The Liver is a yin organ that works alongside its paired yang organ, the Gallbladder. Together, the Liver and Gallbladder ensure smooth circulation, healthy digestion, reproductive health, and detoxification. Mentally, the Liver and Gallbladder manage stress, anger, and courage. When an imbalance occurs in the Liver and Gallbladder system, stress and dysfunction result – often throughout the body.
The Liver is seen as the “general” of the body, ensuring that everything runs smoothly. As such, the Liver is also most susceptible to issues that involved constraint, stress, tension, or dysfunction. The Liver is closely related to the reproductive cycle and can impact the menstrual system, childbirth, and postpartum disorders. The Liver is connected with the eyes and can be involved in eye disorders.
The Gallbladder is an important, although often overlooked, organ. It rules the sides of the body or issues that are one-sided. Its biomedical digestive function (secreting bile) is likened to maintaining a digestive fire in the Chinese medical view. The Gallbladder is associated with emotional imbalances in which a person either lacks courage or has difficulty making decisions.
The Liver/Gallbladder and Other Chinese Medicine Organs
The Liver ensures a smooth flow of qi and blood throughout the body. Stress, emotions, diet, injury, or other issues can cause the flow to stagnate, or even stop in some areas. This creates friction and leads to disharmony. The most common disharmonies that involve the Liver occur with the either the Lungs (stress leading to cough attacks), the Stomach (stress or anger leading to loss of appetite or nausea), and uterus (excessive bleeding or irregular cycles).
Common Liver and Gallbladder Treatments in Chinese Medicine
Addressing Liver and Gallbladder health is common in Chinese medicine. Since this system is responsible for the healthy flow of qi and blood through the entire body, it is necessary that the Liver and Gallbladder are healthy themselves. Acupuncture is often used to help improve the Liver’s regulating function, reduce stress, and relieve tension. It can help reduce blood pressure and calm Liver-related emotions like anger. Soothing exercise like qi gong or tai chi is also commonly recommended to keep the Liver relaxed.
There are many formulas dedicated to bringing balance back to the Liver system. Many involve either smoothing the qi of the Liver, reducing heat or “fire” in the Liver, or nourishing the Liver’s yin and blood. These different actions help to address specific patterns that lead to issues like hypertension, migraines, ulcers, painful periods, infertility, and more.
Xiao Yao Wan (Free & Easy Wanderer, Rambling Powder): treats symptoms of Liver qi stagnation and is most often used to address premenstrual tension (PMS) and gynecological complaints.
Jia Wei Xiao Yao Wan: The same formula as above but with two extra herbs that clear heat, making this a better choice when there are heat signs such as hot flashes & night sweats. (see also Eight Flavor Rehmania (Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan) for gynecological complaints with heat signs that don’t originate from Liver qi stagnation).
Yi Guan Jian Wan (Linking Decoction): Addresses digestive complaints such as abdominal distention and pain, nausea, and acid reflux caused by Liver qi stagnation due to deficiency of yin and blood.
Xiao Chai Hu Wan: Addresses a variety of presentations related to Liver congestion: shaoyang syndrome (alternating fever and chills and lingering illness), poor digestion, and menstrual disorders.
Chai Hu Long Gu Mu Li Wan (Bupleurum Dragon Bone Oyster Shell Teapills): Based on Xiao Chai Hu Wan (above), this formula adds six additional herbs which make this formula appropriate when congestion in the Liver leads blocks the normal flow of Liver qi to the point that it rises inappropriately into the chest and head (Liver Yang rising). Symptoms addressed by this formula include chest oppression and stuffiness w/palpitations, irritability, manic episodes, anxiety/fright, and irregular heartbeat that is worse (i.e. more noticeable or intense) when resting.
Shu Gan Wan: addresses various acute digestive/gastric problems (e.g. reflux, GERD, abdominal bloating) when these symptoms are caused by severe Liver qi stagnation (Liver attacking Spleen).
Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan: This formula also addresses digestive complaints such as costal fullness, abdominal bloating, vomiting and nausea, and reflux due to Liver qi stagnation but is more balanced and a bit milder than Shu Gan Wan (above); thus it has broader applications (e.g. it is also useful for addressing irregular menses and PMS symptoms) and is suitable for longer term use to restore system balance.
Si Ni Wan: This formula regulates the flow of qi and blood in the Liver. Originally designed for use with cold limbs caused by stagnation in the Liver, in modern times it is most often used to support normal gastro-intestinal function, addressing such clinical presentations as: coastal fullness and distention, abdominal or epigastric pain, belching, nausea, and loose stools. Also used adjunctively for various Liver/Gallbladder disorders such as chronic cholecystitis & hepatitis, ulcers, mastitis, and fibrocystic breast.
Long Dan Xie Gan Wan: Targets excess heat in the Liver and Gallbladder channels to address a wide variety of heat disorders anywhere on the Liver meridian, from the eyes to the genitalia (such as stress headaches, hypertension, conjunctivitis, cystitis & shingles, etc…).
Li Dan Pian: supports normal gallbladder formation by addressing gallbladder inflammation and the formation of gallstones.
Wen Dan Wan: This formula treats excess phlegm and an imbalance between the gallbladder and the stomach to address a wide variety of clinical presentations, including digestive problems, fatigue/lethargy, and anxiety/trouble sleeping.
The following are important herbs used in our popular formulas to heal the Liver or Gallbladder.
Chai hu/ Bupleurum: Chai hu is used in many Liver formulas, especially those that treat headaches, malaria, liver disease, and digestive disorders. In studies it has shown to be hepatoprotective, meaning it helps to promote the general health of the Liver.
Xiang Fu/ Cyperus root: Xiang fu has the ability to open and relieve pain along the sides of the body, specifically the ribcage and chest. It is also a powerful herb to relieve menstrual pain.
Dang gui/ Angelica root: Dang gui can both move qi to regulate the Liver function and nourish the Liver’s yin and blood. Because of this dual function, dang gui is a common ingredient in many formulas that treat Liver imbalances.
Bai Shao/ White peony root: This herb nourishes Liver blood and “softens the Liver”, which makes it a great component of addressing a wide variety of clinical presentations involving the Liver, including gynecological complaints, digestive complaints, emotional outbursts and frustration, and tight muscles, tendons, and ligature.
It’s time to give the Liver and Gallbladder the care they deserve. Chinese herbal medicine offers formulas to treat Liver or Gallbladder conditions, as well as relieve general stress and prevent future health concerns. Shop our collection of Chinese herbal formulas that heal the Liver and Gallbladder.