Aloha! Welcome to Spring! This is a time of blossoming, rebirth and renewal. In traditional Chinese medicine, the Spring is the time of the Liver, thus it is the perfect time to address the health of this vital organ.
The Functions of the Liver: Western Medicine
The liver has many important functions, and plays a role in digestion, metabolism, immunity, nutrient storage, protein synthesis and detoxification.
- Digestion: cells in the liver produce bile, which is then stored in the gallbladder and released to assist in digestion of the fats we get from food.
- Metabolism: the liver is the first stop for the blood that is rich in nutrients absorbed in the digestive track. The liver cells absorb glucose from food and store it in the form of glycogen. The liver then releases glucose between meals, thus has an important role in blood sugar regulation. This organ also plays a role in fat metabolism, and is involved with cholesterol absorption and production, as well as creating the fatty acids used to create cell membranes. The liver also processes the breakdown products of proteins, called amino acids, into forms usable in the body.
- Nutrient Storage: In addition to storing glucose and fatty acids, the liver also stores vitamins A, E, D, K and B12, as well as the minerals copper and iron, releasing them as needed.
- Immunity: the liver has special cells known as kuppfer cells, which capture and breakdown bacteria, parasites, fungi and cellular debris. It is estimated that 1.5 liters of blood pass through the liver every minute, so the liver plays a big role in cleaning the blood of potentially harmful substances/microorganisms.
- Protein Synthesis: The liver is responsible for producing many of the proteins that are in the blood, thus plays an important role in maintaining blood volume as well as in the process of forming blood clots thereby stopping bleeding.
- Detoxification: As the blood passes through the liver, the cells absorb and inactivate toxic substances such as medications, drugs, alcohol, air and water pollutants, food additives, chemicals used in agriculture and many more. Furthermore the liver detoxifies hormones produced in the body (maintaining the proper levels of these natural hormones) as well as those absorbed from the environment or medications.
The Functions of the Liver: Traditional Chinese Medicine
“The physician who knows how to harmonize the liver knows how to treat the hundred diseases.”
-Zhou Xuehai (Reflections Upon Reading the Medical Classics (Du Yi Suibi) ca. 1895)
- The Liver is related to the season of Spring, the color green and effects the health of the tendons and the eyes. The taste associated with the Liver is sour, so sour foods are great for stimulating liver function!
- The flow of Qi changes throughout the day, and the time when the liver is most active is from 1am-3 am in the morning, so if you find yourself consistently waking during this time, you're liver might need a little more support!
- The Liver is responsible for storing blood (the heart circulates blood), thus when this aspect of liver function is not working properly, symptoms such as bleeding disorders or menstrual pain and PMS can be present.
- The Liver energy is said to open up to the eyes; thus blurry vision, dry, and/or yellow eyes are a sign of liver disharmony. In western medicine, the symptom of yellow eyes is known as jaundice, and is a symptoms of liver disease.
- The Liver regulates the flow of Qi throughout the body. It assists the Stomach and Spleen in proper functioning; thus, just like western medicine, it is related to digestion and metabolism.
- In Chinese Medicine, the Shen (mind) controls the flow of Qi (the vital energy of the body); thus emotions hold a lot of power in affecting the health of the body, and the liver is particularly susceptible to Anger. Thus, when a person experiences and holds onto strong emotions, it can inhibit the flow of Qi, leading to stagnation in the liver. Conversely stagnation in the liver due to poor diet, toxic overload etc can leave a person susceptible to emotional instability, think of the angry alcoholic or the irritability of a women about to get her menses! This is an excellent example of the health of the mind and body being interrelated.
Loving our Livers: What we can do to support Liver Health
In todays world, we unfortunately are constantly being bombarded with toxic chemical substances, this combined with being heavily medication, consuming large amounts of coffee and alcohol, and eating diets full of preservatives and hormones means that our poor livers have quite the job to do!
There are many natural therapies that address the health of liver, some of them are lifestyle choices that are beneficial for the body as a whole, others are specific to the Liver:
Don't over burden your liver: limit alcohol, NSAIDS (pain relievers such as aspirin), food additives, coloring and preservatives. Reduce processed sugar intake. Eating organic produce (see EWG.org for the current list of the foods with highest pesticide content) will help limit the pesticide exposure while also providing more nutrients than non-organic product. The same goes for meats and animal products, non-organic products contain harmful substances such as hormones and also are lower in healthy fats and nutrients.
Make sure you are having at least 1-2 solid bowel movements a day. The liver dumps much of its waste into the stool to be eliminated, however if a person is constipated, the stool remains in the bowels longer and the waste products can be reabsorbed into the blood stream, recirculating and negatively affecting the health of the body as a whole. Drinking plenty of water and eating 3-5 cups of vegetables a day is a great place to start in ensuring proper bowel function.
Drink plenty of water! This helps maintain proper blood volume as well supporting proper elimination of waste products in urine and stool.
Castor Oil Packs: Castor oil has been used for centuries as a topical anti-inflammatory and circulation enhancer. Castor Oil packs are fairly easy, although a bit messy. You can find detailed instructions on how to do a castor oil pack here.
Foods such as dark leafy greens, beets, apples, garlic and grapefruit all enhance and support liver function. Sour foods like apple cider vinegar and lemon juice are great for stimulating liver function as well (1 ounce at a time with these things, more than that is rather intense).
Herbs such as Milk thistle, Dandelion root, Reishi mushroom, Turmeric root, and Schisandra berries are all classified as hepatoprotective, meaning they support the health of the liver. (Note: not every herb is appropriate for everyone, so consult a naturopathic doctor or herbalist before choosing herbs if that is a route you would like to go)
Hydrotherapy, Acupuncture, and Massage are wonderful therapies to support liver health as well.
Address the Emotions: what might we be holding on to, anger, resentment, sadness? What support might we need to work on accepting and letting go of these stuck emotions? Counseling and other mind body therapies are wonderful for addressing this aspect of liver health.
Now of course these are all just options, and as we are all individuals, what is safe and appropriate for one person may not be for another. If you are interested in seeing what type of liver support cleanse would be right for you, contact us here at Inspired Light Natural Health and ask about our Spring Clean Special. Through this program you will get a personalized detoxification plan, education, hands on therapy and support.
In closing I would like to leave you with a poem celebrating this Spring Season, written by Rumi, whose words have been medicine for me throughout my own personal journey:
The Music We Are
Did you hear that winter’s over? The basil
and the carnations cannot control their
laughter. The nightingale, back from his
wandering, has been made singing master
over the birds. The trees reach out their
congratulations. The soul goes dancing
through the king’s doorway. Anemones blush
because they have seen the rose naked.
Spring, the only fair judge, walks in the
courtroom, and several December thieves steal
away, Last year’s miracles will soon be
forgotten. New creatures whirl in from non-
existence, galaxies scattered around their
feet. Have you met them? Do you hear the
bud of Jesus crooning in the cradle? A single
narcissus flower has been appointed Inspector
of Kingdoms. A feast is set. Listen: the
wind is pouring wine! Love used to hide
inside images: no more! The orchard hangs
out its lanterns. The dead come stumbling by
in shrouds. Nothing can stay bound or be
imprisoned. You say, “End this poem here,
and wait for what’s next.” I will. Poems
are rough notations for the music we are.
Written with love by Dr. Jessica Renfer