Winter Health from a Chinese Medicine Perspective

from Shari Sunshine, Middleway Method Mentor

The ancient Chinese believed that human beings should live in harmony with the natural cycles of their environment. The cold and darkness of winter urges us to slow down. This is the time of year to reflect on our health, replenish our energy, and conserve our strength. Winter is Yin in nature; it is inactive, cold, and damp. Remain introspective, restful, and consolidate your Qi through the season and prepare for the outburst of new life and energy in the spring.

“The wise nourish life by flowing with the four seasons and adapting to cold or heat, by harmonizing joy and anger in a tranquil dwelling, by balancing yin and yang, and what is hard and soft. So it is that dissolute evil cannot reach the man of wisdom, and he will be witness to a long life.” – Huangdi Neijing Suwen

Element: Water

Nature: Yin

Organs: Kidney, Urinary Bladder, Adrenal Glands, Ears, and Hair

Taste: Salty

Emotion: Fear and Depression/ Gentleness and Tenderness



Winter is ruled by the water element, which is associated with the kidneys, bladder, and adrenal glands. 

According to the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys are considered the source of all energy (Qi) within the body.

They store all of the reserve Qi in the body so that it can be used in times of stress and change, or to heal, prevent illness, and age gracefully.

During the winter months it is important to nurture and nourish our kidney Qi. It is the time where this energy can be most easily depleted. Our bodies are instinctively expressing the fundamental principles of winter – rest, reflection, conservation, and storage.



Foods for Winter

Winter is a time when many people tend to reduce their activity. If that’s true for you, it’s wise to reduce the amount of food you eat, too, to avoid gaining weight unnecessarily. Avoid raw foods during the winter as much as possible, as these tend to cool the body. During winter you should emphasize warming foods

  • Soups and stews
  • Root vegetables
  • Beans-black beans, kidney beans, aduki beans, chick peas
  • Miso and seaweed
  • Garlic and ginger
  • Nuts, especially walnuts
  • Black sesame seeds
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Glutinous rice Dates, longan
  • Black fungus Bamboo shoots
  • Leeks

Eating warm hearty soups, whole grains, and roasted nuts help to warm the body’s core and to keep us nourished.  Sleep early, rest well, stay warm, and expend a minimum quantity of energy.

In winter, living things slow down to save energy while some animals hibernate. It is also the season where humans conserve energy and build strength as a prelude to spring. TCM believes our diet should be adapted to focus on enriching yin and subduing yang, which mean we should consume appropriate fats and high protein foods. Winter corresponds to the kidney system according to the five elements theory; hyperactive kidney inhibits the heart which leads to palpitations, cardiac pain, limb coldness and fatigue. It is advisable to eat more food with bitter flavors while reducing salty flavors so as to promote a healthy heart and reduce the workload of the kidney. Foods with bitter flavors include apricot, asparagus, celery, coffee, tea, grapefruit, hops, kohlrabi, lettuce, radish leaves, kale, vinegar and wine. Winter is also a good time to boost the natural constitution of the body and improve symptoms associated with chronic conditions. Since a person’s appetite tends to increase over winter when they have a lower metabolic rate, absorbed nutrients from foods can be stored more easily.

The principle of harmony between food and the weather is based on practical experience. It may seem to contradict principles stated elsewhere but the fact remains: foods eaten during the four seasons have different impacts on the human body. Foods become part of the body after being consumed but the four seasons (that is environmental factors) always impacts externally on the body. Chinese dietary philosophy suggests that you embrace your native foods in addition to eating locally-grown foods and those in season. What is unhealthy about the modern diet is that particular foods are now available all year long and may be chemically treated instead of being grown naturally and being only available at a certain time. Natural, home-grown and chemical-free products are the most nutritious foods. 

Staying Healthy This Winter



Seasonal changes affect the body’s environment. With the wind, rain, and snow comes the colds, flu, aches, and pains.

Here are a few tips to staying healthy this winter

Wash your hands regularly. Studies have shown that one of the main reasons that we catch colds and flu in the winter season is that we are indoors and in closer proximity to others in cold weather. Protect yourself by washing your hands regularly and try not to touch your face.

Get plenty of sleep. The Nei Ching, an ancient Chinese classic, advised people to go to sleep early and rise late, after the sun’s rays have warmed the atmosphere a bit. This preserves your own yang Qi for the task of warming in the face of cold.

Reduce stress. Find a way to relax and release stress on a daily basis. Such methods may include yoga, meditation, biofeedback, simple relaxation therapy, or whatever method you use to release the stress and pressures of modern life.


According to TCM, stress, frustration, and unresolved anger can work together to throw your immune system off, allowing pathogens affect your body.



Build Up Your Protective Qi

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can prevent colds and flu by building up the immune system with just a few needles inserted into key points along the body’s energy pathways.

These points are known for strengthening the circulation of blood and energy and for consolidating the outer defense layers of the skin and muscle (wei Qi) so that germs and viruses cannot enter through them. 

Seasonal acupuncture treatments just four times a year also serve to tonify the inner organ systems and can correct minor annoyances before they become serious problems. The ultra-thin needles don’t hurt and are inserted just under the skin. The practitioner may twist or “stimulate” them once or twice, and they are removed within 10 to 20 minutes.

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