While the weather has now started to take on an extra layer of chill, the winter holidays are fast approaching and we wanted to take a moment to share with you some of Chinese Medicine’s unique perspectives on this season. This is the time of year when people are more vulnerable to getting sick. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, each season has an associated organ, and for winter, this organ is the Kidneys, the foundational strength of our body. The nature of winter is cold and yin. It is related to the water element. During the winter the energy of the body and the earth naturally goes inward and our bodies have a natural instinct to slow down, reflect, replenish and nurture ourselves. By aligning our diets and lifestyle choices with the uniquely conservational energy of this season, we can conserve and replenish our energy, improve our health and move into the dynamic transitions of spring and summer with increased energy and stamina.
For example, building the kidney energy (“jing or essence as us Acupuncturists call it) is best done in the winter. At the same time, too much activity, stress or lack of rest during the winter can easily deplete the kidneys. The kidneys are the root of our vitality, the source of warmth and strength throughout the body and are in control of birth, growth, reproduction and aging, When the kidneys are weak, we become tired, have a decreased sex drive, achiness in the legs and back, hormonal imbalances, and prematurely aging (ie: early graying, baldness or early onset menopause).
Seasonal acupuncture “tune-ups” can help align you with these changes, as well as reduce stress, boost your immune system, and treat colds and flu during the winter months. A qualified Chinese Medicine Practitioner can recommend herbs, a more specific diet and/or exercises to help build the kidneys as well as balance your body for the season.
It is no coincidence that foods that are naturally available during the winter benefit the kidneys. Eat with the seasons. Consider nourishing yourself with seasonal winter foods such as hearty soups, pomegranates, pear, roasted nuts, root vegetables and winter squash. In general you will want to cook foods longer and at lower temperatures using less water. You want to store warmth internally through your foods. Bone broth provides a wealth of essential nutrients that are easy to digest, rich in flavor and are known to facilitate health and healing. It contains anti-inflammatory proteins as well as healthy fats and minerals that are essential to sustaining or attaining optimal health. See the Bone Broth recipe below.
Avoid sugars and refined grains as much as possible. Vitamins A,C,E and especially vitamin D (2,000-4,000iu/daily for most adults and 1,000-2,000iu daily for kids). Try Apple Cider Vinegar (must be raw, unpasteurized and unfiltered): it is a natural antiviral/antimicrobial. Take 1 tablespoon (feel free to add a teaspoon of raw honey and lemon) in warm to hot water once or twice daily. Not only is it antimicrobial and antiviral, it has very strong moving properties and functions as a prebiotic (encourages growth of probiotics in the gut). Take it at least twice daily if you are fighting something. I would also encourage taking a high quality probiotic daily, or even better, eating probiotic rice foods like raw, cultured sauerkraut or miso. Finally, omega 3/fatty acids are extremely important to keep inflammation at bay and keep the mood elevated. Try Cod liver Oil, Krill oil or Wild Salmon oil from a quality brand, or eat fish frequently (especially sardines or wild salmon).
Factors that deplete our kidney essence “Jing”:
- Stress, fear, insecurity and overwork
- Toxins in our food, water and environment (ie: pesticides and heavy metals), as well as intoxication with drugs or alcohol
- Consumption of too many sweet or unnatural, processed foods
- Excessive semen loss for men, and women bearing “too many” children (for their constitution), or not rebuilding adequately after each birth
Key foods and supplements to build kidney essence (jing):
- Micro-algaes (such as chlorella, spirulina). Chlorella is also a great heavy metal detoxifier.
- Small amounts of meat, nuts, milk and ghee (clarified butter), especially bone marrow soup/bone broth
- Royal jelly and bee pollen
- Chinese herbs: prescribed by your acupuncturist J
Basic Bone Marrow Broth Recipe
Bone broth is an excellent addition to your diet, mostly known for its exceptional health benefits. Bone broth is one of the easiest, most inexpensive and beneficial additions you can make to your diet.
To maximize the healing effects, choose large bones with lots of marrow. Simmering the bones for a long period of time with a splash of vinegar helps to extract calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, silicon, sulphur and other trace minerals, as well as collagen and amino acids. The nutrients in bone broth are easily absorbed and help to build strong hair, nails, bones, cartilage, tendons and all of the connective tissue in the body, including in the gastrointestinal tract, and also provide the foundation for a strong immune system.
From a Chinese Medicine point of view, bone broth builds the most essential component of the body, the kidney essence, along with the qi, blood, bones and tendons. Thus, bone broth is an especially useful staple during the winter, and also for those recovering from injury, illness, surgery or childbirth, and those with chronic joint pain, back pain or generally poor health.
The basic recipe for bone broth is simple:
- Get bones from an animal that was raised naturally (organically if possible), free of hormones or antibiotics, such as beef, lamb, pork or chicken (a whole chicken carcass works fine). Marrow bones can also usually be purchased from a butcher or meat specialty store.
- In a large soup pot or crock pot, cover the bones with at least 2 inches of water, and add a splash of vinegar.
- Bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and let the broth cook for 8-72 hours. The longer it cooks, the more nutrients are extracted and the richer the flavor.
- Strain the broth; cool and skim off the fat if desired.
- Broth may be refrigerated for several days, or frozen for several months.
- Use the broth as a base for soups, sauces, gravy, congee, etc. or add a bit when you cook rice or beans or braise meat or vegetables. It’s hard to go wrong with a great base, so experiment and enjoy!
- Different bones will confer different favors; chicken and beef are good starting points, but experiment and use what you like.
Exercise is vital for maintaining good health. Winter is a time for quiet, meditative or spiritual practices rather than the more yang activities of summer. There are specific practices aimed at replenishing the energy of the kidneys, such as restorative yoga, tai chi or various qi gong practices. Make sure to practice moderation, warm your body up beforehand, and keep warm after. We all need more sleep this time of year, more down time, more rest. The natural cycle is to go inward and rest in darkness, putting energy into our roots. Go to bed early and focus on the cultivation of peaceful moments.
Warm Wishes to you and your loved ones this Holiday Season!
Lauren Civello, L.Ac.
Golden Valley Acupuncture Center
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