“Happy Livers bend like bamboo no matter what you have to go through.” I remember chuckling, when I heard one of my students chanting this mantra in the Amma program before a test.

“Love your Liver, it’s on your left.”  She continued, pointing to the medial pulse position on her left wrist – the location of Liver pulse.  

She was right, the Liver, in health, gives us amazing flexibility.  It gives us vision and ingenuity as individuals to plan our our lives – or it can become very stuck and congested making us brittle, angry and frustrated.  By understanding Liver’s role in health we can learn how to utilize its virtues or when we need to give ourselves a little kick to help move more fluidly. 

Liver’s major functions in Western medicine – a quick look.

I use lower case for when I am speaking of the western function of organs and upper case for Asian/Chinese medicine functionality.

The liver manufactures bile – that greenish/yellow alkalizing goo that our bodies use to breakdown fats.  It then stores the bile in the gallbladder for later use.  The liver is responsible for storing fat soluble vitamins including B12, A, D, E & K.   It also helps maintain blood sugar levels and also plays an active role in regulating the volume of blood flowing in the body, which is how it helps to maintain body temperature.  It creates plasma proteins and heparin that inhibit blood coagulation.  The liver breaks down toxins and poisons into less harmful compounds whenever possible and then removes them from the body along with old red blood cells that it has broken down.  Finally, the liver manufactures most of our cholesterol – which isn’t a bad thing.  We need cholesterol, we just need it to be in balance. 

The Liver’s functions and sphere of influence in Asian medicine.

Rules the Free and Easy Flow

Liver and the Lungs are the organs responsible for moving Qi, Blood and fluids in the body.  Where the Lungs “descend (inhalation) and disperse (exhalation)” in time with our breath. Liver is supposed to keep it moving along gracefully and easily.  The Liver is the most congested organ. When Qi, Blood or fluids fail to move they stagnate which can lead to a myriad of problems. When Liver Qi becomes stuck, frustrated or overwhelmed it nature is to move Qi upvand out in all directions. Fast. Think of a champagne cork blowing – you lose your temper, you act out, blow your fuse. The degree to which this happens depends on how much pent up energy your body has to work with and whether or not you address it right away or continue to let the volcano blow. We might see mood swings, digestive difficulties, GERD, acid reflux, headaches, anger, irritability, migraines, cold hands and feet and problems with bile secretion.  More severe patterns of stagnation can appear as hard masses or fibroids. Time to cool, decongest and get things moving.

Stores the Blood and influences menses

Liver’s role here is to store enough blood to properly nourish and moisten the organs and body as needed. It regulates the volume of blood circulating in the body and holds the extra Blood when the body is at rest. A decline in this function may show up as dry and painful eyes, blurred vision, joint stiffness, dry skin and anemia and scanty periods. Of course, Liver can only function if there is adequate Blood to work work with, for this it relies on the Heart that is responsible for creating Blood in Asian medicine.  Liver also influences the Lower Burner (lower abdomen and its organs) and has a strong influence over the menstrual cycle.  Patterns of cramps, PMS, fibroids and other female disharmonies are often treated through the Liver in Asian/Chinese medicine.

Controls planning and vision & houses the “Hun”

Each Yin Organ has a specific spirit or soul associated with it, and each of these spirits is responsible for a certain psycho-spiritual functions.  The Wood (Liver and Gallbladder) element’s spirit is the “Hun.”  The Hun gives us clear insight, planning, direction, vision and the ability to act on our life plans.  It helps us discern what is just and helps us plan our futures in meaningful ways.  The Liver’s role is to help us create a vision and plan out our future.  Once the Liver has made a plan it hands it over to the Gallbladder who decides what is ‘exact and just’ in the plan before we move forward. When out of balance, we will experience indecision, frustration, and lack of planning or initiative, or flawed action such as repeating harmful behaviors or choices.  So…where are you going?

Opens to the eyes & is reflected in the nails

Liver blood nourishes the eyes and keeps your peepers pretty.  A deficiency can lead to dry, red, blurry, itchy or irritated eyes. Large red veins in the eyes are an indicator of Liver heat. It is also common to see sudden watering or tearing of the eyes when the Liver is distressed. The health of Liver is also reflected in the nails which should be supple, strong and flexible.

Rules the ligaments and tendons.

Liver rules over the joints, making sure that ligaments and tendons are nourished supple and flexible.  A deficiency may appear as overly tight tendons and ligaments. Ligaments and tendons that are overly flexible will benefit from the sour flavor that can stabilize them.

Liver’s emotion is Anger

The Liver and Gallbladder are easily influenced by anger, frustration, resentment and hatred.  Having emotions is fine…it’s just when we overindulge or spend too much time in a habituated state of a particular emotion that they can create disharmony.  Anger and resentment cause the Qi in the body to ascend quickly, causing headaches, ringing in the ears, high blood pressure or GERD.  If the Qi stagnates it can lead to distention, more feelings of frustration, slowed digestion and more.  Never eat when you are angry or upset, or with people you don’t like – really, trust me on this one. Take a deep breath, actually take 5. The descending action of the Lungs caused by deep, slow inhalation helps to control Liver’s aggressive upward movement and calms you down. It won’t stop why you are getting all angsty, but it’s a part of the tool kit to treating it. 

Liver loathes the Wind

Whenever I hear a client snarl while saying they hate the wind, I look to their tongue and pulse for other Liver patterns. The Liver “loathes” the Wind and over sensitivity to it is a quick clue.  Wind moves swiftly into the channels, especially the neck and joints.  Exterior wind can cause headaches, stiff neck, vertigo, tinnitus, colds, allergies, spasms and Bell’s Palsy. Interior wind patterns cause tremors, ticks, twitches and patterns like trigeminal neuralgia.  Remember Kathryn Hepburn? Her bobbling head in the later years?  Likely that was a Wind pattern. More on Wind.

Liver’s flavor is Sour

The Sour flavor stabilizes, astringes and moves Qi.  Adding a bit of lemon into water, having naturally soured foods like kefir and sauerkraut will help the liver and gallbladder by aiding digesting and breaking down fats.  Too much sour can be overly tightening to be cautious.

Liver’s season is Spring and corresponds to the Wood element

There’s a buzzing of excitement in the air and in our bodies.  It’s Spring, the season of the Wood element and the energy is up and outward in powerful surges. It’s a time of change and growth.  The energy moves up and outward.  Our bodies want to move more, we have more energy within us and we want to get up and go!

Here’s to your Liver!