Loving Your Liver with Chinese Medicine – Part 1

Loving Your Liver with Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Spring is here, and Spring is the time that the Liver flourishes and its energies are at their peak. Spring is a time of new life and the growth and activity of plants and animals after a long winter hibernating. The Liver is associated with new growth and expansive energies, just like plants in Springtime stretching up and out, reaching for the sun. Spring is the best time to support the Liver, eating fresh green foods and being mindful to express our emotions.

The Liver has many responsibilities in Chinese medicine, as you will see below, and the Springtime is the best time to treat the Liver, as its energies are at their full expression. First we will discuss the Liver’s responsibilities in the body, then, in part two, we will move onto the emotions and in part three we will discuss the ways that we can keep the Liver healthy and happy through diet, the emotions and making sure you get to bed by 11pm. :)

What Does The Liver Do in Chinese Medicine?

Stores Blood

The Liver stores blood in Chinese medicine

One of the most vital functions of the Liver is that it is responsible for storing blood. This means that it regulates the volume of blood in the body at all times, and this serves an important function during physical activity. The Liver stores the blood when it is not being used by the body, but when we are active, the Liver sends the blood to the muscles, nourishing and moistening them. This function also has an important influence on a person’s energy level. The Liver sends the blood to specific parts of the body, nourishing the necessary tissues. If the Liver is healthy, we will have energy to do our daily activities. If the Liver is impaired however, the blood will not get to the parts of the body that need it and we will become easily tired.

The Livers function of storing blood also directly influences our ability to fight off pathogens. If the Liver function is normal, the skin and muscles will be well nourished and the body will be able to fight off attacks by exterior pathogens. There are other factors that affect our ability to fight off pathogenic factors, like our defensive Qi and the strength of our Lung Qi, but it is important not to overlook the Livers role in our ability to fight off invaders.

The Livers function of storing blood is also extremely important in gynaecology and specifically, menstruation. If the Liver is functioning normally, the periods will be normal. If the Liver is deficient, the periods will be late, irregular or absent. If the Liver is in excess or has excess heat, there can be excessive bleeding and pain. The Liver is very important in Women’s physiology and pathology. Many gynaecological problems are due to pathologies of the Liver. If there are gynaecological problems, the Liver will be involved. Because the Liver governs the smooth flow of Qi, the bodies energies, stagnation of Liver Qi is a common diagnosis and manifests in the periods as painful periods, pre-menstrual tension and clots.

Responsible for the Smooth Flow of Qi

Liver responsible for smooth flow of qi

The Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. In Chinese medicine, illness or disease is seen to be a blockage of the flow. When things, like blood, are not flowing properly, the results can be catastrophic, like a stroke. So, the Liver’s function of keeping Qi moving in the body is important for our health. A blockage of the flow of Qi is central to almost all Liver disharmonies and is one of the most common patterns seen in clinical practice. In Chinese medicine, each organ also is seen to have a specific direction in which its Qi naturally flows. The Lungs Qi flows downwards (a pathological upward flow causes coughing), as does the Qi of the Stomach (when it moves up we get vomiting and belching), and the Qi of the Spleen naturally flows up (when it moves down we get diarrhea). Part of the Livers function of moving Qi smoothly throughout the body is also to ensure the proper flow and direction for all the organs. This is a big responsibility as you can imagine. It is a big job which is why it is so important to have a health, happy Liver.

The Liver function of ensuring the smooth flow of Qi also has an impact on the emotional state. If the Liver is functioning normally, the Qi will be flowing and the emotional state will be balanced. However, if the Qi is obstructed, there can be anger, frustration, depression and a feeling of being “wound up” as well as physical symptoms like hypochondriac pain, a sensation of oppression in the chest, a feeling of a lump in the throat and distension in the abdomen.

Controls the Sinews

Liver controls the sinews

 As you can imagine, the state of our sinews affects our ability to move our bodies freely. Anyone who has ever done a yoga class will be able to tell you exactly how important it is to have moist, supple sinews as even the ability to do something simple like touching your toes can be a humbling experience! The health of the sinews is under the control of the Liver, and specifically Liver blood. Liver blood nourishes and moistens the sinews, ensuring that we can move freely and easily. The sinews ability to relax and contract is also dependent on Liver blood. If Liver blood is deficient, sinews will become dry and brittle and we can experience symptoms like contractions, spasms, numbness, tremors and muscle cramps.

Manifests in the Nails

In Chinese medicine, the nails are considered a by-product of the sinews which are under the control of the Liver and specifically, Liver blood. Liver blood is responsible for nourishing and moistening the nails in the same way as it is for the sinews. If Liver blood is abundant, the nails will be hard, shiny and moist. If Liver blood is deficient, we can see symptoms like dry and brittle nails, and nails with ridges, spots, cracks and can be dark and have a withered appearance. So, next time you break a nail, you might want to consider giving your Liver some extra love!

nails and the liver in Chinese medicine

Opens Into the Eyes

Eyes and the liver in Chinese Medicine

 Every organ in Chinese medicine is associated with a sense organ and the Liver opens into the eyes. The eyes, therefore, are used as a diagnostic tool for helping to determine the health of the Liver. Liver blood is responsible for the eyes capacity to see clearly. Psychologically, the health of the Liver can also determine how clearly we are able to recognize what is actually happening in our lives and how connected we are to reality. If the Liver blood is abundant, then we will see clearly, but if it is deficient, we will have eye problems like blurred vision, dry eyes, myopia, colour blindness and especially floaters.

Because the Liver is especially susceptible to heat, when Liver heat is in excess we see eye symptoms like red and blood shot eyes and the eyes may be painful and have a burning sensation. These symptoms are often accompanied with headaches, ringing in the ears and a bitter taste in the mouth.

Controls Planning

The Liver in Chinese Medicine

One of the other responsibilities of the Liver, and one that is not often mentioned, it its ability to help us plan our lives wisely. A healthy Liver gives us the capacity to organize and plan our lives and gives us a clear sense of direction. A Liver that is out of balance however, affects how well we are able to plan into the future which we see so often in our society, partially because of Liver imbalances, and partially because so many of us are simply overwhelmed with our lives and have a hard time keeping up with our daily activities. A healthy Liver will help with so much more than your health! It will literally help you to focus, and plan your life smoothly and effectively.

As you can see, the Liver has a lot of responsibilities so keeping it healthy is always a good idea. The good news is that there are many, many ways that we can keep Liver energies balanced and keep this important organ happy and healthy. We will discuss these as well as the very important emotional aspect of the Liver (anger) in the following sections.

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If you are having issues with your liver, Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP offers skype consults. Please write to info@chinesemedicineliving for more info, or see our skype consults page to contact us and set up a time with Emma.

If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Spring Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here – The Spring Season in Chinese Medicine.

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