In Oriental medicine, the Liver is responsible for proper circulation of blood and energy throughout the body. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Liver stores the blood while we are resting, and circulates blood to the regions that need it during activity. The Liver is most active in the springtime, and this is the time of year that I see more health issues that are tied to Liver imbalances. This doesn’t mean that you have liver disease from a Western medicine perspective, but it does mean that you can have an array of symptoms that can be readily addressed with diet, lifestyle changes, and acupuncture.
The Liver is associated with the wood element, which makes sense given that the Liver is tied to the spring season. This is the time of year when the plants wake up from winter, leafing and budding out. When I think about a healthy Liver, I imagine healthy trees: grounded but expanding up and out, always growing, and able to freely move in the breeze. From the perspective of Chinese medicine, the Liver thrives when blood flows freely and when there is a proper balance of rest and activity.
Liver Qi Stagnation is the most common Liver issue. Liver Qi Stagnation can arise with emotional problems, chronic stress, inadequate exercise or rest, a diet high in sweet or greasy foods, or physical trauma or pain. No wonder why Liver Qi Stagnation is common! So many people are living with chronic pain and stress.
Some emotional symptoms of Liver Qi Stagnation include frustration, seasonal depression, irritability or anger, restlessness, or a feeling of being “stuck.” Physical symptoms include headaches, stomach pain, irregular bowel movements, rib pain, tendonitis, vision problems, PMS, irregular periods or menstrual cramps, stiff or painful neck and shoulders, or insomnia with a pattern of waking between 3 and 4 am each night. Over a long period of time, untreated Liver Qi Stagnation can impact other organs and lead to more serious conditions, such as hypertension.
People with Liver Qi Stagnation tend to respond very well to acupuncture. Acupuncture will unblock stuck areas and restore the normal flow of blood. Acupuncture will also address the root causes for the development of Liver Qi Stagnation by reducing stress, balancing emotional health, and treating body pain.
In addition to acupuncture, there are behaviors that can reduce or relieve Liver Qi Stagnation. It is best to follow a daily routine and keep structured times for meals, exercise, work, play, and rest. However, it is important to not become too rigid in your routine; remain flexible for unforeseen events. Vigorous exercise is one way to disperse Liver Qi Stagnation, and those prone to Liver Qi Stagnation should exercise several times a week. It is important to make time for creative or joyous activities. A regular meditation, Qi Gong/Tai Qi, or breathing exercise practice (Pranayama) help balance the Liver. Eat a balanced diet with lots of dark green leafy vegetables combined with lean animal protein (if you eat meat). Limit sugar, coffee, simple carbohydrates, greasy foods, and alcohol. And schedule monthly or twice monthly acupuncture “tune-ups” can greatly help during periods of increased stress.
Boynn McIntire is a licensed acupuncturist at All and One Acupuncture in NE Portland. Call All and One Portland acupuncture clinic at (503) 281-6909 to learn how acupuncture can help you, or book an appointment!