“As most doctors will tell you, cleansing is ridiculous. You know what’s been around longer than that state-of-the-art juicer? Your kidneys. And your liver. Still, the cleanse has recalibrated my definition of a splurge.”
— Sloane Crosley
By Kim Gitzel
To start us all off on the same page, let’s get some Western science definition liver basics down: It is a vital organ located in the upper right-hand quadrant of the abdominal cavity. It weighs about three pounds. There are over 500 known functions of the liver – that is 500 people!!! It has many important functions beyond being a filter of toxins and poisons for the body. It also produces bile (fat break down/digestion), produces certain proteins for blood plasma, produces cholesterol, converts excess glucose (potential energy) into glycogen for storage, regulate blood levels of amino acids (building blocks of proteins), and helps to resist infections by creating immune factors and filtering bacteria from bloodstream.
In Chinese Medicine organs are viewed differently. “One of the main functions of the Internal Organs is to ensure the production, maintenance, replenishment, transformation, and movement of the Vital Substances…Qi, Blood, Essence, and Body Fluids. (Maciocia) The organs are viewed through a wider lense. Each organ is more like a “system or network”
The Liver’s functions in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are to:
— Store the Blood – to ensure proper storage and regulation of blood into the body. It regulates the volume according to the physical output. It also regulates menstruation.
A dysfunction here can show up as spasms, muscle twitches, menstruation problems, numbness in limbs.
— Regulate the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. – This is the signature function of the Liver that has the greatest overall impact on quality of life. There are 3 aspects of how this function shows up; in a person’s emotional state, in digestion; and in the secretion of bile.
Emotionally, if the Liver function is working smoothly, then life is an even keel, happy-go-lucky experience. However, if the Liver function is impaired, Qi obstructed/strained, then a person may feel frustration, depression, anger and/or resentment. Physical hypochondriac pain (around the chest wall), a feeling of a “lump” in one’s throat, and for women there may be PMS, and breast tenderness. (Maccioca, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. P79)
— Controls the sinews (aka tendons/ligaments); Manifests in the nails — This basically means nourishment of the blood into the joints and tendons, as well as our nails. The health of our sinews directly impacts how easily we are able to engage in movement or physical activity.
A dysfunction here shows up as joint pain, muscle cramps, spasms, prolonged contraction, tremors, or brittle, dry, dark, indented, or cracked nails.
— Opens into the eyes – This is a further extension of the flow of blood throughout the body to be able to specifically nourish the eyes in this case coupled with the pathway of the Liver meridian (flow of energy in the body). If the Liver-Blood is abundant then usually the eyes are moist and vision is good.
If there is a lack of Liver Blood throughout the body or an obstruction there may be blurred vision, myopia, “floaters,” night blindness, irritated and dry eyes.
From a Chinese perspective, a stagnation/imbalance of the Liver Qi may arise in these symptoms and conditions: headaches, PMS, dysfunction in the menstrual cycle, inflexible muscles/tendons, dizziness, bitter taste in mouth, anxiety, vomiting, irritated eyes, irritability, shoulder stiffness and digestive disorders. Many of these presentations do not necessarily fit into a Western medical model, however due to how Chinese Medicine sees all the interconnected relationships affecting many seemingly “unconnected” aspects of being human, a person may go to their Doctor and ask for a western exam and the physical liver will look “normal.”
WAYS OF LOVING THY LIVER
So how can one live a life that contributes to a healthy Liver System? Diet, exercise, and how and where your thoughts go are areas to examine.
Caffeine – as much as we love it, it does cause a bit of a “bleep” storm over long term use. Other culprits are fried foods, fatty foods, alcohol, peanut butter, and excessive use of milk.
Meanwhile, arugula and dandelion, as well as spirulina, avocado, cabbage, ginger, beets, basil, organic animal liver, oats, daikon, dark grapes, almonds, and cashews are helpful towards creating a thriving Liver System.
Becoming aware of how your daily levels of stress are impacting your physical body as well as your thought processes will also be important for creating a healthy Liver lifestyle. Finding time to exercisem, such as a daily walk, a yoga session, tai chi is important for not only the body but also the mind.
So, in a health centered nutshell. Eat nourishing, low processed or whole (no processed) foods, get loads of fiber, don’t over eat, use alcohol sparingly, exercise to move the blood, take deep breaths and practice a place of gratitude rather than being a Grumpy McGrumpster. Then the whole world will be a better place.
Kim Gitzel is a licensed acupuncturist at 2 The Point Acupuncture. She offers a complimentary consultation/examination. Call 938-3970 to schedule. See her website at www.hiloacupuncture.com.