The Mystery of the Cold Kidneys.
July 10, 2011 7:19 PM   Subscribe

What could be the reason behind cold kidneys in an otherwise healthy person? Mr. Origami has cold kidneys, and has all his life, so has never given it much thought. He can be warm all over, but place a hand over the kidney area and it feels icy cold--and that's really the only time he notices it, when a normally warm hand or belly covers the area, or if he sits in a hot tub, and he's flushed with warmth.

He is not overweight, doesn't smoke, doesn't drink and is for the most part a healthy 30-something who is moderately active and eats a balanced diet. He doesn't have tendencies to coldness in general.

Why would this happen? Should it raise concerns about a greater problem? Are there solutions? The floor is open!

A final note: Massage therapists have expressed surprise at the cold kidney area and one has suggested qi (chi) issues and eating certain foods to warm the area. Any familiarity with this? If so, how about a good link to reliable information?
posted by AnOrigamiLife to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Massage therapists have expressed surprise at the cold kidney area and one has suggested qi (chi) issues and eating certain foods to warm the area.

This is unscientific biology- and physics-defying nonsense, and so is the idea of "cold kidneys" - you can't feel the temperature of your kidneys under your skin. I've had a kidney transplant and my working kidney is in the front of my abdomen, so I am familiar with the organ in question (though I am not a doctor). Does Mr. Origami have any definable, troubling symptoms other than a region of his body feeling cool to the touch? If not, I wouldn't give this a second thought.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:32 PM on July 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

Ignore the bunk from alternative medicine. Cold skin is the result of poor circulation; it's why some people have cold hands and/or feet. I've never personally heard of a patch of skin on the back being undeserved by its veins/arteries, but I don't see why it's not possible, through a normal harmless congenital variation.

If you need to prove to yourself that it doesn't have anything to do with the kidneys, check out an old anatomy book showing the layers of the abdomen. I have trouble believing that heat would be drained from both the skin, fat, blood vessel, and muscle layers by a "cold kidney".
posted by supercres at 7:47 PM on July 10, 2011

There just happens to be a little extra thickness of fat there. You are not feeling the temperature of internal organs deep in the abdomen, that's absurd. Ignore everything your massage therapist has to say, they are spouting total nonsense.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:48 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Clarification: does HE notice a difference in how those patches feel, or is it only when someone else touches him that THEY notice?
posted by supercres at 7:49 PM on July 10, 2011

Response by poster: YES he notices how cold they feel. The press of a normally warm hand feels really good. That's when he notices it's seriously cold back there (bizarrely so from my perspective--move my hand up, down or over a few inches, and it's a regular warm body). If it happens to be a cold day, simply warming that area warms him instantly.

Interested in knowing the real medical reason behind this. Am also completely open to alternative ideas that have stood the test of time.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 8:01 PM on July 10, 2011

Many men are a little thicker around the middle in that area - is he? If so, he may just feel colder there because he's a little more padded. The fattier parts of my body are also the areas that feel coolest to the touch.
posted by amro at 8:09 PM on July 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

I should add that I know you said he's not overweight... I'm not either. I just mean thicker as compared to the rest of his body.
posted by amro at 8:10 PM on July 10, 2011

Yeah, I'm a little like this. Even if the rest of me feels warm to the touch, my butt can feel positively frigid (even though it's only 2 inches away from normal body-heat-temperature flesh). I think it's due to the amount of fatty tissue there.
posted by samthemander at 8:28 PM on July 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

This is wild speculation, but kidneys are surrounded by fatty capsule. Fatty tissue doesn't get near as much blood flow as other tissues. Add onto that that there may be a little more fat under his skin in that area of his body, and you may have a (wildly speculated!) answer.

Disclaimer: I know nothing.
posted by moira at 8:40 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

My husband has the same thing although it seems to rather new with him. I have no idea what causes it but just thought I'd chime in to say someone else has the same thing.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:01 PM on July 10, 2011

For what it's worth, I know exactly what you are talking about. My "kidney area" is also chronically cold, sometimes to the point of aching. And yes, it is actually cold to the touch and if you move your hand a few inches away, my body is warm again.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 10:22 PM on July 10, 2011

I fall when I ski and by the end of the day I find that this same area is colder than the rest of my body. I'm not cold, per se, but when I reach down and touch my lower back above my hips, I'm instantly aware that I'm COLD. I don't know why, other than I have fallen a couple of times and my shirt is wet, but that part of my body is cold. Cold to the touch and instantly feels cold when something warm is pressed up against it.
posted by TheBones at 11:06 PM on July 10, 2011

Babies are not observed to shiver, can't exercise to warm up, can't move toward heat or away from cold, and can't tell you they're chilly, but it just so happens they are born with deposits of specialized tissue the only known function of which is to burn fat and produce heat: brown fat.

Brown fat was long thought to disappear entirely from almost all people by the time they reach adulthood, but recent research has demonstrated that not to be the case.

In a baby, most of the brown fat is in the area of the chest, throat and shoulders, but there are two small deposits on the lower back above the kidneys.

Mr. Origami, the anecdotes in this thread, my own peculiarities, and a few other things are making me think some residue of the kidney brown fat is active in normal adults, and that when it's not, the place it would normally be is palpably cool.

Prior to the recent research showing it to be fairly common, brown fat was seen in some adults with adrenal tumors, and the spate of recent research has shown that the activity of brown fat can be extinguished by adrenergic beta blockers. This seems to imply that some product of the adrenal glands (which sit atop the kidneys) is necessary to turn the brown fat on (very possibly adrenalin), and I think it also gives a clue what it might be doing there over the adrenals in babies in the first place; namely, priming the adrenal pump, because if the adrenals are too cold to function well, then the whole brown fat system works poorly, so provisions are made to use the first output to enhance later output.

And this brings me to a guess about a possible underlying problem for Mr. Origami: adrenal insufficiency, which can culminate in a diagnosis of Addison's disease.
posted by jamjam at 12:50 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

My upper arms, which are the fattiest part of my skinny body, are consistently cooler to the touch than any other area.
posted by whalebreath at 5:33 AM on July 11, 2011

My boobs are often cold to the touch. I think it's a fat thing - the fat insulates my skin from the heat coming from my core. I would be willing to bet that your guy has a little extra fat in the lower back area and that his kidneys may actually be warmer because of it!
posted by mskyle at 6:51 AM on July 11, 2011

Is it always like this, without fail? Or just sometimes?

I'm wondering if there's environmental factors: an oddly shaped chair, a shirt that rides up when under walking with a backpack on (happens to me), etc. Maybe something in his routine exposes that part of the skin to something cool.
posted by losvedir at 7:56 AM on July 11, 2011

Response by poster: He is not always like this, but more often than not.

Something I should have mentioned is that the massage therapist--who suggested it could be a chi issue that may be remedied with nutritional adjustments--gave him a list of "cold foods" and "warm foods" with which he could experiment. Can't recall details, but I know acidic foods were on one side, cooking vs eating vegetables raw also mattered, and we played around with this. Coincidence or not, it really did seem to make a difference when he ate those "warm foods" but we didn't test it consistently enough to be sure. I think this was all associated with the concept of kidney yang deficiency. For what it's worth.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:53 PM on July 11, 2011

Coincidence or not, it really did seem to make a difference when he ate those "warm foods" but we didn't test it consistently enough to be sure.

You might want to read up on cognitive biases because you are tricking yourself into thinking there is something to this when there isn't. Human brains love to find patterns where they don't exist, and we are easily fooled into believing false relationships. This is why you must discount anecdotal evidence, and why experimenters go to great length to identify and compensate for biases, such as by blinding and large sample sizes.

There is no such thing as warm or cold foods, qi, yang deficiency, or any of the other made-up nonsense this person is feeding you. They might as well have said that tiny invisible unicorns are goring him from the inside, except that "qi" sounds more mystical and plausible than "tiny invisible unicorns".
posted by Rhomboid at 2:19 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, the mystery of the cold kidney area might stay that, but not because Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has it as a recognised symptom, but because a cold kidney area is not a symptom identified with any cause in Western Medicine, even if responses here and online do show that it exists.

I'm posting anyway, because I feel like there's been a bit of a knee-jerk response here, basically in response to the terms from Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Guess what?
The Empirical method is hands down, flat out, the best thing ever. Hypothesis, test, double-blinding - as carefully as can be done. It has the major revolution of the last thousand years, the adoption of it first by modern Western science, and the world, has directly caused the explosion of our culture, and pulled us into the modern age.

There is a bit of a misapprehension that all Western medicine is Empirically based though. Actually, so much of Western medicine isn't. Empirical testing usually follows observational evidence.
And a lot of assumptions have been made without empirical testing, which we are discovering and correcting all the time (e.g. some recent studies showing that with blood supplies, adverse effects to recipients start increasing once the blood is approximately half as old as standard blood storage guidelines currently recommend - ie we didn't do proper empirical testing of how old blood is before it's too old until recently).

Observational evidence is usually the foundation for empirical testing, and frankly, in China, they were observing, diagnosing, and treating diseases and ill health while the West was literally in the dark ages. There's a lot of accumulated observational evidence there, thousands of years worth. The challenge is sorting wheat from chaff, same we are currently doing.

Westerners often have their own cognitive biases, especially based around the translation of Chinese terms. Would it help if someone had translated Yin and Yang as Hyper- and Hypo-?
Or not directly used the name of actual organs, when the chinese term is not referring to that.

For example, the Chinese-translated-into-English descriptor/syndrome 'Liver Wind'.
Ridiculous, right?
We don't get wind in our liver, no more than tiny unicorns.

Or, you could look up what 'Liver Wind' is described as, and see that it's the descriptor for symptoms of convulsion (and epilepsy, parkinsons etc).
Would your mind be totally blown to find that many of the herbal medicines for 'Liver Wind' have been found to be variously anti-convulsants, anti-epileptics, or even have some efficacy against Parkinsons?
Or would that seem to be a little bit more obvious in retrospect?

However, while TCM may be an interesting reservoir of research opportunities, and a not-unuseful source of lifestyle recommendations, to rely on it would be to ignore the amazing leap in effectiveness of the last 50-100 years of Western medicine. If your boyfriend is otherwise healthy, according to both TCM & Western medicine, he's probably fine.
posted by Elysum at 9:04 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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