Best Chinese Medicine Basics: The Liver
Chinese medicine views the organs not as separate entities, but as connected physical, chemical, and energetic networks. Here, we’ll dive deeper into the Chinese medicine concept of the Liver system and how we can use herbal medicine to boost our health.
(Note: we will capitalize “Liver” when discussing the Chinese medicine Liver system to differentiate from the general organ of the liver.)
The Liver: Overview & Associations
The main functions of the Liver system in Chinese medicine are to store and regulate blood and ensure the smooth flow of qi through the body.
Emotions: Anger, frustration, motivation
Movement: Outward and upward
Sense Organ: Eyes
Paired Organ: Gallbladder
Western Associations: Liver
Other Associations: Nails, hair, sinews/tendons, spring, growth
Common Conditions: Liver disease, headaches, menstrual irregularities, PMS, digestive issues, stress ulcers, anxiety, depression, insomnia, palpitations, anger, high blood pressure, chronic stress, eye conditions, breast pain.
The Liver Organ System
The liver is a crucial organ – without it, we would be unable to clear away toxins, make and store blood, or even digest certain foods. In Chinese medicine, the Liver is just as important, and even more so, for our overall health.
The Liver is considered the “general” in Chinese medicine. It is the commander in charge, making sure all the other organ systems are functioning properly. This involves maintaining a smooth flow of blood and qi (energy) through the body. In some cases, this also includes orchestrating certain activities, like the process of digestion, or the hormone shifts that cause menstruation.
The Liver has a close connection with the blood and is responsible for storing and regulating the volume of blood in the body. When we don’t have quite enough nourishing blood in the Liver system, we may notice things like brittle hair and nails, vision changes, and stiff tendons.
Some of the most common issues related to the Liver and blood are menstrual issues. Women may experience changes in their menstrual patterns, issues like cramping or clotting, PMS, or infertility if there is an imbalance in the Liver.
Because the Liver thrives on order, disorder and stress throws the Liver off. As a result, we may experience frustration, irritability, and even anger. Chronic stress wears on the Liver overtime and is a common cause of issues like stress-related migraines, fibromyalgia, pain, and high blood pressure.
The Liver Channel (Liver Meridian)
Each organ in Chinese medicine is associated with an energetic channel where qi travels along the body, closer to the surface of the skin. These channels create a web of connections and are how acupuncturists “tap” into the body’s energetic system to stimulate change.
Since the Liver is considered a yin organ, the Liver channel follows a yin aspect of the body. It starts at the inside of the big toe, moves over top of the foot to the inner ankle, then moves up the inside of the lower leg, thigh, groin, and external genitals. The channel then goes internally and resurfaces at the rib cage and ends just below the nipple.
The internal branch enters the abdomen where it connects to the liver and gallbladder. It passes through the diaphragm to connect with the lung where the 12-channel flow begins again.
An additional branch runs along the neck and connects with the eyes and brain at the vertex (top) of the head.
Our Best Chinese Medicine Favorites for Liver Health
As the “general,” the Liver is involved in so many different body functions. But, that also puts it at risk of being vulnerable to stress, change, and lack of nourishment. Chinese herbal medicine has a strong effect on improving both the function and form of the Liver and can be used to soothe, regulate, or nourish this incredibly important organ system.
Si Ni Wan is a classic formula that improves stress and digestive health by focusing on Liver balance. This formula can be used to improve overall digestive function, menstrual irregularities, or frustration when stress and Liver qi stagnation (energy blockage) is at the root.
Stagnant Liver qi can also create a condition known as “Liver attacking Spleen/Stomach”. This clinical presentation looks like abdominal distention, bloating, nausea/vomiting (in addition to the general symptoms of Liver qi stagnation) and is helped/mitigated by two formulas: Shu Gan Wan (for shorter-term use in cases of pure excess with ) or Chai Hu Shu Gan Wan (a more balanced formula to alleviate the symptoms over time in chronic cases).
Xiao Chai Hun Wan is a formula with a long history and many uses. Traditionally, however, it is used when the Liver and Gallbladder system is out of balance, leading to characteristic digestive upset, alternating fever and chills, pain in the ribside, a lack of appetite or nausea, dry throat, and dizziness.
Xue Fu Zhu Yu Wan most commonly addresses menstrual disorders with a root in Liver qi or blood imbalance. This formula may be helpful for those who have painful cramping, clotting in the menstrual blood, sharp, fixed pain in the abdomen, or masses (as seen with uterine fibroids or endometriosis).
Best Chinese Medicine Supplements for Liver Health
With less stress and a healthier Liver system, you’ll be ready to take charge of the world. Shop our full collection of Chinese herbal formulas for better health today!