There is lots of information out there about the many amazing functions of the liver, but we are going to shine a light on the more poetic traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) view of the liver. The liver is thought to support digestion, store blood, influence the smooth flow of qi (energy), work closely with the gallbladder, have an intimate relationship with anger, and be reflected in the eyes, tendons, and nails. Each organ has a time of year where the energy of that organ is more active. As we enter spring, the liver energy begins to rise, which helps to draw us out of our winter cave.
An imbalance in your liver energy may look like digestive issues, bloating, IBS, constipation, depression, or insomnia - especially if you are waking up between 1 am-3 am. For women in their fertile years, menstrual disorders such as painful periods, heavy periods, clots, PMS, tender breasts, or issues with your fertility may reflect an overworked liver.
Rather than any quick tricks, your path to healing may require time and consistency. Do you remember that we said the liver was there to help us with the smooth flow of energy, well we are going to look at a few different ways that we may be accidentally creating blockages that cause our qi to become stuck. There are many attainable affordable ways we can get that stagnation moving.
Most of us spend a lot of time working at a desk, so we don’t get the same opportunity for movement as our cave-dwelling ancestors. This can cause a physical stagnation, or a ‘stuck’ feeling when we get up out of our chair or try to stretch. So, moving your body regularly will counteract this physical stagnation. Walking, stretching, yin yoga (Yoga with Adriene is free on YouTube) are gentle ways to nourish your tendons and circulate oxygen throughout your body. If you have been in hibernation mode during winter, it is better to emerge with gentle movement rather than a full-on exercise regime. Regular, consistent gentle exercise will help your liver to function well and will prevent the physical pain that comes with stagnation.
Even though any part of the body can hold any emotion, unexpressed or unresolved anger tends to be stored in the liver. When the liver is in balance we are able to practice flexible thinking and confident decision making. When the liver is out of balance we are more likely to feel frustration, irritability, or resentment. For women especially, we are brought up in a culture where expressions of anger may have been deemed inappropriate, or it may have been unsafe for us to show anger, so instead of having our anger rage like fire and quickly burnout, the embers are often constantly glowing in the background. If you find that your anger bursts out of you and frightens you and everyone around you, then it might be time to pause and sit with your feelings. If you find that you are resentful, saying phrases like “it’s all right for you”, then take a moment to reflect on your unmet needs. With our modern life, it is easy for us to start running on empty, reaching burnout, and juggling too many balls. Are you needing support? Do you want to feel appreciated? Are trying to be everything to everyone so that you feel worthy? Do you have unresolved anger that you could talk through with a friend, express in a journal, or process with a therapist? Feeling your feelings in a safe space, without any judgment will free up resources for you to live with more vitality, and your liver will thank you for it.
The liver energy is at its peak during springtime. The spring years were those childhood years when we had no responsibilities and lots of wild abandonment. Some of us were asked to be the caregiver at a young age. Some of us were made to do adult things while we were still children. Sometimes we need to grieve the loss of the childhood we should have had. Or maybe the responsibilities of adulthood or parenthood have got in the way of play. We can honor our inner child by taking them out to play. Spring is a great time to support your liver by tapping into the joyful child-like energy and dance, draw, grow sunflowers or jump in the waves.
You already know the importance of optimizing your nutritional status. Green foods and a bitter taste are beneficial to the liver. If you don’t know where to start, then add fresh lemon juice to warm water first thing in the morning, or add avocado and rocket with apple cider vinegar and lemon as a side salad to your meals. Once you have started adding more green foods into your diet you can then start to remove the more detrimental processed foods, trans- fats, and sugar.
You don’t have to do anything because your liver does its best deep clean while you are sleeping! The quality of your sleep matters, so make it count. You know what I’m going to say - reduce your screen time before bedtime, leave your phone out of the bedroom if possible, or invest in some blue-light blocking glasses if you have to look at a screen before bed. Try to have your last meal 3 hours before you go to sleep, it’s quite hard to wind down when you are busy digesting food or your news feed. If you find that you often wake up between 1 am - 3 am then your liver is probably too busy processing.
The products you put on your body also have to be metabolized by your liver. Some of the products that we put on our hair, skin, and nails are absorbed into the body and this is then another thing that our liver has to clear. Go for more natural products - although beware of ‘greenwashing’ where a company will put a natural-sounding word on the label even though it is full of harsh chemicals! Having fewer chemicals being absorbed into your skin will give your liver more resources to deal with all its other jobs.
If you are in your fertile years then your hormones will run on a cyclical monthly cycle. Oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all rise and fall during the month. Running at 100 miles per hour throughout the whole month will raise your stress hormones, and tell your body that now is not a good time for a pregnancy. This may reflect changes in your periods or it may affect your fertility. Do you remember that anger and irritability are often stored in the liver? Well, that PMS might be your body telling you that you need to stop, rest and retreat while you are on your period so that you can get back to wonder woman duties around ovulation. Connecting in with your cyclical nature rather than trying to fit into a linear lifestyle will help give your liver the downtime it needs to metabolise.
I can’t talk about traditional Chinese medicine without throwing in a couple of really useful acupuncture points. One is called Liver 3 which is in the flesh between your big and second toe, and the other is Gallbladder 21 which is at the top of your shoulders. You can easily massage these yourself (although it’s much more therapeutic if someone else does it for you). Imagine there is a pool of energy underneath the skin and you are gently drawing it up with your fingers. If you tend to carry tension in your shoulders, go to our blog 'At home acupressure for tension and stress using acupuncture point GB21' to find out more about GB21. And while we’re talking all things TCM, even though the sun starts to beam during the start of Spring, it can still be cold - and in the UK it can literally be sun cream weather one day and snowing the next - and that wind is thought to bring pathogens into your body. So don’t strip off all of those layers yet; make like grandma and pack a scarf in your bag so your neck doesn’t catch a draft.
So, if you have never paid attention to how much your liver actually does for you day and night, then spring is the perfect time to give back some of that love. And if this blog was too long, then here are the bullet points.
Alison is a registered acupuncturist and co-owner of Blossom Natural Health in Chelmsford. She has been specializing in fertility and women’s health for the last 20 years and is the fertility acupuncturist for Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Wickford. She loves combining Acupuncture, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, and Somato-Emotional Release to help her clients with stress, digestive issue, and pain relief.