In Western Medicine, the Liver has a crucial role in metabolising drugs and detoxifying chemicals. Similarly to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Liver is responsible for processing toxins, but also has other important tasks to support the whole body. Almost every patient I have encountered have showed signs of a distressed Liver, or Liver Qi stagnation. My role as a practitioner is to identify the severity of Liver Qi stagnation, its underlying causes and how to best support Liver Qi by prescribing lifestyle advice. Read on further to find out more about Liver Qi stagnation.
What are the Liver's roles and responsibilities from a TCM point of view?
The most important function the Liver has is the smooth flow of Qi and blood in your body: the Liver controls the volume and flow of blood in your vessels and also stores the blood.
The sensory organ related to the Liver is the eyes
The tissue associated with the Liver is the tendons
The taste that corresponds to and supports the Liver is sour
The emotion associated with the Liver is anger
As an acupuncturist, I tend to look out for signs of Liver disorder, otherwise known as Liver Qi Stagnation.
What Is Liver Qi Stagnation?
As mentioned above, the Liver is responsible for the movement of qi and blood through the body. Liver Qi flow is most vulnerable to prolonged stress or anxiety. When Liver Qi becomes stagnant, the blood also becomes stagnant, leading to a variety of systemic health issues and exacerbate pain disorders. Liver Qi and Blood disorders are also commonly associated with issues or diseases of the female reproductive system.
What causes Liver Qi Stagnation?
Liver Qi Stagnation is commonly the result of poor diet and lifestyle habits, such as:
Eating a diet high in sugars and fats (especially refined carbohydrates and unhealthy types of fat such as those found in deep-fried foods)
Being exposed to emotionally toxic personalities
Working or living in stressful environments
Use of recreational drugs
Excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption
Not enough physical exercise
Being under constant stress, or having elevated cortisol levels
Exposure to toxic compounds, e.g. heavy metals, pesticides or industrial chemicals
What are the symptoms of Liver Qi stagnation?
The Liver plays a central role in both digestion and detoxification, so if its functioning is less than optimal, the symptoms can affect many different systems of the body:
Digestive health issues such as: indigestion, hiccups, nausea and burping, bloating and flatulence, poor appetite, constipation, abdominal pain and discomfort that can be precipitated or exacerbated by anger, an inability to tolerate fatty foods or alcohol.
Menstrual problems such as premenstrual symptoms (PMS) with irritability or swollen breasts, irregular or painful periods, menstrual periods that are interrupted, menstrual periods with blood clots
Low energy levels, weight problems, hormonal imbalances, skin problems (including acne and psoriasis), a sensation of a lump in the throat (i.e. goitres), thyroid disorders, difficulties maintaining normal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high day-to-day stress levels, poor circulation, poor sleep, interrupted sleep (i.e. waking up between 1-3 am), perfectionism
Muscle spasms and tightness of the tendons, pain or discomfort anywhere along the sides of the body
Depression, mood swings, mood disorders, sighing, frustrated easily, inappropriate anger, indecisiveness and being low in initiative and/or motivation
Diet and lifestyle recommendations for Liver Qi Stagnation
Reconsider the amount of drugs you put in your body, including alcohol, nicotine, and recreational drugs. If you do drink, limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two standard drinks per day, and make sure you have at least a few alcohol-free days each week
Limit your daily caffeine consumption
Control your breathing rate and depth by doing Deep Abdominal Breathing exercises every day
Avoid eating fatty foods, especially junk food, fried food, fatty dairy products, margarine and smoked meats such as salami and bacon. Instead, consume small quantities of high-quality healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil and the fats found in fish, nuts and seeds
Ensure your diet also includes plenty of fibre (from fruit and vegetables, whole grains and legumes) to support the liver’s detoxification functions by aiding the removal of wastes from the body – these foods are best consumed warm or at room temperature rather than cold when your Liver Qi is sluggish
Hydrate well (clear coloured and abundant volumes of urine are an indication that you are sufficiently hydrated)
Other foods include those with sour, bitter or pungent flavours, including garlic, ginger, grapefruit, coriander and apple cider vinegar
Suppressing your emotions can contribute to stagnant Liver Qi. One method I suggest to my patients regularly is journalling or letter writing
Physical activity promotes the healthy flow of Qi and Blood
Minimise your exposure to man-made chemicals and toxic compounds by choosing organic produce where possible and switching to cleaning products based on natural ingredients
When should you see your doctor about liver health?
Symptoms that may indicate the presence of severe liver or gallbladder problems and therefore warrant immediate medical attention include: jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyes); pain or hardness in the region of the liver or the abdomen generally; loss of appetite; bloating of the abdomen, feet and/or legs; excessive itchiness of the skin; vomiting; fever; unusually light or dark coloured faeces; and foul-smelling, dark urine.
How does acupuncture help with Liver Qi stagnation?
Yes! The initial consultation provides crucial insight into identifying factors that are contributing or causing Liver Qi stagnation. This is the most rewarding part of the consultation for me as a practitioner because this process helps patients to understand their body's weaknesses and strengths and therefore, be empowered with this knowledge to take control of their health again. The treatment aim for Liver Qi stagnation generally focuses on restoring the normal flow of Qi and Blood, supporting the Liver, and reducing stress.
Make sure you keep your Liver happy to ensure optimal health and wellbeing. If you would like to know more about how to support your Liver better and improve your overall health, please book a consultation with me online.
* Please be mindful that this article is to be used as an informative guide only and is not intended as medical advice