The liver has certainly attracted a lot of attention over the last couple of years. Numerous books, blogs and magazine articles have been written regarding ways of taking care of our second largest organ via the use of detoxes, juice fasts, specific eating plans and supplements.
Centuries ago the liver was considered to be the seat of the soul. Plato the ancient Greek philosopher believed that our subconscious thoughts and deepest desires passed through our liver to be deciphered while the rational mind was asleep. The art of reading the liver (Hepatoscopy) began during the period of the Bronze Age (approximately 5000 years ago). In fact ancient Greek’s examined the livers of sacrificed animals to predict natural disasters while ancient Italians formed connections between the Gods and constellations with zones of the liver.
The liver holds great importance in Chinese Medicine and plays many important roles within the body. In fact in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the liver is viewed as the Army General as it’s involved in the overall planning of the body’s function.
Here are the roles the liver plays according to TCM
Stores blood and controls the volume of blood within the body. Blood flows to muscles and tendons during periods of movement and activity and later gets stored in the liver at periods of rest.
Ensures the smooth flow of Qi (energy) throughout the body. If Liver Qi stagnates, emotions, digestion and menstruation will be affected.
The liver is responsible for our capacity to recover energy.
Controls the tendons. In fact the blood of the liver nourishes tendons.
Manifest in the nails. A deficiency of liver blood is noted in dry, cracked, splitting nails.
Opens into the eyes. Liver blood nourishes the eyes, hence good vision relies on the liver. If heat occurs within the liver red, irritated and itchy eyes will occur.
Regulates menstruation. Along with the spleen which is involved in blood production via the food it receives, the liver blood provides for menstruation to occur. If liver blood is lacking the period will be too.
Houses the ethereal soul known as the HUN which influences our capacity to plan.
In TCM the liver is the place where we store anger, frustration, unresolved emotions and energy. It is most active between the hours of 1-3am hence it is common for individuals to process their emotions and blood at this time. In fact it is very common for an anxiety attack to occur between 1-3am.
Unfortunately on average most people’s knowledge of the liver extends as far as its involvement of filtering alcohol. You might be surprised to know that our liver is involved in approximately 499 processes within our body making it the ultimate multi-tasker! Everything we eat, drink, put on our skin and breath in is taken in by our liver to be processed, purified and redistributed around the body, to then be extracted via the kidneys, bowels or skin.
Our liver is also involved in the manufacture of hormones, cholesterol and bile (stored in the Gallbladder – involved in fat metabolism). It stores glycogen (form of glucose used as an energy source), amino acids (building blocks of protein), vitamins A, B12, Vitamin D and iron. It’s assist with the filtration of blood, blood sugar regulation and disposes old RBC (red blood cells). It is also the distribution centre sending hormones and nutrients where they are needed most in the body. The most amazing thing about the liver is that it regenerates itself. Hence if it undergoes surgery and a piece is removed it has the astounding capacity to regenerate itself.
We Acupuncturists place much emphasis on the liver and the overall health/function of the female gynecological system in particular menstruation. Western medicine also strongly recognises the role the liver plays with menstruation.
The liver processes excess levels of oestrogen allowing it to be extracted. Signs and symptoms related to this female hormone being unbalanced are hair loss, weight gain, leg cramps, mood swings, depression, nausea and vomiting, bloating, headaches (often bilateral and pounding), fluid retention, breast soreness, recurrent yeast infections, yellow tinged skin as well as excessive bleeding during menstruation. PCOS and endometriosis are also signs that the liver isn’t clearing oestrogen as it should. Oestrogen is normally balanced by another hormone known as progesterone. Progesterone is produced by the adrenal glands and is known as an anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, diuretic and fat burning hormone. Our adrenal glands are more commonly known for their role in producing two stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline. When the body is under excessive stress the consequence results in the ceasing of progesterone which makes females feel less than average.
The frightening outcome of an overloaded liver is that excess oestrogen gets sent to the bloodstream. From here it gets stored in fat cells such as breast tissue. Research findings show that individuals diagnosed with oestrogen sensitive breast cancer have oestrogen levels 400 times higher than in other individuals. Hence an important reason to look after your liver!!
So how do we support our liver?
~ Limiting alcohol or removing it for a period of time when your liver is showing signs of overload is the first step.
~ Steering clear of highly processed, packaged foods, refined sugars and trans fats.
~ Begin your day with a cup of warm water and lemon juice to purify the liver and alkaline the body.
~ Increase fibre in the diet. As an example eating oats for breakfast would help mop up excess oestrogen levels in the body – pushing them out via the bowel.
~ Drink liver supportive tea such as dandelion. Aim for 2 cups daily.
~ Milk Thistle is a herb which is very liver supportive. Taking it as a supplement can be quite beneficial.
~Eat greens daily (spinach, spring beans, silverbeet, broccoli) and include bitter greens a few times a week (endive, radicchio, rocket, dandelion greens, nettle, watercress) are a few examples.
~ Reduce coffee intake or better still steer clear of it all together for a while to take pressure off the liver.
~ Eat organic produce whenever possible to lessen the impact and levels of pesticides and herbicides absorbed by the body.
~ Do not store food in plastic containers and most importantly don’t heat up food in plastic containers in microwaves. When plastic is heated it releases xenoestrogens an environmental compound which mimics oestrogen and is a well known endocrine disruptor.
~ Chemical overload impacts the liver as previously mentioned. Hence use toxin free cleaning products whenever possible. Earth and Eco Store are two great non toxic cleaning and laundry products easily accessible in supermarkets.
~ Exercise to encourage and move liver Qi and lymphatic waste.
If there is one organ that should be grabbing your attention it’s definitely your liver.