What is Liver Qi stagnation?

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

  • Overeating

  • Not enough physical exercise

  • Being under constant stress, or having elevated cortisol levels

  • Being overweight

  • 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:

Gastrointestinal system:

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.

Gynaecological system:

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

Endocrine system:

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

Musculoskeletal system:

Muscle spasms and tightness of the tendons, pain or discomfort anywhere along the sides of the body

Limbic/neurological system:

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