Spring is here, and according to Chinese medicine it is the season that is associated with the liver. Spring is the time of new life flourishing, growth and activity of plants and animals after a long period of hibernation. And just like plants are stretching up and out, reaching for the sun during spring, the liver also relates to new growth and expansive energies. Thus, spring is the best time to support the liver by eating fresh green foods, exercising in nature and being mindful in expressing our emotions.
Responsibilities of the Liver according to Chinese medicine:
1. Qi & blood flow:
The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi (vital energy) and blood in our body. It controls the volume and smooth flow of blood in our vessels and also stores the blood. The livers function of storing blood is extremely important in gynaecology and specifically, menstruation. If the liver is functioning normally, then your periods will be normal. If the liver is deficient, periods may be late, irregular or absent. If the liver is in excess or has excess heat, there may be excessive bleeding and pain. Generally if there are gynaecological problems, then the Liver tends to be involved.
Every organ in Chinese medicine is connected to a sense organ, and the liver opens into the eyes. Liver blood is responsible for the eyes capacity to see clearly. If you have any eye issues, including blurry vision, red or dry eyes, itchy eyes, it may be a sign that your Liver is not functioning smoothly. Psychologically, the health of the liver can also determine how clearly we are able to recognise what is actually happening in our lives and how connected we are to reality.
3. Tendons & sinews:
The health of the tendons and sinews is under the control of the liver, specifically liver blood. Liver blood nourishes and moistens tendons and sinews, ensuring that we can move freely and easily. Our ability to relax and contract our tendons and sinews is therefore dependent on liver blood. If liver blood is deficient, tendons and sinews will become dry and brittle and we can experience symptoms such as contractions, spasms, numbness, tremors and muscle cramps.
Finger- and toenails are considered a by-product of the sinews, which are under the control of the liver and in particular, liver blood. Liver blood nourishes and moistens the nails in the same way as it looks after our sinews. If liver blood is abundant, our nails will be hard, shiny and moist. If liver blood is deficient, we may see dry and brittle nails, and nails with ridges, and spots that can be dark and have a withered appearance.
The taste that corresponds to and supports the liver is sour. If you crave sour foods, that may be your liver communicating that it needs extra support, so be sure to include high-quality vinegar and sweet and sour recipes into your diet.
The liver is the organ that is most affected by excess stress or emotions and plays a vital role in our physical health as well as emotional wellbeing.
Anger, resentment, frustration and irritability are commonly the emotions associated with the liver. If you are often irritable, get angry easily, have trouble unwinding from the day’s activities, have trouble reasoning or going with the flow and letting things go, you are experiencing a liver function problem. Experiencing these emotions chronically or excessively can seriously unbalance the function of your liver – and your health. A single bout of rage may result in coronary heart disease, reduced lung function, headaches, high blood pressure, stroke, and disorders of the eyes and ears.
One of the responsibilities of the liver, one that is not often mentioned, is its ability to help us plan our lives. A healthy liver gives us the capacity to organise and plan our lives and gives us a clear sense of direction. It will literally help us to focus on our live dreams, and plans to make these come true.
As you can see, the liver has a lot of responsibilities; hence keeping it healthy is crucial for our wellbeing. The good news is that there are many ways to balance our liver and to keep this vital organ happy and healthy.
Simple Tips for Liver Health
1. Foods that the Liver loves:
The colour green is associated with the liver and hence, green foods are particularly good for this organ.
- Herbs: basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, caraway, dill, bay leaf, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, horseradish, mint, lemon balm, coriander
- Complex Carbohydrates: grains, legumes, seeds
- Vegetables: beets, carrots, watercress, onions, mustard greens, celery
- Fruits: lemon, lime, grapefruit, oranges
- Bitter Foods: rye, romaine lettuce, asparagus, amaranth, quinoa, alfalfa, citrus peel
- Teas: peppermint tea, green tea, chrysanthemum tea
- Liver cleansing herbs: dandelion root, mandarin, milk thistle seeds, chamomile flowers
- Liver detoxifying foods: mung beans and their sprouts, lettuce, cucumber, watercress, seaweeds, celery, millet, tofu, plum, chlorophyll rich foods, mushrooms, rhubarb root, radish, daikon radish
If you think that your Liver might need a little bit of extra love, then try introducing some of the foods listed above into your diet. Have some green juices, dandelion and milk thistle are particularly good.
Furthermore, cooking in spring should be of shorter duration and at higher temperatures. In Chinese medicine raw foods are mostly seen to be cold in nature and some cooking is generally always recommended. Yet, in spring foods may be cooked the least for their cooling and cleansing properties. Sautéing with a small amount of high quality oil over high heat, or light steaming with water is the perfect way to prepare food during this season and to benefit your liver.
2. Rebalance and de-stress:
Try and rebalance your lifestyle, including work commitments and stress. Meditation and deep breathing practises have shown to be highly valuable in reducing stress levels.
Regular meditation helps to relax and handle stress more easily. There are meditation apps (i.e. ‘Smiling Mind’) that are easy to download and listen to. They offer guided meditations from as little as 5 minutes. A simple deep breathing practice is to inhale deeply through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds and then exhale slowly through your mouth, with your tongue placed at the roof of your mouth. Repeat four or five times, or until tension passes.
In addition, if you have personal emotional issues, which you feel you cannot solve by yourself, then you may want to consider counselling or psychological therapy to help you.
Exercise is essential for our physical and emotional health. It does not have to be a heavy gym workout every day. Do something that you enjoy, e.g. walking at a moderate pace for thirty minutes, swimming, yoga, tai chi, Qigong, bicycle riding at a moderate pace and dancing. If possible it is best to exercise outdoors in nature, as the colour green helps the liver. Remember to take things easy and allow yourself to slow down by taking a nice long walk in the park or doing other gentle exercises to relax your mind, body, and spirit.
Listening more often to soft music in the background or with meditation soothes and helps the liver.
5. Avoid alcohol:
Avoid alcohol! The liver is responsible for metabolising alcohol, thus drinking in moderation can go a long way towards preserving your liver’s energy and giving it a break.
6. Use a body brush:
Use a body brush to gently massage your legs on the insides of your thighs and calves, starting at the feet, for about five minutes per day. This gently stimulates your liver meridian, allowing your Qi and blood to flow more freely, thereby relaxing your liver.
7. Acupuncture and acupressure:
Acupuncture as well as Chinese herbs can help to sooth and balance the Liver. When you are at home, you can rub the acupressure point called ‘Taichong’ (Liver 3), which is a key point on the liver meridian. It may be sore, which means that you are hitting the right spot! Try to rub this area every day to unblock your liver energy.
This point is located on top of your foot where the big toe bone meets the second toe bone. Using your thumb, press and massage this spot on both feet. You can also rub with your thumb moving forward along the inside of the big toe.
So, go outside! Take in the new green of spring, of the growing plants through your eyes, and move your body to circulate Qi and blood in your body, and stretch those tendons. Your Liver will love you for it!