Get to know your Liver with our Acupuncturist
Get to know your Liver with our Acupuncturist, Dr. Alexa Woods
Chinese Medicine Functions of the Liver:
- Promotes the free flow of qi and blood throughout the whole body. The Liver is personified as the General- one of the most important organs besides the Heart (Emperor) — giving direction to all other organs.
- Responsible for storing the blood when the body is at rest/releasing the blood during activity.
- Regulates mental function and harmonizes the emotions.
- Regulates and harmonizes the digestive system.
- Rules the tendons and ligaments.
Western Medicine Liver has 500+ Functions, Mainly:
- Filtration and storage of blood
- Produces hormones - igf, growth hormone and even 80% of cortisol comes from liver
- Metabolism - helps the digestion of carbohydrates, fats and proteins
- Stores vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and glycogens (carbohydrates) and makes it available to our organism when needed
- Bile formation
- Regeneration - the only visceral organ with the capacity to regenerate itself
Treating the Liver with Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Before we get into specifics about the Liver, it’s important to note how Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) works versus Western Medicine. I always tell my patients not to freak out if they hear they have Liver Qi Stagnation — this could point to some energetic imbalance in the Liver meridian, not necessarily the Liver organ itself. That being said, TCM practitioners are trained to find red flags that could point to something more serious, in which case we then refer out to a Western doctor and/or for blood work.
TCM is a holistic medicine that works synergistically with Western medicine, its forte is preventative care and treating chronic diseases, whereas the strength of Western medicine is treating acute conditions and injuries as well as surgeries. The different Acupuncture points help tap into the bodies organs meridian system and helps your body get into the the parasympathetic which allows for the deepest healing to occur. The goal of a given treatment is to address the root pattern(s) connected to the presenting condition, associated with your various symptoms, taking into account your bodies unique constitution. Acupuncture school is basically training in pattern recognition and presence. When you receive Acupuncture, you may also be treated with other TCM tools such as cupping, moxibustion (mugwort smoke), gua sha, herbal medicine, nutrition and lifestyle counseling, tui na massage, and a healthy dose of relaxation.
The Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of qi in the entire body. An imbalance in the Liver can show up as different patterns such as Liver yang rising, Liver fire, Liver deficiencies (of yin and blood) and most commonly as Liver Qi Stagnation or stuckness.
Symptoms of Liver imbalance in TCM include: pain in or under ribs, frequent sighing, lump in the throat, bitter taste in mouth, digestive issues, headaches, migraines, irritability, easily angered or agitated, dizziness, tendonitis dry, red eyes and other eye conditions. For women also PMS, heavy periods, breast tenderness, and menstrual pain.
To help resolve Liver Qi Stagnation, I typically recommend a combination of acupuncture, physical activity like walking, de-stressing activities such as meditation, and breath work, Creative expression, spending time in nature (Liver = green in tcm), getting sleep especially between 11p-3a. Also, consuming foods known for their moving energetic properties. Foods that fall into this category are often pungent, sour and/or sweet by nature.
Foods + Herbs for Liver Qi Stagnation
Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards), cruciferous veggies (arugula, Brussels, broccoli, cauliflower), celery, leek, chives, kelp, dandelion greens, sprouted, carrot, lemon, grapes, lychee, cherries, plum, raspberry, hawthorn fruit, cinnamon, peppermint, milk thistle, dandelion, chamomile, ginger, rosemary, horseradish, jasmine, peppermint, lemon balm, chrysanthemum chamomile tea. Lemon or apple cider vinegar are also beneficial to move bile, especially taken in warm water first thing in the morning. Avoid greasy or fatty foods, dairy, process foods, excessively cold drinks, refined sugars. Alcohol, drugs
The 4 Gates: Acupressure for Liver Qi Stagnation
A popular treatment for the stress, anger, and frustration associated with Liver Qi Stagnation is known as the "four gates." The four gates are the right and left side acupuncture points Liver 3 (Taichong) and Large Intestine 4 (Hegu). Together these four acupuncture points are thought to enhance the circulation of Qi and blood throughout the body and have a calming and pain relieving effect.
Large Intestine 4 is located on the padded area of your hand between the thumb and index finger, between the first and second metacarpal bones. Massage this point with your thumb on both hands for approximately 30s.
Liver 3 is located in a hollow on the top of your foot below the gap between your big toe and the next toe, between the 1st and 2nd metatarsal bones. To stimulate this point, place your right heel in the juncture between the bones that attach to the large and second toes and gently knead the point for approximately 30s and switch sides.
Spring : The Season of the Liver + Gallbladder
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), spring is the quintessential time of creating, cleansing, activity and movement, growth, and renewal. Just like how trees being to grow buds and blossom; we can harness the power of spring to shift out of the heavier winter energies and into a fresh, beautiful new season of health, vitality, clarity, and emotional well-being.
The Liver and Gall Bladder are at their peak of activity during the spring, making it a perfect time for a cleanse to focus on supporting their function. The Liver and Gall Bladder work together to move blood and bile, and play pivotal roles in: Spleen and Lung health—which can affect your immunity and susceptibility to seasonal allergies; The tendons—which can impact flexibility and strength; And your eye health—clear vision moving forward; Digestion and assimilation of nutrients in the bloodstream.
How to support your body’s natural detoxification processes (in general); drink more water (I’m into spring water with chlorophyll and electrolytes), supplement with herbs, spices and vegetables/fruits. Try doing a mono meal cleanse with congee, kitchari or brothy soups- the ingredients to add will be unique to your 5 elements constitution
To maintain immune health and avoid springtime colds: Spring is a season of winds; which means we need to layer up with a light scarf/jacket if we want to protect ourselves from spring colds, allergies, and other immune-related do. It’s also advisable to continue consuming warm, cooked foods and brothy soups in addition to the more cooling foods mentioned above. It can help to think of spring as a transitional season, where we keep one foot in winter and one food in summer for optimal wellness.
Emotional spring cleaning: The Liver is the Yin organ responsible for the smooth flow of Qi, blood and emotions throughout the body, making it the organ most affected by stagnant emotions and stress. Think of the Liver— personified as the General— as a CEO wearing too many hats. Without the proper nourishment and support, self care dwindles, stress rises and burnout takes a toll on their well-being. Therefore, Liver Qi stagnation or an overactive Liver can cause some significant emotional build up. The Gall Bladder, as the Yang organ partner to the Liver, is responsible for storing and excreting bile and governs decision making, planning, dreaming, inspiration, and assertiveness. The Spring season will support you on diving deeper into your emotional and spiritual work, bring about breakthroughs and expansion.
The Spirit of the Liver
In TCM, the five Yin organs each have a spirit, embodying the understanding that our physical body, mind, emotions, and spirituality are integrated into our human existence and wellness. These five aspects of our spirit/consciousness are Shen (Consciousness, Heart), Zhi (Will Power, Kidney), Yi (Intellect, Spleen), Hun (Ethereal Soul, Liver) and Po (Physical Body, Lungs).
The spirit of the Liver is the Hun, our ethereal soul, that which is intuitive, insightful and responsible for manifesting our dreams into reality. The Hun is the source of our dreams, imagination, vision and creativity. A balanced Hun allows us to be clear about our purpose in life, find our path, know where we’re going and orient ourselves in that direction. The Hun is like the map and compass of our soul that helps us navigate the ups and downs of life.
The Hun also serves as the bridge between our waking and sleeping states. During the day the Hun resides in the eyes to help us to see how we can act in ways that best serve our life purpose. At night, dreams are said to be the wandering of Hun, and when it wanders excessively through our body during sleep, our dreams become more vivid.
The Hun is easily thrown out of balance by alcohol and drugs. When the Hun is imbalanced, then we could experience: sleep disturbances, sleepwalking, intense dreaming or no dreams at all, excessive daydreaming, a lack of focus or direction, a sense of being disconnected from one’s purpose, and in extreme cases manic behavior, hallucinations. When our Liver Qi is stuck, this may manifest as irritability, frustration, a sense of being stuck or blocked, a tendency to hold grudges, jealousy, bitterness, envy, a sense of inadequacy or insecurity,
Acupuncture treatments can address a person at the Spirit level. For example, I may use the Hun spirit point UB 47, to expand expression of the Hun, or points such as LIV 3- Great Surge, LIV 14- Cycle Gate, UB 18-Liver Shu to address the flow and balance of Liver Qi and encourage the process of allowing. Yin Tang, located at the third eye point cancan be used to expand vision and provide insights for transformation. This can help patients overcome emotional blockages to achieve a greater sense of inner peace and security. Besides Acupuncture you can support the Hun through practices such as meditation, breath work, visualization, grounding, and dreamwork. Working with the lens of the 5 spirits of the organs is an integral part of what separates Chinese Medicine from a standard Western medical treatment. Becoming aware of how our experience beyond the physical can impact the physical nature of our body can inspire great change and is particularly helpful on the journey of self exploration and realization.
By Dr. Alexa Woods
Alexa Woods is a licensed Acupuncturist and board-certified herbalist. She holds her Doctorate in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Master of Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Pacific College and a BA in Developmental Psychology from New York University. She is also a Certified Doula and Reiki Master. The focus of her treatments is to help connect you with your highest health and radiance. Alexa is especially passionate about working with women’s health! She has worked with women to address their unique gynecological and reproductive issues. She loves endocrinology, focusing on returning to cyclical living to help women navigate their hormonal phases and changes throughout their lives.