Liver health in Chinese medicine
A guide to using the ancient wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine to support your liver health.
Your liver is one of the hardest working organs in your body. Here’s why it’s so important to look after it.
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WHAT DOES THE LIVER DO?
The liver is involved in around 500 physiological functions, some of the most important of which include:
- Being responsible for the detoxification and elimination of many waste products
- Playing a key role in the digestion, breakdown and metabolism of fats and carbohydrates (glucose)
- Producing bile, which is required for fat metabolism and the elimination of wastes
- Aiding in the metabolism of key hormones (including insulin and oestrogen)
The liver in Chinese medicine
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the liver organ-meridian system is also considered responsible for nourishing, storing and purifying the blood and ensuring the smooth flow of blood and Qi (life force energy, pronounced ‘chee’) around the body. It’s also responsible for the emotions and their expression.
As a result, overall wellbeing is closely linked to healthy liver function in TCM.
LIVER DISHARMONY IN CHINESE MEDICINE
In TCM, the liver is believed to affect the wellbeing of the whole body, so it’s vital to support its healthy and harmonious function.
According to 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.
Are you suffering from liver stagnation?
From the perspective of TCM, lifestyle factors like overeating, over-indulging in fatty foods, insufficient exercise or being under emotional stress can interfere with the liver’s ability to maintain the smooth flow of blood and Qi.
In those circumstances, the flow of Qi and blood from the liver can become sluggish, stagnant or constrained, which can cause symptoms like abdominal bloating, nausea, excessive belching and loss of appetite.
Since the liver is responsible for emotions, sluggish function or stagnant liver Qi may also result in symptoms like irritability and premenstrual mood swings.
A stagnant liver that’s struggling under its workload is believed to generate an excess of heat in TCM, sometimes accompanied by dampness.
This energetic pattern may exacerbate other liver issues and interfere with the body’s natural detoxification processes.
It may also have detrimental effects on the Yin energy of both the liver and the kidneys, which is moistening and cooling in nature and therefore adversely affected by heat.
THE LIVER, DIGESTION AND DETOXIFICATION
Western and Chinese medicine both recognise that the diet that’s best for the liver is one that’s based on fresh nutritious produce in appropriate quantities.
In contrast, overeating or consuming alcohol or fatty or greasy foods to excess can increase the liver’s workload, impede its natural detoxification (or ‘cleansing’) processes, and interfere with the healthy functioning of the gallbladder and the production and secretion of bile.
These issues may contribute to digestive symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Poor digestion of dietary fats
- Indigestion (dyspepsia)
- Excessive burping
- Bloating and feelings of fullness
HERBS TO RELIEVE DIGESTIVE SYMPTOMS AND SUPPORT NATURAL LIVER DETOXIFICATION
Fusion Liver Tonic combines milk thistle with herbs traditionally used to support various aspects of healthy liver function in TCM, as detailed below.
Milk thistle supports the health of the liver and its natural detoxification processes and has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It also helps relieve inflammation in the liver. In Western herbal medicine, milk thistle is traditionally used as a liver tonic and to help support gallbladder function and bile flow, aid the digestion of fats in the diet, and relieve symptoms of indigestion.
In Fusion Liver Tonic, milk thistle is teamed with Citrus peel (also known as chen pi), which is traditionally used in TCM to support the liver’s natural detoxification mechanisms when the Qi’s flow has become stagnant. In addition to regulating the flow of Qi, it’s also traditionally used in TCM to promote the flow of bile, and to relieve indigestion symptoms such as excessive burping, loss of appetite, abdominal bloating and feelings of fullness.
In TCM, bupleurum is traditionally used to support healthy liver function and regulate the flow of liver Qi; when liver Qi is stagnant, bupleurum is traditionally taken to get it flowing regularly again, which in turn supports healthy gallbladder function and relieves irritability and premenstrual mood changes.
In TCM, baical skullcap is traditionally regarded as working synergistically with bupleurum. The presence of excess internal heat in the body (for example, damp-heat in the liver) is believed to compromise the liver’s purification functions in TCM; baical skullcap is traditionally taken to clear the heat and support the body’s natural detoxification processes.
Schisandra is traditionally used to support liver health in TCM. It has antioxidant properties that help reduce free radical formation in the body.
Goji berries also have antioxidant properties to help decrease free radical production. In TCM, they’re traditionally used to nourish and strengthen the liver and to replenish the Yin energy of both the liver and the kidneys.
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