Liver Functions & TCM Guide
The main functions of the Liver include:
• storing of blood
• regulating chi movement
• controlling the tendons
• showing its health on the nails
• opening into the eyes
• pairing with the Gall Bladder
Physiologically, the Liver functions as a chi dispersion regulator to ensure smooth free-flowing of chi …
… and to store and regulate the volume of blood flow with emphasis upon nourishing and moistening, thus it’s also called the “sea of blood.”
In this context, it has a major influence on women’s menstruation and emotions.
Depression of the Liver blood and chi can cause painful menses, menstrual irregularities, PMS, clotting of menstrual blood, swollen and painful breast, mood swings, etc.
Besides Liver, functions of the Kidney too are vital in keeping the women’s reproduction organs in good shape.
The smooth free-flowing of chi harmonizes the emotions. TCM sees that the mental state is not only dominated by the Heart but also the Liver. In the Five Element doctrine, anger is the emotion of the Liver.
Hence, anger and its related cousins: irritation, annoyance, resentment, a bad-temper, frustration—all are symptoms connected to trapped Liver chi.
Excessive built-up of stagnated chi can damage the Liver. Subsequently, depression or long-term frustration kicks in, and the body’s immunity nosedives.
Looking for a quickie remedy for anger? Slow, deep breathing. Allow the Lung (metal), which has an opening to the nose, to mutually restrict the Liver (wood) before it’s too late, i.e. before you turn into the “green monster!”
As a wood element, the Liver’s function to mutually “restrain” the earth (the element of Stomach and Spleen), thus regulating digestion and absorption, is crucial.
But if it fails to regulate free-flowing of chi, the functions of the Spleen and Stomach and their chi movements can be affected. The “angered” chi is said to be “rebellious.”
In this scenario, the Liver (wood) is said to “over-restrain” earth.
“Over-restraining” is one of the four pathological phenomena that causes mischanneling of the chi (chi flowing in the wrong direction), hence its rebelliousness.
See the charts on the right. For the pathological “destructive” Liver function “destroying” the fire, see The Heart.
Symptoms of Spleen and Stomach chi mischanneling are fatigue, dizziness, or even diarrhea for the former; and hiccoughing, vomiting, belching, and nausea for the latter.
Night Owls Deprive Liver Functions
Health is the result of balance between yin and yang. When we tip the balance, “dis-eases” pay us a visit. There is time for work, play and eat; and time for rest, sleep and restoration.
Depriving your body of the much needed sleep for healing work could spell disaster for your liver in the long run. The Liver’s yin energy will start to deplete. In fact some can even feel it immediately the next day.
Yin deficiency means lacking of yin’s cooling, nourishing and relaxing qualities, and this also translates to a relatively higher yang heat energy.
Oh yes, there’s a list of yin deficiency heat-related symptoms that I’m not going to list out here, but trust me, you wouldn’t like it a bit!
Talking about heat, when the Liver wood is “weakened,” the fire Heart will not be properly nourished.
You see, in normal conditions, wood mutually promotes fire. (See the Wu Xing cycles on the right.)
But in this abnormal scenario, the rebellious fire will turn against the wood. Here’s a destructive cycle that burns down liver functions.
If you think this is as far as it goes, think again!
Long-term Liver yin deficiency can lead to another more serious pathogenic condition known as “Rising Liver Fire!” Liver yang now dominates and you’ll experience a “Full Liver Heat” condition.
Your Liver won’t send you a thank you note for the late nights, that’s for sure. And neither will your Heart.
The Gall Bladder Connection
Since the Liver and the Gall Bladder are directly connected, when the Liver function or chi is regulated, so will the chi circulation of its accompanying organ.
But when the Liver chi is stagnated, flow of bile can also get obstructed resulting in a bitter taste in the mouth, belching, or jaundice.
There is an ancient saying about the hand and glove relationship between the Liver and Gall Bladder: “The remaining chi of the Liver flows to the Gall Bladder and turns into the juice of essence (bile).”
Of the six Fu organs, the Gall Bladder is the only one that “stores.” It stores refined bile, but no water or food.
While the Heart oversees all mental functions, the Small Intestine gives clarity and wisdom to decision making, which is governed by the Gall Bladder.
The Gall Bladder gives the courage and capacity to make decisions. To take this a step further, a person’s bravery and cowardliness is directly related to the strength and weakness of the Gall Bladder chi.
So keeping the Liver functions in tiptop condition is one way to make sure its paired organ, the Gall Bladder, has smooth-flowing chi.
Liver in Your Eyes
The Liver’s health opens into the eyes; tears are its fluid manifestation; and it has strong connection with the tendons.
Symptoms of Liver blood deficiency are thus, dry and painful eyes, blurred or weak vision, muscle cramps (including menstruation), weakness, numbness or lack of suppleness (or pain) in moving joints.
The Liver manifests its health in the nails, which are considered to be an extension of the tendons. If Liver blood is deficient, the nails will become pale, dry, cracked, dark, indented, and generally unhealthy.
Supplements for the Liver
The Liver as you know is truly a touchy-feely organ. Lack of coordination of the emotions, in particular anger, will render it in tears.
So to keep it healthy and fit, so that your eyes will always sparkle with joy, and your gut and joints, all glee, keep the “emotional roller coaster” at bay.
And your Heart too will thank you for it. A word of caution, drowning yourself in booze ain’t doing it any good either. Quite the contrary, in fact.