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It’s Kidney Season!

by Josh Zimmer, AP,DOM


The kidneys belong to the winter. This is what the ancient Chinese believed, and the association makes sense. The slowdown of mind and body tied to cooler weather and shorter daylight hours fits the deep, core energy which the kidneys represent.

Adapting to all seasons means that we’re supposed to wrap our habits around the changes in environment. Going to sleep earlier and sleeping longer, for example, are smart winter rituals. Contrast this with summer, the heart season, when a person syncs more by going to sleep later and sleeping for less time. Slightly heavier foods nourish the kidneys this time of year, rather than the lighter fare of summer when we can’t afford to be weighed down. Even the colors associated with those two organ seasons differ. Summer, with its hot temperatures and fiery sun, is red. Whereas night and cool dominate the winter, so a kidney’s color is black

But, you might dispute, there’s no winter in this part of Florida! So why change anything? Our winters are warmer and sunnier than everywhere else. It’s just another reason to visit the South with sunscreen and a swimsuit. True but not true. There are subtle shifts in our sub-tropical surroundings that should alter our approach to winter weather and moods. The kidneys, which support our immune systems all year round, need special attention right now.

An ideal way to start is by acknowledging that it does get cold here! Temperatures already have dropped, especially in the mornings and evenings. A friend recently visited from Holland and raved about the weather during an early-December cold spell. “It’s warmer than Amsterdam,” he noted while spending most days in jogging shorts.

But this isn’t Amsterdam. When you’re used to temperatures in the ‘90s, mercury readings in the mid-60s begin to feel chilly. Anything below that can seem downright cold. We pay the price for that exposure. Colds and flu symptoms are rampant in the land of sunshine. Instead of shorts and sandals, it’s often time for a jacket, pants, hat and sweater. Weakened immune systems allow colds and flus to last longer than they should.

Meanwhile, the kidneys cry out for warmth. They hold a special place in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Our primary developmental and reproductive energy, called Essence, stems from those two bean-shaped powerhouses just above waistline. Other organs are equally important. But a major part of their job replenishing the kidneys, which return the favor by directing Qi their way through the Kidney channel and Mingmen, the “fire gate” located in the lower spine. It’s like shoveling coal into a train engine.

This back-and-forth energy flow allows the kidneys to support our immune systems—when we treat them right. They are a natural warehouse of cool Yin and warm Yang energies. But every acupuncturist knows that as we age, the kidneys inevitably lose some “oomph.” Other factors, such as injuries and sitting too much, contribute as well.

At the opposite end, overusing our backs with heavy lifting and intense workouts also magnify the energy drain. Because the kidneys house the will, drops in kidney Qi are associated in Traditional Chinese Medicine with depression, which many people experience to varying degrees as daylight declines. So declines in kidney Qi is very common among our patients. At times, the lower back even feels cool to the touch, a sign the engine is running low.

All these kidney factors are heightened during the winter months, even in Florida. Some days, the cooler ones, will need more attention than others. Here are some useful ideas for maintaining our kidney Qi—and our immune systems—throughout the winter:


  • Dress for the weather, not the sunshine.
  • Eat warm, cooked foods. A foundation of Chinese Medicine nutrition, it’s especially important for maintaining our internal ovens until spring arrives. Dust off those soup and stew recipes!
  • Drink warm liquids, including water.
  • Go to bed earlier and sleep longer. The kidneys enjoy a good blanket.
  • Soak in the light of the day.
  • Slow down and replenish. During winter, the kidneys don’t move as fast as other organs. Meditation, yoga and Tai Qi refill the kidney reserves.
  • Find an activity around sunset. If you’re light sensitive, there’s nothing worse than watching the day disappear around 5:30–6 p.m. Some conscious activity such as a beach walk, gardening or even a trip to the store even helps ease the transition from light to darkness and puts you more in control.


The kidneys are there for our well-being. Now let’s return the favor!


Josh Zimmer is a Nationally Certified, State Licensed Acupuncture Physician. He is a 2008 graduate of the East West College of Natural Medicine in Sarasota. Zimmer is the acupuncturist at Four Pillars, providing natural healing for pain relief and digestive issues. He also treats symptoms of cancer, stroke and neuropathy. Four Pillars is located at 8209 Natures Way, Suite 221, Lakewood Ranch. For more information, call 941-373-3955, email or visit


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