Healing The Gallbladder with Chinese Medicine
By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
In Chinese medicine, the Gallbladder has many important functions. Firstly, it has a very close relationship to the Liver. The Gallbladder is a Yang organ and the Liver is its Yin organ partner. The Gallbladder stores and excretes bile, governs decision making and planning, controls the sinews and effects dreams. On a deeper emotional level, the Gallbladder is responsible for our passion for life, inspiration, action and assertiveness. When we are having problems being assertive, making decisions or following through, are lacking passion, feeling timid or uninspired, we are experiencing an imbalance of the Gallbladder. When the Gallbladder is balanced and its energy is flowing freely, we are happy, healthy, assertive and passionate.
In TCM, organs are categorized as either Yin or Yang. Yin organs are defined as organs that produce, transform, regulate and store fundamental substances, such as Qi, Blood and body fluids, and in general, the Yin organs are not empty cavities. They are function versus form. The Yin organs in TCM are the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Lungs and Kidneys. The Yang organs are organs that are mainly responsible for digestion and for transmitting nutrients to the rest of the body. Usually, they are organs with empty cavities, and have a connection to the outside of the body. The Yang organs in TCM are the Gallbladder, Stomach, Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Bladder and San Jiao (Triple Burner).
The Gallbladder is unusual in the sense that it is the only Yang organ that does not have direct contact with food and drink, or a direct connection to the outside of the body. Because of this is also considered an extraordinary organ.
Just as in Western medicine, the Gallbladder receives bile from the Liver which it stores until it is needed in the digestive process. When the Gallbladder releases bile, it is considered to be regulated by the energy of the Liver, or Liver Qi. When digestion is smooth, so is the Liver Qi. The Gallbladder also needs the Liver Qi to be able to release its bile smoothly. If this relationship is impaired, it can adversely affect digestion and cause problems like vomiting, regurgitation, belching and hiccups, which are all symptoms of rebellious Stomach Qi.
It is common in the modern age to see many patients who have had their Gallbladders removed because of gall stones and other problems. In ancient China, the organs were never removed. That has remained the thinking in Traditional Chinese Medicine today, and if a patient is having problems with their Gallbladder, the practitioner of TCM would always explore dietary options, herbs and acupuncture, and possibly cleanses before considering surgery as a last resort.
Why Do So Many People Have Problems With Their Gallbladders?
So, why do so many people have problems with their Gallbladders? It is a good question. I believe that one reason is diet, and the other is stress. These are 2 of the things that affect the gallbladder the most. Another, in Chinese medicine, is the emotions. Each organ in TCM is associated with an emotion. And the Liver/Gallbladder’s emotion is anger. Now, experiencing emotions is a healthy part of life and one of the things that make us human. But in TCM, the philosophy is that not having a healthy emotional life is just as important to our health as eating well, getting enough sleep and keeping your Qi strong (your immune system) so that you can fight off pathogens. The effect of anger on the Liver/Gallbladder works 2 ways.
1. If you repress anger, hold it in and never express it, it will eventually hurt the Liver/Gallbladder and cause imbalance, which will lead to disease.
2. If you are experiencing unusual levels of stress because of things going on in your life (a traumatic event, death, an illness, breakup of a relationship), or stress at work, and/or are eating badly (lots of greasy, fatty, rich or spicy foods), then eventually, the Liver/Gallbladder will become impaired and can cause an excess of anger which can manifest in symptoms like red face & eyes, irritability, angry outbursts, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and migraines. These are symptoms of Liver Fire (excess heat in the Liver).
So, How Can You Take Care of Your Gallbladder?
Here are some things that you can do to keep your Gallbladder healthy and happy.
1. Avoid Greasy, Fatty, Rich or Spicy Foods
Sharp abdominal pains after eating these types of foods points to Gallbladder stones and other problems. Because the Gallbladder is responsible for releasing bile which helps break down fats, you want to keep intake of these foods to a minimum and not overload your Gallbladder.
2. Express Emotions Freely
This may be easier said than done, but any stagnation or blockage in TCM is what causes disease and pain. This includes emotions, so it is important to have a healthy emotional life, and always try to express what you are feeling instead of allowing it to build up. Emotions specific to Gallbladder are anger (frustration, resentment, etc..) associated with its partner, the Liver. Emotional changes such as depression (which is considered anger turned inward) can also point to a Gallbladder imbalance.
3. Eat Foods Grown Locally and in Season
This is a big one in Chinese Medicine, and, if you look at history, it is the way we are designed to eat. Our digestive systems have evolved to digest the foods that people ate once we were able to leave our nomadic roots and start farming. People only ate local foods that were in season. With the recent proliferation of air travel, we have been spoiled by being able to have whatever foods we want, any time of the year (strawberries in winter, blueberries in the tropics, mangoes in the far North…). And although this is wonderful, it is not the way our digestive systems were designed, so we are overloading them with too many kinds of foods at all times of the year.
In Chinese Medicine, nutritional therapy is a huge aspect of the medicine. What better way to heal the body than to use the food that we eat 3 times a day? In TCM, every food has a temperature, that interacts with your body, adding heat, cold, or keeping it neutral. Foods also all have healing properties, so the Chinese felt it very important to eat the proper foods when they became sick to help rebalance them so they could recover. I will include a list of some foods beneficial for the Gallbladder at the end of this article.
4. Exercise. Keep Moving!
The Gallbladder meridian runs bilaterally along the body starting at the outside corner of the eye (at the end of the eyebrow) and runs along the side of the body, ending at the corner of the nail bed of the 4th toe. Therefore, any exercise that stimulates the sides of the body are beneficial for the flow of Qi and to help remove any blockages in the Gallbladder organ and meridian. Side stretches are ideal. There are many Chinese internal as well as external martial arts that are excellent for mind, body and spirit. Tai Chi and Qi Gong are 2 examples of internal martial arts that are beneficial for moving Qi in all of the meridians, as well as strengthening the body and the mind. Kung Fu is a bit more rigorous, but has an emphasis is circulating Qi throughout the body to maintain physical and mental health. Movement is the most important aspect for keeping your Qi from stagnating, so if Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Kung Fu are a bit more physical activity than you are used to, just simple things like walking are a wonderful way to keep Qi moving.
5. Be Kind to Your Gallbladder in Spring
Spring is the season related to the Gallbladder, and its partner the Liver.
The Spring element is wood, the taste, sour and the colour is green. So you can imagine after a lengthy winter, the new bright green shoots of plants breaking through the ground representing new life after a long, cold slumber. This is the reason that it is especially important to give the Gallbladder and the Liver a rest from things like caffeine, alcohol and other intoxicants during this time. It is also beneficial to cleanse these organs by drinking lots of water and eating things like fresh greens to nourish the Gallbladder and Liver, especially in the spring.
6. Know What Time It Is
In Chinese medicine, every organ is seen to have 2 hours out of every 12 where its Qi is at its peak. The time when the Gallbladder’s energy is its most abundant is between 11pm-1am. During these 2 hours, it is helpful if you can refrain from drinking alcohol or other intoxicants, as they place unnecessary stress on the Gallbladder. It also helps the Gallbladder if you can rest the body as much as possible in these 2 hours.
Foods that are beneficial to the Gallbladder
- Jasmine tea
- Green tea
- Cayenne (this may seem contradictory, but Cayenne is very moving for qi. Just remember, moderation!)
- Dandelion root
- Licorice root
- Peppermint tea
- Chrysanthemum tea
- Tea with orange peel
Foods that hurt the Gallbladder
- Deep fried food – (Greasy)
- Alcohol – (Damp)
- Spicy foods (remember moderation is important!)
- Hot foods – Foods that are considered “Hot” in TCM are:
If you are experiencing any Gallbladder symptoms, or have been told by your doctor that you should consider surgery, I encourage you to seek out a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and explore the non surgical options to re-balance your body and heal your Gallbladder.
The wonderful thing about Chinese medicine is that it was developed to be a system that focuses on prevention. That is why, it is not only the oldest medical system on earth, but it teaches an entire way of life, teaching how to live in harmony with nature, eating with the seasons, moderation in work and play, exercise and emotional wellness. By practicing these basic principles, the Chinese believe that you can maintain optimum health so that illness never has a chance to develop.
The Gallbladder : Chinese Medicine Living
This adorable gallbladder from I Heart Guts