Nephrotic syndrome according to Chinese Medicine

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Nephrotic syndrome factsheet

In Chinese Medicine, nephrotic syndrome can be associated with five so-called "patterns of disharmony". Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted. It is not equivalent to the Western concept of "disease", as a matter of fact here nephrotic syndrome can be caused by five different patterns.

To understand whether someone's nephrotic syndrome might be caused by a given pattern, one needs to look for signs and symptoms associated with the pattern beyond what one might typically experience from nephrotic syndrome alone. For instance when nephrotic syndrome is caused by the pattern Phlegm, patients also experience symptoms such as chest pressure, nausea, dizziness and feeling of heaviness. Similarly, patients with Phlegm typically exhibit slippery (Hua) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a tongue with sticky coating, thick coating.

We've listed below a description of the five patterns associated with nephrotic syndrome so that you can start to get an understanding of the various possibilities according to Chinese Medicine.

Once identified, patterns are often treated using herbal formulas. Drinking herbal infusions is the most common remedy in Chinese Medicine, together with acupuncture. Here we detail below three formulas that can help treat the various patterns associated with nephrotic syndrome, depending on which pattern fits your profile.

The five "patterns of disharmony" associated with nephrotic syndrome

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the key herb for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Phlegm

Phlegm

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

Recommended herbal formulas: Er Chen Tang, Liu Jun Zi Tang, Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang, Wen Dan Tang, Hao Qin Qing Dan Tang, Xing Su San, Wu Ling San

Symptoms: Lumps Nausea Nodules Dizziness Chest pressure Feeling of heaviness Numbness in the limbs

Phlegm has a great importance in Chinese Medicine as it is both a condition in and of itself as well as a cause for other diseases.

The main cause for the formation of Phlegm is Spleen Deficiency since the Spleen rules the transformation and transportation of Body Fluids. If this function is impaired, Body Fluids accumulates and change into Phlegm. 

The Lungs and Kidneys may also be involved since they each play a role in handling body Fluids: the Lungs disperse and descend Body Fluids while the Kidneys transform and excrete them. Again, if they fail to perform those roles, Body Fluids will accumulate and become Phlegm.

That being said, the Spleen malfunction is the fundamental reason behind the formation of Phlegm and, as such, treatments will focus on it first and foremost.

There are two broad types of Phlegm: so-called "Substantial Phlegm" and "Non-Substantial Phlegm". Simply put, Substantial Phlegm can be seen, such as sputum in the Lungs and throat. Non-Substantial Phlegm is more hidden and will manifest itself into, for instance, kidney stones, gallstones or arthritic bone deformities.

Phlegm can further be categorized according to its nature: there is Damp-Phlegm, Phlegm-Heat, Cold-Phlegm, etc. 

Lastly, there is a type of Phlegm called "Phlegm-Fluids". It is very similar to Dampness and is very watery and thin. It can be heard splashing in the body, found usually in the Stomach, Intestines, hypochondrium, limbs or above the diaphragm.

Read more about Phlegm here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Spleen Deficiency with Dampness

Nephrotic syndrome might be due to Spleen Deficiency with Dampness if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as edema, general sensation of heaviness, diarrhea and urinary difficulty.

Read more about Spleen Deficiency with Dampness here

The Triple Burner is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Triple Burner in Chinese Medicine

Phlegm in the Lower Burner

Nephrotic syndrome might be due to Phlegm in the Lower Burner if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as throbbing pulsations just below the umbilicus, vomiting frothy saliva, vertigo and shortness of breath.

Read more about Phlegm in the Lower Burner here

Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Deep (Chen), Minute (Wei), Slow (Chi)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Recommended herbal formula: Fu Zi Tang

Symptoms: No thirst Cold extremities Generalized body pain Aching bones and joints Aversion to cold (especially at the back)

Nephrotic syndrome might be due to Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as generalized body pain, aching bones and joints, cold extremities and no thirst. Similarly, patients with Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp typically exhibit choppy (Se), deep (Chen), minute (Wei) or slow (Chi) pulses as well as a tongue with thin white coating.

Read more about Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp here

The Kidneys is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine

Kidney Yang Deficiency

Nephrotic syndrome might be due to Kidney Yang Deficiency if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as exhaustion from long-term illness, aversion to cold, cold extremities and impotence. Similarly, patients with Kidney Yang Deficiency typically exhibit deep (Chen), slow (Chi) or weak (Ruo) pulses as well as a pale tongue.

Read more about Kidney Yang Deficiency here

The three herbal formulas that might help with nephrotic syndrome

Wu Ling San

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes urination,. Warms the Yang. Strengthens the Spleen. Promotes Qi transformation function. Drains Dampness. Clears edema.

Why might Wu Ling San help with nephrotic syndrome?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help with the patterns Phlegm, Spleen Deficiency with Dampness and Phlegm in the Lower Burner which are sometimes associated with nephrotic syndrome. If any of these patterns look like something you might suffer from, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Wu Ling San here

Fu Zi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Warms the Meridians. Assists the Yang. Dispels Cold. Transforms Dampness.

Why might Fu Zi Tang help with nephrotic syndrome?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp, a pattern sometimes associated with nephrotic syndrome. If it looks like you might suffer from Yang Deficiency with Cold-Damp, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Fu Zi Tang here

You Gui Wan

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies Kidney Yang. Replenishes the Essence. Tonifies the Blood.

Why might You Gui Wan help with nephrotic syndrome?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Kidney Yang Deficiency, a pattern sometimes associated with nephrotic syndrome. If it looks like you might suffer from Kidney Yang Deficiency, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about You Gui Wan here