By Shihan Mary Bolz
Master of Science Oriental Medicine
Doctoral Fellow, FBU
Master Martial Arts Instructor
It is springtime and very soon will be summer and this is the season of the liver and gallbladder. It is also the season to cleanse these organs to prepare for summer. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there is what is known as the Five Element Theory. The Five Element Theory is typical of the ancient Chinese thought, connecting different phenomena and qualities within the microcosm and the macrocosm. The Five Element Theory is a system of correspondences in the phenomena in nature. One of the most typical aspects of Chinese Medicine is the common resonance among phenomena in nature and in the human body. Some of these phenomena are commonly verified and experienced all the time in the clinical practice of a Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor (usually known as an acupuncturist in the U.S.A.).!
The Five Elements in TCM are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. The element wood corresponds to the liver, eyes, sinews, shouting, the color green, anger, and the grain wheat, spring and birth. Since wood is the element related to the springtime, the internal human organ related to spring is the liver. The gallbladder is the paired organ of the liver. Therefore, we are in the season of the liver, and that is the time to pay special attention to the care of the liver and in being aware of what diseases and maladies are common this time of year.
Let’s look at characteristics of the liver according to the principles of allopathic medicine and anatomy and physiology. The liver is classified as a gland of the body, weighing about 1.4 kg. (about 3 lbs…) in the borage adult, and after the skin, is the second largest organ of the body. It is located under the diaphragm and occupies most of the right hypochondrium (the part of the body below the rib cage) and part of the epigastrium (the part above the stomach). The functions of the liver are among the following:
1. Carbohydrate metabolism: In carbohydrate metabolism, the liver is especially important in maintaining a normal blood glucose level. The liver can convert glucose to glycogen when the blood sugar level is high and break down glycogen to glucose when blood sugar level is low. The liver can also convert certain amino acids and lactic acid to glucose when blood sugar level is low, convert other sugars, such as fructose, and galactose into glucose, and convert glucose to triglycerides.
2. Lipid (fat) metabolism: The liver stores some triglycerides (neutral fats), breaks down fatty acids into acetyl coenzyme A, and converts excess acetyl coenzyme A into ketone bodies. Hepatic (liver) cells synthesize cholesterol and use cholesterol to make bile salts.
3. Protein metabolism: Without the liver’s role in protein metabolism, death would occur in a few days. The liver transfers amino acids from one group to another substance in order to convert one amino acid into another.
4. Removal of drugs and hormones: The liver can detoxify or excrete into bile drugs such as penicillin, erythromycin, and sulfonamides. It can also chemically alter or excrete thyroid hormones and steroid hormones, such as estrogens and aldosterone.
5. Excretion of bile: Bilirubin, derived from worn-out red blood cells, is absorbed by the liver form the blood and excreted into bile.
6. Synthesis of bile salts: Bile salts are used in the small intestine for the emulsification and absorption of fats, cholesterol, phospholipids and lipoproteins.
7. Storage: The liver not only stores glycogen, but vitamins A, B12, D, E, and K and minerals like iron and copper.
8. Phagocytosis: Some cells of the liver phagocytize (literally, eat up) worn-out red and white blood cells and some bacteria.
9. Activation of vitamin D: The skin, liver and kidneys participate in the he activation of vitamin D for usage by the body.
The function of the gallbladder is to store and concentrate bilirubin until it is needed in the small intestine in the digestive process.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the main function of the liver is that of ensuring the smooth flow of Qi. When you understand that Qi is the life-force energy, you can see the relationship between this function and that of the functions in physiology. our life force energy comes from the digestion of our food and water. Its influence extends all over the body and too many different organs. It helps the Spleen to transform and transport food essences and the stomach to digest food. In TCM, liver pathology is characterized by rapid changes, such as skin rashes that appear quickly, sudden tinnitus, sudden outbursts of anger, or in severe cases, collapse and coma. The most striking and apparent symptom of stagnation of liver Qi is a feeling of distention. When the liver Qi cannot flow smoothly, Qi accumulates and gives rise to a characteristic feeling of distention, which could manifest in the epigastric area, the hypochondria, (below the ribs), abdomen or hypogastrium (lower abdomen). The functional relationship between the liver and the sinews often manifests in pathological circumstances with physical tiredness and weakness or stiffness of the tendons.
Anger is the emotion most related to the liver. If the liver is functioning well and its Qi flowing smoothly, the emotional state of the person will be happy and free going and the person will be in good spirits and freely express his or her emotions. When liver Qi stagnates, the emotional state will be anger and irritability. Over a long period, liver Qi stagnation can lead to more severe impairment and give rise to a gloomy emotional state of constant resentment, repressed anger, or depression. These physical emotions could be carried in the chest, below the ribs and in the stomach. There will be tightness in the chest, perhaps the person will sigh frequently, and there may be distention of the stomach and hypogastrium, tension in the stomach area or a feeling of a lump in the throat with difficulty in swallowing. Nausea, vomiting, epigastric pain, poor appetite, sour or acid regurgitation, belching, feeling of pulsation in the epigastrium, “churning feeling in the stomach,” abdominal bloating and distention, gurgling sounds in the abdomen and diarrhea can all be symptoms of an “angry” liver. Unhappiness, a feeling of being wound-up also can be liver pathology. Irregular periods, painful periods, distention of breasts before the periods, premenstrual tension and irritability are common signs of liver pathology in women. There are many liver patterns and to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment, it is necessary to consult a qualified Oriental medicine practitioner and acupuncturist.
Diet is very important in maintaining health, of course. An excessive consumption of greasy and “hot,” spicy foods can lead to Liver Fire. Some hot foods are lamb, beef, curries, spies and alcohol. Deep fried foods are also hot. On the other hand, an inadequate consumption of warming foods, such as grains, can lead to a state of blood deficiency, which can lead to deficiency of liver blood. This is more common in women who particularly need a good supply of blood-forming foods at certain times of their life, such as for childbirth.
When energy cannot flow freely into the body, then the tendons are not flexible and can easily tear, become inflamed, or cause unusual contraction or weakness in their related muscles. A common result of these conditions is an inflexible and rigid body and prone to tendonitis.
The liver is related to the eyes and when the eyes become inflamed, they can become swollen or pulled out of focus by the muscles that control them. Since the liver acupuncture meridian passes through and thereby influences the tissue surrounding the eyes, the eyes are directly affected by the liver in many ways. Cataracts, glaucoma, inflamed, red or dry eyes, night blindness, excessive tearing, near- or far-sightedness and other visual abnormalities mirror the condition of the liver. Vision correction therapy includes a diet that has a remedial effect on the liver. That is primarily vegetarian food, with an emphasis on fresh greens and sprouts. One should under eat and take the last meal of the day in the later afternoon. Eating moderate amounts of food and avoiding late meals allow the liver and gallbladder enough time to prepare for regeneration during their four-hour cycles of peak energy as defined by the traditional Chinese Clock–from 11:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.
Wind is the climatic force associated with the liver the Wood Element in the Five- Element theory. An example of wind is the common cold, which enters the body. The common cold is precipitated by contact with a virus, which proliferates when a person’s protective Qi (immunity) is weakened by one or more of many causes. Wind symptoms can arise in any season, but are more prevalent in the spring. One may notice a similarity between the instability of wind and the nervous, irritable, unstable sign of some persons.
This is the time of year for cleansing the liver, more than any other organ. The first remedy in any case (except severe malnutrition) is to eat less! One should eliminate or greatly reduce certain foods, which obstruct and or damage the liver. These foods include those high in saturated fat (lard, mammal meats, cream, cheese, eggs), hydrogenated and poor-quality fats (such as shortening, margarine, refined oil), excesses of nuts and seeds, chemicals in food and water, prescription drugs (consult your physician before discontinuing), all intoxicants, and highly processed, refined foods.
Foods which stimulate the liver out of stagnancy include moderately pungent foods, moderately spicy foods (too much is very bad for the liver), watercress, all members of the onion family, mustard greens, turmeric, basics, bay leaf, cardamom, marjoram, cumin, fennel, dill, ginger, black pepper, horseradish, rosemary, various mints, lemon balm, angelica root, and prickly ash bark. Too many extremely pungent foods, however, such as fiery hot peppers, can damage the liver further.
Bitter and sour roots reduce excesses of the liver and help it to cleanse. A very powerful root for cleansing the liver is dandelion root. Dandelions are arising this time of year, so instead of using deadly poisons on your lawn to kill them, pull them up. Wash them and eat the entire plant; the root, the leaves, the stem, the buds, even the flowers if they have bloomed. You can make a good stir-fry with these. After washing the entire dandelion, including the root, boil them for 5 minutes to take away the bitter flavor, take them out of the pot and run cold water over them, and then stir fry in sea salt and water. After shutting off the flame or taking it away from electric heat, chop them up finely with a good knife. Then add unrefined, organic, cold pressed sesame oil such as Eden or Spectrum Naturals, to them and a dash of natural soy sauce like Ohsawa.
Another one of the most powerful and a common remedy for quickly removing liver stagnation and the accompanying depression and indigestion is vinegar. Choose unrefined apple cider, brown rice, rice-wine or other quality vinegar. The flavor of vinegar is both bitter and sour and has detoxifying and highly activating properties. Its effect is improved by mixing it with honey, one teaspoon each per cup of water. Vinegar should not be relied on indefinitely; the basic diet must be improved instead. Since vinegar is warm, it can worsen the condition of those with heat signs, so substitute lemon, lime, or grapefruit. Other bitter foods are rye, romaine lettuce, asparagus, amaranth, quinoa, alfalfa, radish leaves, and citrus peel. This spring, eat many fresh, organic mustard greens. Par boils them for 3-5 minutes in rapidly boiling water with a pinch of good quality sea salt. After the time is up, immediately put them in a sieve and run very cold water over them. Chop them up and garnish with some fresh lemon or limejuice, or one teaspoon of brown rice vinegar and teaspoon of mirin (rice cooking wine). Use citrus only when ready to eat, because it will turn the beautiful green into something brown and wilted. Enjoy the vegetables of spring; mustard greens are best in the spring! The cycle of nature is such that it made natural medicine for you at the right time of the year. Follow and live with nature and it will take care of you!