Liver health in traditional medicine
Your liver is one of the hardest working organs in your body. Here’s why it’s so important to look after it.
- Healthy liver function is considered a key consideration in both Chinese and Western herbal medicines
- In Chinese medicine, the liver nourishes and stores the blood and encourages the flow qi around the body
- There’s lots of ways you can support your liver health with diet, lifestyle and herbal medicines
Liver health in Chinese medicine
The liver is involved in around 500 physiological functions, some of the most important of which include being responsible for the detoxification and producing bile, which aids dietary fat metabolism.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the liver organ-meridian system is also considered responsible for nourishing and storing the blood and ensuring the smooth flow qi (life force energy, pronounced ‘chee’) around the body. As a result, healthy liver function is considered key in TCM.
Chinese medicine and liver health
In TCM philosophy, the body is in harmony when the cyclical flow of blood and qi is calm, smooth and able to adapt to the body’s changing requirements as needed.
The liver is responsible for regulating this flow, so any disruption to its function can interfere with its ability to distribute qi around the body, leading to a stagnant or sluggish liver.
A stagnant liver is believed to generate an excess of heat in TCM, sometimes accompanied by dampness. This energetic pattern can interfere with the body’s natural detoxification processes.
The excess heat produced by a stagnant liver can also influence the cooling and moistening yin energy of the liver and kidneys.
From the perspective of TCM, sluggish or stagnant liver qi can cause a variety of symptoms in the body. In traditional Chinese medicine several herbs encourage the flow of qi to minimise these symptoms.
The liver, digestion and detoxification
Western herbal medicine and Chinese medicine both recognise that the diet that’s best for the liver is one based on fresh, nutritious produce in appropriate quantities. In contrast, a diet that increases the liver’s workload, impedes its natural detoxification (or ‘cleansing’) processes, and interferes with the healthy functioning of the gallbladder and the production and secretion of bile should be avoided.
Eating foods that increase the liver’s workload may contribute to digestive symptoms such as indigestion (dyspepsia), excessive burping, abdominal bloating and feelings of fullness, loss of appetite, nausea and poor digestion of dietary fats.
Herbs for liver health
Fusion Liver Tonic combines milk thistle with the traditional Chinese herbs citrus peel, bupleurum, baical skullcap, goji berry and schisandra.
Milk thistle supports the health of the liver and its natural detoxification processes and has antioxidant properties. In Western herbal medicine, milk thistle is traditionally used as a liver tonic, to help support gallbladder function and to promote bile flow to aid the digestion of fats in the diet.
Also known as chen pi, citrus peel is traditionally used in TCM to support natural liver detoxification by supporting bile production and stimulating its flow from the liver. In addition to regulating the flow of qi, it’s also traditionally used to relieve indigestion symptoms, excessive burping, nausea, loss of appetite and abdominal bloating and feelings of fullness in TCM.
In TCM, bupleurum is traditionally used to regulate the flow of liver qi, so is often taken when the liver qi’s flow is stagnant – including to support healthy liver function and healthy gall bladder function and bile flow.
In Chinese medicine, baical skullcap is often taken with bupleurum. The presence of excess internal heat in the body (for example, damp-heat in the liver) is believed to be related to a stagnant liver in TCM; baical skullcap is traditionally taken to clear internal heat and support the body’s natural detoxification processes.
Goji berries are traditionally used to nourish the cooling and moistening yin energy of both the liver and the kidneys in TCM, as well as to strengthen liver yin when it’s weak. Goji berries also have antioxidant properties.
Schisandra is another popular liver herb in Chinese medicine, where it’s traditionally used to support liver health.
Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, worsen or change unexpectedly, talk to your health professional.
Liver health tips from traditional Chinese medicine
- Minimise your intake of alcohol and spicy, rich, fatty or greasy foods, which add to the liver’s workload and may lead to sluggish or stagnant liver qi and poor digestive function
- Instead, enjoy a simple diet predominantly based on cooked vegetables, wholegrains and legumes
- Foods with sour flavours are traditionally eaten to calm the liver and clear stagnation and dampness in Chinese medicine; good options include sourdough rye bread (especially toasted), vinegar, pickles, tart apples, grapefruit, lemons, limes and bitter leafy green vegetables (like rocket)
- Also enjoy foods with pungent flavours, which are traditionally eaten to regulate qi, improve digestion and aid liver function; just add a little spring onion, ginger, black pepper or horseradish to your meals
- Include cooling foods like plums, watercress, celery, mung beans and tofu in your diet too – they’re traditionally used to help clear Liver heat
- Exercise regularly to help keep your qi and blood moving