One of the most important theories of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is the theory of yin and yang. These are the complementary, but opposing forces of nature which are also present within the human body. Our health depends on a constant state of balance between yin and yang, and if it is upset then we will become sick.
Yin is cooling in nature and yang is warming. If our yin becomes deficient for any reason, then our bodies can begin to overheat since there is nothing to counterbalance the yang. The general symptoms of yin deficiency are heat and dryness within the body, for example:
- Low grade fever
- Feeling hot, especially in the afternoon
- Hot palms, soles and chest
- Night sweats
- Dry mouth or throat
- Red face, especially the cheeks
These are all symptoms of heat, but it is important to note that in this case, there is no true heat within the body. The symptoms are due to a relative excess of yang stemming from an underlying lack of yin. In TCM, this is known as “empty heat”.
If you are yin deficient, you will likely have other symptoms too, but these will vary from patient to patient depending on which organ is being affected.
In TCM, the Kidneys are seen as the source of all yin and yang within the body. They are a reservoir of energy which can be drawn on throughout the course of your life. However, this reservoir can be depleted by factors such as chronic illness, overwork, use of stimulants (recreational drugs, caffeine, alcohol etc.) and excessive sexual activity. Kidney-yin can also be damaged by illnesses which cause a high fever, blood loss and certain medications.
In addition to the standard yin deficiency symptoms, Kidney-yin deficiency can also cause:
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Tinnitus or deafness
- Sore lower back
- Aching bones
- Leaking semen at night-time
- Dark, scanty urination
Because the Kidneys are a source of yin for the whole body, Kidney-yin deficiency may begin to affect other the organs over time. This can potentially lead to Liver-yin deficiency, Heart-yin deficiency and Lung-yin deficiency.
According to five element theory, the Liver belongs to wood and the Kidneys belong to water. Water nourishes wood, so if the Kidneys are yin deficient, then it is easy for the Liver to become yin deficient too.
In addition to the standard yin deficiency symptoms, the symptoms of Liver-yin deficiency include:
- Numbness of the arms and legs
- Blurred vision
- Dry eyes
- Brittle nails
- Sallow skin
- Light or missing periods in women
When Liver-yin is deficient, Liver yang can easily become uncontrolled and rise upwards to the head. This causes symptoms such as:
- One-sided headaches, especially behind the eyes or on the temples
These symptoms are not caused by a true excess of yang, it is simply that there is not enough yin to keep it in balance.
In TCM, the Heart is closely related to the mind and the emotions. If Heart-yin is deficient, it becomes difficult to relax, and as well as the standard yin deficiency symptoms, it causes:
- Vivid dreams
- Poor memory
Heart-yin deficiency can be a direct result of Kidney-yin deficiency, as these two organs have a very close relationship. The Heart sends yang energy down to the Kidneys to warm them, while the Kidneys send yin energy up to the Heart to keep it cool. If the Kidneys do not have enough yin to perform their cooling function, then the Heart will eventually be affected too.
Heart-yin deficiency can also arise from long-term emotional stress and worry which causes the mind to stay busy and agitates the Heart.
In TCM, the Lungs are responsible for our breathing, just as they are in western medicine. In order for them to perform this function properly, the Lungs need to be moist. When Lung-yin is deficient, they become dry, causing symptoms such as:
- Dry cough or cough with very little sputum
- Coughing up blood
- Hoarse or irritated throat
Lung-yin deficiency is often a result of long-term Kidney-yin deficiency. It can also be caused by Stomach-yin deficiency. This is because according to five element theory, the Lungs belong to metal and the Stomach to earth. Earth nourishes metal, and so any condition which affects the Stomach may also affect the Lungs over time.
The Stomach is one of the main digestive organs in TCM, and the main cause of Stomach-yin deficiency is an irregular diet. This includes skipping meals, eating late at night, eating on the go, eating while stressed or returning to work too soon after eating. All of these things prevent the Stomach from performing its digestive functions as it should, and lead to yin deficiency.
Stomach-yin deficiency is the only type of yin deficiency which is never related to the Kidneys. Therefore, there is less imbalance between yin and yang and fewer symptoms of empty heat. The main symptoms of Stomach-yin deficiency are:
- Poor appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Feelings of fullness after eating
- Dry mouth or throat
- Thirst (however, there may be no desire to drink)
- Constipation with dry stools
As we have already discussed, Stomach-yin deficiency can lead to Lung-yin deficiency over time. However, it does not usually affect the other organs in this way.
Preventing Yin Deficiency
The best way to prevent yin deficiency is to live a balanced lifestyle with enough time for work, exercise, rest and relaxation. In the modern world, so many people are overworked. Rushing around constantly, eating in a hurry and long-term stress can all lead to yin deficiency, so it should be no surprise that this is now such a common condition.
You can combat the effects of a hectic lifestyle by making time for quiet activities such as reading or meditation. Gentle exercise such as tai chi, qi gong or calming yoga can also help. Ensure that you get enough sleep every night by going to bed early and observing good sleep hygiene.
According to TCM, food is also a type of medicine, and you can influence your health by eating the right foods for you. Try incorporating more yin-nourishing foods into your diet such as milk, tofu, eggs, bananas, avocado and sweet potatoes. Eat at the same time every day, keeping your evening meal early and light. Avoid eating at your desk or on the go and always make time to enjoy your food.
Acupuncture for Yin Deficiency
Another way to combat yin deficiency is with acupuncture and Chinese medicine. When you go for your first consultation, your practitioner will look at your medical history in detail and assess which organs may be yin deficient. They will then treat you accordingly, selecting points which nourish yin while relieving any symptoms you may have. Many of the best points for yin deficiency are on the lower abdomen, legs and feet.
Acupuncture treatment can also be combined with Chinese herbs to enhance your treatment further. Your practitioner will prescribe the most appropriate blend for your individual condition. They may also recommend that you make some dietary and lifestyle changes if necessary.
By making just a few simple changes and adding acupuncture to your self-care regime, you can help to prevent your yin from becoming depleted and your yang from getting out of control. This will keep your body and mind in a state of happy harmony and health.