Kidney Yin Deficiency

Plastic Kidney
Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

Key points for Kidney Yin deficiency:

  • Why you get it – the 5 Main causes of Kidney Tin deficiency
  • How to recognise Kidney Yin deficiency – the symptoms
  • Acupuncture points often used for Kidney Yin deficiency
  • What to do, and not do! – including diet and food

Kidney Yin deficiency is one form of a more general Yin deficiency with which it shares many symptoms.

In fact, what you get is really Yin deficiency combined with Kidney syndromes and deficiency of Jing-Essence.

If, by mistake, you’ve just arrived here expecting a discussion of the kidneys’ functions from the Western medical viewpoint, click here.

Otherwise, keep reading, because what Chinese medicine has to say about the Kidneys when they malfunction is equally relevant. To most of the Chinese medical terms there are links.

So, what is Kidney yin deficiency? It’s a syndrome in Chinese medicine, in other words a pattern of ill-health which is understood and treatable.

Causes of Kidney Yin deficiency

1/ Loss of fluids

Fluid loss from such as:

  • perspiration, for example during a fever, or
  • diarrhoea during the course of a disease, or
  • loss of Blood.


Blood loss can occur

doctor and nurse during operation: surgery can lead to Blood loss which, if heavy, may cause kidney yin deficiency
Surgery can lead to Kidney Yin deficiency. Photo by National Cancer Institute
  • during an operation (and there is some doubt whether transfused blood immediately makes up for loss of your own) or
  • from injury or  
  • from heavy menstrual bleeding, especially if it occurs over many months. The latter, menorrhagia, at first exhausts Liver Blood, but then passes on to consume Kidney Yin too. (Why? Because Liver functions depend on Kidney functions and if you exhaust the child – Liver, you move on to exhaust the mother – Kidney. Read more under 5 Elements Acupuncture.)

2/ Protracted, chronic disease

Chronic disease affects the deep energies or zang-fu energy organs of the body, being the Liver, Spleen, Heart and Lung … and Kidney. All of these depend on the Kidney function so if one of them gets exhausted, it ends up eventually with the Kidney.

3/ Over-stimulation

If you boost Yang too much, you may exhaust Yin’s ability to keep up with it.

  • Coffee and caffeine are well-known stimulants that eventually drain Kidney Yin if you take too much.
  • Herbs and drugs to boost Yang (often to boost sexual energy) can do the same thing.
  • Some medications have the same effect
  • Many social drugs – street drugs – make you feel fantastic for a while. But by over-stimulating yang, they deplete your yin. (How do you recognise they’ve done this to you? Because you feel exhausted for the next few days!)

4/ Overwork


Working Hard, for too long, can lead to kidney yin deficiency
Photo by from Pexels


What this means is extremely heavy work without respite over many months, even years. Of course, young people can probably work for longer than their elders, but their elders may have more discipline and be less easily led astray. In general, however, older people have used up more of their Jing-essence so overwork will exhaust them more quickly.

By heavy work, is meant mental work or worry, including studying. It doesn’t exclude excess physical work or exertion though this more usually leads to deficiency of Kidney Yang.

5/ Sex

Sorry. Too much of this is regarded as bad for you, but actually we’re talking more about Men than about Women. Ejaculation dissipates Jing-essence and too much ejaculation uses up this vital resource and reserve.

For women, having too many babies close together, or not recovering between them might amount to the same thing. Menorrhagia over many months can also exhaust, as already mentioned.

Of course, if a women achieves orgasm so often and intensively that she completely exhausts herself, that might amount to overwork, see above. For men, their teens are regarded as being the time when such loss is potentially most damaging in the long-run for their Kidney Yin.

In any case, men,  do not indulge in ejaculatory sex when ill! It uses up too many of your body’s resources, needed to get you well.

Symptoms of Kidney Yin deficiency

Main symptoms:

Chronic low back ache is a symptom of Kidney Yin deficiency.
Chronic back ache. Photo by Sam Burriss
  • Low backache. This is not the acute kind, but the chronic kind, usually present after standing still or walking slowly for a while, often better when sitting or lying down. Much worse if you carry something heavy, say a child on your shoulders.
  • Sweating during sleep at night. This is not the sweating that comes from a fever or from eating food that is too heating (eg curry and alcohol, but see our page on Hot Foods), but sweating that you cannot account for, when the ambient temperature is not hot. It can be drenching and embarrassing. It is not considered to be a good sign in Chinese medicine as it shows that your body is leaking vital Yang fluids. You notice the day after this kind of sweat that you have less vitality and may be more prone to upset or even infection. Women during their menopause often sweat this way and one of the first improvements they notice during good treatment is that these sweats abate.
  • Mouth and throat get dry at night, when not necessarily so during the daytime.
  • Urine is darker than is usual, and there is less of it.
  • Prolonged exhaustion, tiredness and other symptoms in this list, after ejaculation. (Q: How long is ‘prolonged’? A: The next day or later, for instance.)


Then there are symptoms which often take longer to appear, or with age

  • Ear noises, known as tinnitus. This comes on very gradually, say over a period of years. In the first few months you may notice it just when tired or in the evenings, but gradually you notice it all the time. It doesn’t always interfere with hearing, though sometimes your hearing deteriorates at the same time.
  • Tiredness and lassitude, even depression. Lack of bounce. Can lead to chronic fatigue.
  • Dizziness, either on standing up or after standing for long, but eventually even when sitting.
  • Weak memory: a sign of ageing. You find you can remember things from long ago but not where you just put your glasses! Concentration deteriorates.
  • Hearing loss, progressive.
Hearing loss is one of the possible signs of Kidney Yin deficiency.
Hearing Aid. Photo by Mark Paton
  • Not just night sweats but nocturnal emissions.
  • Increasing insomnia.
  • Dry stools and constipation.
  • Lack of fertility in women who have not reached the menopause.
  • Tongue: usually normal colour but with no coating.
  • Pulse: floats, empty.

What happens next from Kidney Yin Deficiency?

How Serious is Kidney Yin deficiency?

Well  … Kidney Yin deficiency is not a killer!

But it’s slow and insidious, and often leads to a range of symptoms that make you tense and anxious, can raise your blood pressure and stop you sleeping well, so lead on to chronic tiredness and lowered immunity. That means you start getting ill more often.


Blood pressure often raised in people with Kidney yin deficiency
Photo by Crystal Kwok on Unsplash


So it makes it easier for you to get ill in other ways that may be more dangerous, even fatal. 

Once it develops, it’s very hard to cure by yourself: only good treatment will help it, and the longer you leave it the slower the cure.

So seek treatment early on if you notice symptoms developing like those listed above.

Kidney Yin Deficiency Acupuncture Points

Before stimulating these points, remember that they can be very yin-tonifying.

Well, of course, you say, that’s what I want – get on with it!

But if you are very yin deficient, your body may also be quite yang deficient without you realising it. So an experienced acupuncturist might start cautiously, or warn you to expect some days of feeling a bit weary and depressed.

Alternatively, if you are already doing other things advised on this page, your acupuncturist might use some yang points as well as kidney yin deficiency acupuncture points. This is so as to balance the treatment and help you feel gradually better, adapting easily to the beneficial changes in your metabolism from his treatment.

Here are kidney yin deficiency acupuncture points that acupuncturists generally use. But acupuncturists might do lots of other things too to build you up, including points for Qi and Blood.

And they would expect you to alter your diet and what you ate because eating the wrong foods, or eating food the wrong way, can negate your acupuncture. Check nutrition!

In the following list, each has many uses beyond those listed:

Treating the sacral area for Bladder damp heat
Acupuncture into sacral area
  • Bladder 23 – a main point, but powerful: use cautiously!
  • Conception Vessel 4 – another powerful point. Be careful!
  • Kidney 6 – more for dryness and hormone deficiencies
  • Stomach 36 – not specifically a Kidney yin point, but strengthens Blood
  • Kidney 3 – another main point. Helps both Kidney yin and Kidney yang.
  • Kidney 10 – more used for clearing Damp-Heat but thereby steadies Kidney yin
  • Governor 4 – more often used for Kidney Yang and Mingmen, but supports Kidney yin too
  • Kidney 1 – used to descend excess qi from head, so calming and reviving
  • Kidney 2 – used to clear deficiency heat caused by Kidney yin deficiency

Can YOU do anything about Kidney Yin deficiency?

  • Address the causes of your Kidney Yin deficiency – see above. Men, for a while, ejaculate less: discuss with your partner!
  • Learn to meditate. Or, learn to count your blessings and reflect upon your life. In other words, SLOW DOWN!
  • Take exercise that is slow and steady, and builds up fitness gradually, eg Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates. With yoga and pilates,  learn to breathe properly and to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles. Don’t undo benefits from these exercises by sitting poorly! Sort out bad posture!
  • Avoid over-excitement and very competitive situations: too yang for you to cope with!
woman in white tank top sitting on brown wooden bench
Avoid saunas and steam-rooms!
  • Other situations to avoid include very hot places or environments. If you’re yang deficient you’ll like saunas and steam rooms but not if you’re yin deficient – they’ll drain you even more. (However, some people are both yin and yang deficient in which case it depends on whether yin is more or less deficient than yang. If you’re more yang deficient than yin deficient, you’ll like saunas etc, but being also yin deficient, later you’ll feel exhausted. It can be a fine balancing act between getting nicely warmed up on the one hand and not getting exhausted later on because of yin deficiency.)
  • Deal with situations that are causing you continued stress. Sometimes this may mean giving up something valuable, perhaps even a job. Stress causes qi stagnation (big page to read on this, but it applies to everyone) and qi stagnation can create heat. Heat is yang which further depletes your yin deficiency.
  • Again! … Slow down; reduce work-load; avoid stimulants; no ejaculatory sex. 
  • Read my pages on the causes of insomnia. You need more, better, sleep.
  • See if you can find a 5 Element acupuncturist who may help you direct your life better.


Kidney Yin Deficiency Diet

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6 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for sharing you knowledge and wisdom Jonathan!! I’ve noticed more inflammation under my eyes, so I searched. I’ve now linked a few other symptoms to my kidney yin deficiency. I’ll now be bringing this insight to my acupuncturist in two weeks. Oh and Thank you for the recipe for congee. Truly appreciate your kind knowledge!

    1. Hi Suzanne, Thank you for your kind comments – I’m glad you found the information you needed.

      Kidney deficiency can come from many causes, and produces quite a few different symptoms, though we mostly forget that the face shows more than we imagine. Indeed, there’s a whole form of diagnosis based round face diagnosis.

      Best wishes – Jonathan

  2. Hello Jonathan,

    I’ve read that spirulina and chlorella are very good for yin deficiency, especially Kidney and Lung yin deficiency. What is you opinion about that, do you suggest it? Thank you.

    1. Microalgae, such as both spirulina and chlorella, like vitamin or mineral tablets, contain many nutritive benefits.

      The difference between vitamin or mineral tablets is that spirulina and chlorella are powdered forms (well, there may be other forms too, but usually in my experience they are powdered in form when we buy them) of the original growing foodstuff so that, taken with water they (supposedly) recover some of their original benefits and are therefore more digestible than chemicals (ie vitamins and minerals) we buy as tablets.

      They should therefore benefit Blood more, assuming we can digest them. To benefit from them, we also need good digestions! Ie we need healthy Stomach and Spleen Qi.

      Blood then nourishes all our zang-fu organs, including Kidney and Lung.

  3. Hi Jonathan,

    Your website and videos are wonderful!

    Can you kindly explain about kidney stones and how they can be passed? Thank you so much.


    1. Hi Maria

      There’s more to this question than a quick answer! And the following is a simplification.

      Both urinary calculi (which can be small stones, but is more often like sand) and kidney stones (which can be stones of various sizes) form in the same way: from Heat evaporating fluids.

      For this to happen, the fluids need to be ‘thicker’ than usual, hence flowing less smoothly, giving time for Heat to evaporate them. This thickness can arise from Damp or Damp-Heat, or from Qi stagnation in the lower abdomen, or from Qi deficiency being unable to move the fluids.

      It is important to differentiate correctly, to get the right treatment. The accompanying symptoms would point to which syndromes were present. For example, the presence of Damp suggests Spleen deficiency and/or Kidney Yang deficiency.

      Then there must be Heat. This could come from Qi stagnation, Heat in the Blood, or infection. The latter leads doctors to prescribe antibiotics but many forms of cystitis and kidney type problems, including infections, respond well to acupuncture and/or Chinese herbs.

      If given for non-infectious types of cystitis, you’ll probably feel worse from antibiotics, get diarrhoea, digestive problems and candida. However, if the cause really is an infection, then antibiotics are an option.

      So, in Chinese medicine, the aim is to clear any Damp, clear the Heat, ‘open’ the water passages and thereby encourage the body to expel the stones or sand.

      There are acupuncture points for this, not all on the lower abdomen or sacrum, and quite a few herbal formulae some of which contain herbs to dissolve stones.

      The larger and harder the stones, the longer they have been ‘hatching’ and the longer they may take to dissolve. Acupuncture can help reduce the pain while herbs do the work. But acupuncture alone can do the job, usually with frequent sessions and strong stimuli.

      There would probably be advice on what to eat, or not to eat. For example, heating type foods might not help, given that Heat is often a cause. But for old people where the stones had taken years to accumulate, eating cooling foods might weaken their Stomach Qi’s energy to digest food. In other words, although Heat might have formed the stones, this might have occurred because of Qi deficiency from age – slowing the movement of fluids – together with Heat from yin deficiency over a long time. Food advice here might be tricky!

      Hope this helps!

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