserves before each new pregnancy. Or it might occur from too many frequent heavy, exhausting menses. Deep sexual abuse or humiliation might do it. Chinese medicine’s experience is that this can also occur if you start having sex too early in life. Remember – while your friend may sail through similar experiences, it’s what happens with your body that matters! These causes may lead to loss of libido and infertility. So … less pregnancies, get treatment for heavy periods (we suggest acupuncture!), and learn how to assert your rights. (Yes, I know. I’m male, telling you what to do. But still …)
  • Less competing, less stress, less drain on your Kidney energy. Lifestyle and work can’t always be fixed fast. And it takes time to recover. But if stress is draining you, you don’t really have an option.

Kidney Yang Foods

Can you do anything about this before you visit your acupuncturist?

You certainly can!

But even before that, learn the foods that probably work against or weaken your Kidney Yang energy. There’s no point eating more of the good if you don’t stop the bad. That would be like pouring water onto a fire with one hand while pouring petrol (gasoline) onto it with the other.

What foods harm Kidney Yang? Mostly these are cold, raw, uncooked foods or drinks, including any chilled or iced.

There go the chilled champagne and the gin and tonic, then. But mulled wine is not so bad!

mulled wine, gluhwein
Photo by Gaby Dyson

And for what may help, click on Kidney Yang Foods.

So, What happens Next?

When Kidney Yang deficiency persists, in time various other Yang deficiency syndromes appear, the most common being – though not necessarily in the following order:


This syndrome, Kidney Yang deficiency, is a particular kind of general Yang deficiency.

All these syndromes that occur as a result of Kidney Yang deficiency can usually be helped with Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

So make an appointment with an experienced acupuncturist!

Jonathan Brand colours

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Acupuncture Points commonly used for Kidney Yang Deficiency

If you get acupuncture treatment in a Chinese hospital for Kidney Yang deficiency I daresay they might use acupuncture points such as the following, because these are what the books and basic training say. (NB – see the CAUTION below!)

But these may not, for you, be the best points. Using other points instead or as well might make a significant difference.

Which are those other points? That depends on your general constitution, not mine! Finding them might require knowledge of Five Elements or of extra-ordinary channels for example.

person holding lighted lighter with fire, lighting moxa punk
Moxa for yang – Photo by Katherine Hanlon

In any case, I would expect effective treatment to include moxa (moxibustion) and advice on diet and living conditions, exercise and so on, without which you might be wasting your time and could expect little improvement.



Over-use, or mis-use of these points may make you feel distinctly worse, especially with needles and moxa. Get someone experienced with acupuncture to treat you. Doing it yourself is NOT recommended.

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