Our livers take a beating in this modern world – processed foods, medications, stress – all of which tax our livers. Everything from what we eat, breathe or put on our skin will have to be processed by our liver. It’s a huge organ, AND, one that regenerates itself over years. So if we treat our liver well, we can keep it healthy and vital year after year after year.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the liver is part of a bigger system, which is part of the spring season. At this time of new growth, budding of new life and ideas, it is our liver system that is at play.
Liver: The Organ
Our liver is responsible for a huge part of our digestion process. As soon as we start to eat, the liver produces enzymes that will help us to break down our food so it is easily absorbed through our digestive tract.
The liver filters all our blood and any extra glucose produced by carbohydrates not used by the body is stored in the liver for future use. The amino acids produced by the digestive tract are turned into enzymes by the liver to help remove toxins produced by the breakdown of protein. AND, the liver (and gallbladder, its paired organ) is also essential for fat breakdown and regulating the fat in the bloodstream constantly. It’s working hard!
Liver: The System
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we view the body like an ecosystem and look for patterns that exist in the body. By understanding the deeper messages and signs the body is sending out, we have an opportunity to see the big picture of our health and use food, lifestyle and emotional work to heal deeply and rebalance.
Our liver system shows up in many different areas – a physical organ, a sense organ, an emotion, season, flavour, time of day just to name a few things. Often when a person is out of balance, they will see more signs during the ruling season. For example in clinic, I often see more tendon, eye or tension headaches, irritability and shoulder tension showing up in the spring time. This makes sense as the liver system rules our tendons and ligaments, our eyes and sight (both internal and external), has acupuncture points located at the top of the shoulders and base of the skull where many experience pain and discomfort.
This system also shows up in our drive and direction in life as well as our ability to adapt to stress and change. The liver system’s element is wood and nature shows us much wisdom in how a healthy tree is able to bend with strong winds and various elements where as a hard brittle and rigid tree will snap and break when faced with those same elements. Mentally and physically by remaining nourished and flexible, we’re better able to adapt to all life sends our way.
A healthy liver system will show up in many ways:
- Flexibility both in body (healthy tendons and easy movement) and mind (a flexible attitude and adaptability).
- Stable mood and hormonal balance
- Healthy drive and direction in life with a sense of purpose
- Clear moist eyes and stable hormones
When we’re off of balance in our liver system we may experience symptoms such as:
- Irritability or frustration with a tendency to anger quickly or get depressed easily
- Rigid, inflexible and stiff body and/or mental attitude. Being stuck on a certain idea and not letting go.
- Shoulder or neck tension and hormonal imbalances such as PMS or mood swings.
- Dry, itchy or red eyes with decreased eyesight
- Sighing a lot or a feeling of tightness in the flank/rib cage area
- Insomnia with waking at1-3 am
Luckily there are many simple ways to love your liver and help this system cleanse and regenerate – mentally, spiritually and physically.
Happy Healthy Liver Loving Tips:
- Avoid over eating and eating late at night. Eating late makes your body work on digesting instead of resting, detoxing and rejuvenating which is what it’s supposed to do in the sleeping hours. The liver’s ‘time’ according the TCM wisdom is actually 11pm-3am so allowing it to rest, with an empty stomach at that time is ideal.
- Cut out any refined food including sugar, alcohol and unhealthy fats
- Healthy fats include: olive oil, avocados, omega 3’s found in wild salmon or grass fed meats (in small amounts)
- Think Green! Just like all the fresh new green we see sprouting up all over the place, these foods are ideal for your liver system. Helping to contribute to new, fresh blood production and aiding the liver in detoxification.
- Cilantro, parsley, dandelion greens, and bitter greens like rapini, arugula and romaine are some of the best foods for the liver and for a spring liver loving detox
- Citrus – lemon and lime have a great ‘moving’ and detoxing element to them. Starting your day with warm lemon or lime water and being sure to squeeze some over your fresh greens as it is a great way to help you get maximum absorption of the greens and cleanse.
- Broccoli, onions, garlic, bok choy, cauliflower…they all contain sulfur which is key to helping to remove excess estrogens from the body
- Limit toxic exposure – non-organic foods, skin products, unfiltered water or water and foods stored in plastic can all add to our toxic load and burden the liver
- Egg it up. Yes eggs! Gone is the belief that the cholesterol found in egg yolks is bad for you. Research shows that the component choline found in egg yolks and some other cholesterol rich foods actually has a beneficial and essential for normal liver metabolism. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and spinach also all contain choline.
- MOVE!! The liver system loooooves movement. Just think how you feel after exercise. Maybe you started out grumpy, irritated or upset, but slowly but surely as the minutes tick on and the sweat starts to build…you feel better. Our liver system shows up with anger and frustration when off balance (or when a healthy line has been crossed) but it also is the system that offers forgiveness and kindness when nourished and healthy.
- Look at your mental attitudes – are you feeling overly rigid in something in your life? Are you unwilling to bend to meet life in some area?
- Look at the biggest areas of stress in your life and take stock – do you need to do everything you’re doing? Can you shift the way you are doing things and try a new approach?
- Look at areas of your life you are pushing too hard or areas you are holding back.
- Incorporate some gentle stretching into your life – yoga, tai chi or some other form of gentle stretching can be incredibly helpful for bringing healthy nourishment into your tendons and ligaments.
Loving your liver is simple and easy to do on a regular basis but in this spring season, a little extra liver love will go a long way!