Traditional Chinese Medicine- Liver Basics
The liver is all about new growth and expansive energies! It is working hard, all spring and summer, just like he soil of our earth! As the energy of our environment slows down and prepares for winter, it is especially important to slow down and prepare our livers.
The Liver Stores Blood
The liver receives approximately 30% of our blood when the body is at rest.
Consider that: almost 1/3 of our body’s blood volume is hanging out in the liver at any given time! It is a VERY vascular organ, and it serves both as a reservoir for blood at rest, and a source of extra blood when needed.
When injured and experiencing blood loss, the liver can kick in to gear to boost our blood volume. This same thing happens when we exercise; it kicks up blood output in order to get blood to our muscles.
On the exact opposite side of this equation; when our blood pressure rises, our liver cells are able to expand to take on some of that volume to keep our body in a state of balance.
If your blood pressure is routinely spiking because of stress, how do you think your liver feels? Overworked? Over burdened? Expanding-Contracting- Expanding-Contracting.
Similar to a river dam when its pumps breakdown, your liver can become exhausted, enlarged, and insufficient.
Think about this and how it plays into our daily life. Feeling sluggish or unmotivated? Get dizzy or experience extra sore muscles after a big work out? These are sign that you need a boost and some love for your liver.
Controls the Flow of Qi
In Chinese Medicine, the liver supports the flow of Qi, or life-force. In Chinese Medicine, disease and illness are symptoms of Qi blockage.
The liver’s job is to keep the lung and stomach Qi moving downward, and the spleen Qi moving upwards. When that life-force energy is flowing smoothly- we will see calm, flowing emotions and properly functioning lungs and stomach.
Symptoms like coughing, vomiting, diarrhea and volatile emotions arise when this Qi is blocked!
The Liver Supports the Tendons
The traditional theory is that the liver and its blood keep the tendons fluid and flexible. When our liver is healthy, our tendons are healthy and we are able to stay flexible.
This is also seen in our flexible emotional state that supports overall calm. Research now supports what was previously thought to be theory.
In a recent study, patients with liver inflammation were 1.5-3x more likely to also suffer from a ligament or joint condition!
The real life application to this, is that if you are moving your body and feeling it in your joints, your liver needs some love! Also, if you frequently hurt your ligaments or tendons, you liver may need some serious love!
A separate, but connected part of this theory- is that your nails are an extension of your tendons… so if you have brittle, dry, cracked or otherwise weak nails- you guessed it- your liver needs you to start dating it and wooing it….
Look Me in the Eyeball
According to TCM, the liver is said to “open” into the eyeball. This means it is also part of our ability to see clearly- physically and spiritually.
Physical symptoms of an imbalance would be blurry vision, frequent floaters, dry, itchy, watery and red eyes, making this is a common quick diagnostic area. Emotionally, we see an inability to see the world and our experiences clearly.
As described by Giovanni Maciocia in The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, the following three TCM liver imbalances are behind a variety of eye-related problems:
1. Liver Blood Deficiency – Liver blood is believed to nourish and moisten the eyes. When the liver blood is deficient, common problems include blurry vision, myopia, “floaters” in the eyes, color blindness or dry eyes. In addition, liver blood deficiency can cause pale or scanty menstruation, fatigue and muscle cramps.
2. Liver Heat – When there is heat in the liver and liver channel, the eyes are likely to be dry, bloodshot, painful or have a burning sensation. Additionally, liver heat is frequently connected with irritability, anger or frustration and may be accompanied by a headache.
3. Internal Liver Wind – Usually a result of extreme heat in the liver, internal liver wind may cause the eyeball to turn upwards and move involuntarily (nystagmus). In addition, liver wind is frequently associated with severe emotional stress, vertigo, dizziness, neck stiffness and headache.
The Liver Harmonizes the Emotions
Large amounts of liver tissue must be adversely affected in order to show up as dysfunction in customary tests. Before these are obvious given the present imprecision of these physical tests, abnormalities of liver function are readily diagnosed according to abnormal emotional reactions.
The correlation of mood swings is widely accepted as a result of rising and falling blood sugar levels. However, the liver’s inability to maintain alkalinity as food enters the duodenum from the stomach can result in mild symptoms like abdominal pains to the more severe symptoms of ulcers.
This is described as “liver invading spleen” or irregular or stagnant liver chi.
Further, the liver’s function of excreting different hormones in response to stress and imbalance becomes impaired when the liver has to work hard to detox drugs and various external pollutants.
This results in these stress hormones recirculated and in our systems much longer than is normal or necessary. The re-circulation of various stress related hormones will result in radical mood shifts and inappropriate angry behavior.
Our liver is quite adept at handling environmental toxins; it prioritizes external stress and gets the job done. Unfortunately, when it is also handling an excess of thought based/stress induced toxins- it becomes overwhelmed.
This can result in extreme feelings of anger and frustration, hypertension, hyperthyroidism, premenstrual tension, aggravation of menopausal symptoms and other physiological and behavioral symptoms.
The Liver and The (WO)MAN
This one is for my ladies.
Ever hear the saying,
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.
Well, according to traditional concepts, we actually are made of different things!
Basically, it goes like this:
Males are all Qi (yang). They can boost and spend their Qi easily and freely. Replenishing often.
Females are blood (yin). We can give it away freely, too (think: menstrual blood).
This serves to explain why the Liver, which is all about the blood, has a great influence over a woman’s life!!!!
Without getting too graphic, our reproductive organs also store blood when in use. Insufficient liver function negatively impacts our libidos. Even more than that, though, is the effect the liver has on the ability to become pregnant.
A balanced supply of blood is essential to out menstrual cycles. A balanced supply of blood is essential for menstrual cycles. This means that a weak and infrequent period can link back to liver insufficiency. Conversely, a heavy and frequent menstrual cycle can be a symptom of a hot and overactive liver.
It is in this way that the liver is heavily involved in our fertility and libidos.
Talk about LOVING your liver.
The other aspect of this that frequent impacts women, is the blockage of liver chi causing swelling of the glands in various parts of the body.
In women, this predisposes them to the formation of cysts and lumps in the reproductive organs; and tumors and lumps in the breast. These are specifically caused by an accumulation of toxins, which the liver is unable to process and eliminate.
Putting this New Knowledge into Action
Below is one of my favorite exercises for the liver <3
Try this and let me know how you feel!