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The Role of the Liver in Oriental Medicine

The Liver is related to the wood element in Oriental medicine and has a number of general functions related to the body and mind. It is responsible for relaxing the muscles and keeping tendons supple. Weak joints and stiffness in the muscles is indicative of Liver Ki stagnation. This essentially results in a lack of blood flow to the muscles which are then left un-nourished  resulting in muscle soreness and tightness.  Weak eye-sight can also indicate this Liver- Blood Deficiency as can brittle and cracked finger nails.


The liver meridian runs down the inside of the thigh and down to the big toe.


An ability to respond wisely to feelings of anger by maintaining a bigger perspective is indicative of a healthy liver channel. A main function of the Liver in TCM is to move Ki (energy) and Blood so that all the other organs and muscles are energised and nourished. Liver likes to be motivated, to accomplish goals, to move forward in life in a creative and dynamic way. Anger and frustration emerges when our way forward is thwarted. Liver is the organ system most affected by repressed emotions. Liver stagnation also has a depressive effect on the emotions which can manifest as a lack of determination or inconsistent and fluctuating energy because it is the Liver that grants vision and the smooth flow of Ki. Struggling to get in touch with an inner voice that can assist in the development of stronger inner vision can indicate that the wood element  needs nourishing by paying attention to our diet and other lifestyle choices.



Five Dietary Habits to Avoid

1)  Eating big or rich meals will make our energy more stuck.  Irritable bowel syndrome, mood swings and PMS are signs of Liver Ki Stagnation. A key suggestion to address this imbalance would be to eat small meals by filling the stomach only 1/2 full or 3/4 full.

2)  Avoid hard to digest foods which may vary from individual to individual but in general includes fried foods, excessive dairy and meat, hydrogenated fats, and overly processed foods full of chemicals.

3)  Complex meals can also increase Stagnation.  A good food-combining suggestion that encourages easy digestion is that it is  less congesting to eat a protein-rich food with vegetables instead of grains or potatoes. Separating dairy foods from meat also leads to lighter meals.

4)  Some people love the stimulation of hot, spicy foods. Since Liver Ki Stagnation will often increase heat in the body and may even develop into Liver Fire Rising , chilies and curries would only make the situation worse.

5)  People with Liver Ki Stagnation gravitate to drink caffeine. On the short term the Stagnation is relieved and their moods lighten; however, later in the day, the caffeine wears off,  the Stagnation returns with greater effect. Similarly a person with this pattern may be drawn to sugar treats or smoking marijuana to find relief but the returning symptoms are worse once the temporary lift has past.



Foods to Increase

1) Focus on increasing cooling and soothing foods while adding  some bitter and sour flavoured foods. Fruits and raw vegetables are moistening and energetically cooling and would help to relieve Stagnation 

2) Cucumbers and celery would be helpful here too. If the digestion is weak, lightly steamed vegetables, soups and stewed fruits would be better assimilated yet still relieve Stagnation. Whole soy products such as tofu and tempeh are cooling. Alternative cooling options are beans, especially mung beans.

3) Dark leafy greens like cabbage and Kale are the order of the day to assist in this situation.

Green micro-algae powders are considered cooling and also detoxifying to the liver. Spirulina is the most cooling algae of them all. Bitter and sour flavors are decongesting and cleansing for the liver. Herbal teas like dandelion root tea or burdock root, and bitter lettuce greens like endive and raddiccio are good suggestions. Tangerine or orange peel added to dishes or teas will increase the bitter flavor. Adding lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to water as a beverage, or sprinkling over vegetables will increase the sour flavour. 

4) Finally an inexpensive and ancient herbal remedy for the liver is Milk Thistle which can be taken in tincture form by adding a few drops to a class of water. Over time this has a deeply cleansing effect on the liver.

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