Liver - the Commander

Adapting itself to obstacles and bending around them, wood in the earth grows upward without haste and without rest. Thus too the superior man is devoted in character and never pauses in progress.

- The I Ching

Known as the wood element in Chinese Medicine the main function of the liver is to ensure the smooth flow of Qi. It has no part in the actual production/formation of Qi thus liver Qi can never be in a state of deficiency, only stagnation. The liver has a strong influence throughout the body so if this flow stagnates, many issues can arise. The liver also stores blood. When the body moves blood circulates in the channels, when at rest, it flows back to the liver. This is where the liver can become deficient.

The liver is a yin organ, opens to the eyes (brings luster), governs the tendons (promotes elasticity) and reflects in the nails (gives strength and moistens). It is most active between 1am-3am and when there is a problem, many people complain about waking up during that time of night. The Hun (Ethereal soul) is housed by the liver. This is the mental-spiritual aspect of the liver. It influences ones capacity for making plans and finding direction in life. When lack of direction or mental confusion is present it is said the Ethereal soul is not grounded. At night before falling asleep one may also feel as if they are "floating" or have a vague feeling of fear. Many emotions are associated with the organs of the body; anger and irritability are connected to the liver.

Some liver associated pathologies in Chinese medicine include; liver Qi or blood stagnation, liver blood deficiency, liver yang rising and damp heat in the liver/gallbladder.

Liver Qi stagnation:

  • Symptoms may include: melancholy, depression, hypochondriac pain, sighing, abdominal distention, irregular periods, PMS symptoms, lump in throat and irritability.
  • Herbs: Xiao Yao San or Xiao Yao Wan, Chai Hu Shu Gan San or Chai Hu Shu Gan Tang

Liver blood stagnation:

  • Symptoms may include: nosebleeds, painful periods, dark menstrual blood and clotted, sharp painful masses in abdomen.
  • Herbs: Xue Fu Zhu Yu Wan or Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Liver blood deficiency:

  • Symptoms may include: dizziness, numbness of limbs, blurred vision and "floaters", dull complexion, scanty periods or amenorrhea, cramps and or muscular weakness, lack luster nails that are brittle and weak.
  • Herbs: Si Wu Tang

Liver Yang rising:

  • Symptoms may include: headache at the temple/eyes or lateral side of the head, dry mouth and throat, dry eyes, tinnitus, insomnia and irritability.
  • Herbs: Tian Ma Gou Tang Yin (Wan)

Damp heat in the liver/gallbladder:

  • Symptoms may include; scanty dark urine, bitter taste in the mouth, jaundice, fullness and pain in the chest and hypochondrium, loss of appetite, vaginal discharge, vaginal itching, and pain-redness-swelling of the scrotum.
  • Herbs: Long Dan Xie Gan Tang

Diet and eating habits can affect the liver. Heavy, greasy foods and "hot" foods can lead to excess fire in the liver. These foods include; lamb, beef, curries, spices and alcohol. A lack of consumption of warming foods such as certain meats and grains can lead to liver blood deficiency. Sour foods, in moderation, are beneficial for the health of the liver. Too much sour can cause an imbalance. Skipping meals and eating on the run can hinder the health of the liver. Those with weak liver energies should sit down and slowly eat their meals because eating on the run can strain the digestive system and contribute to stress, which overburdens the liver.

Regular exercise- for twenty to thirty minutes every day- is equally important for both excess and deficient liver syndromes. Exercises such as swimming, yoga, tai chi, running and mountain biking will be of great benefit for a healthier liver. If a person is stressed out or tires easily, tai chi and yoga would be the best exercise for them. Those who have lots of energy to "burn" would highly benefit from the more intense type work-outs.