The Liver & Traditional Chinese Medicine

The liver plays a vital role in our health and wellbeing. In western medicine Liver is in-charge of removing toxins from your body, producing bile and performing essential metabolic functions. However, in Chinese Medicine the Liver does much more, from controlling the flow of qi, storing blood, emotional health and our overall health and wellbeing.

A Liver in need of balance, on a physical level, looks like:

  • Hormone imbalance and menstrual healthy: irregular periods , periods pain, infertility

  • Fertility organs disorder: PCOS, Cyst, Endometriosis, Fibroid, etc

  • Digestion problems: IBS, indigestion, slow metabolism, over weight, abdominal distension, belching, sour regurgitation, nausea, vomiting diarrhea bitter taste in the mouth, belching

  • Pre-menstrual tension, depression, irritability, distension of the breasts

  • Tendon issues/Pain: (contraction, weakness, rigidity and inflexibility), pain and distension in the sides and rib areas, vertex headaches, contraction and/or spasms in the muscles and sinews, impaired extension/flexion, numbness of the limbs, muscle cramps, tremors, sensation of oppression in the chest

  • Skin disorder: itching, rash, eczema, acne

  • Eye Symptoms: blurred vision, myopia, floaters, infections, colour blindness, a feeling of dryness or grit in the eyes bloodshot, vision problems such as cataracts and glaucoma, painful or burning sensation in the eyes irritability

  • Other: Urinary tract infection, weak immune system, tightness of the tendons, muscle spasms, red face, jaundice, insomnia, red face, tinnitus, dizziness, a feeling of a "lump" in the throat, dark, dry or cracked nails

A Liver in need of balance, on an emotional level, looks like:

  • Outbursts of frustration or anger

  • Depression & Anxiety

  • Low Mood

  • Repressed anger

  • Lack of direction in life

  • Feeling of being stuck

Yang Organ: Gallbladder

Emotions: Anger

Element: Wood

Season: Spring

Taste: Sour

Time: 1-3am

Body Tissue:

Direction: East

Colour: Green

Climatic Qi: Wind

Sense Organ: Eyes



The Liver stores the blood when it is not being used by the body, but when we are active, the Liver sends the blood to the muscles, nourishing and moistening them.

If the Liver is healthy, we will have energy to do our daily activities.

If the Liver is impaired however, the blood will not get to the parts of the body that need it and we will become easily tired.

The Livers function of storing blood also directly influences our ability to fight off pathogens. If the Liver function is normal, the skin and muscles will be well nourished and the body will be able to fight off attacks by exterior pathogens.

The Livers function of storing blood is also extremely important in gynaecology and specifically, menstruation.

If the Liver is functioning normally, the periods will be normal.

If the Liver is deficient, the periods will be late, irregular or absent.

If the Liver is in excess or has excess heat, there can be excessive bleeding and pain.

If there are gynaecological problems, the Liver will be involved. Because the Liver governs the smooth flow of Qi, the bodies energies, stagnation of Liver Qi is a common diagnosis and manifests in the periods as painful periods, per-menstrual tension and clots.


Liver blood is responsible for the eyes capacity to see clearly. The health of the Liver can also determine how clearly we are able to recognize what is actually happening in our lives and how connected we are to reality.

If the Liver blood is abundant, then we will see clearly, but if it is deficient, we will have eye problems like blurred vision, dry eyes, myopia, colour blindness and especially floaters.

The Liver is especially susceptible to heat, and when in excess we see eye symptoms like red and blood shot eyes and the eyes may be painful and have a burning sensation. These symptoms are often accompanied with headaches, ringing in the ears and a bitter taste in the mouth.


The Ethereal Soul, called Hun in Chinese, is said to influence our capacity to plan our life and find a sense of direction by affecting our dreams, visions, purpose, projects, inspiration and creativity.


The health of the sinews is under the control of the Liver, and specifically Liver blood. Liver blood nourishes and moistens the sinews, ensuring that we can move freely and easily. The sinews ability to relax and contract is also dependent on Liver blood.

If Liver blood is deficient, sinews will become dry and brittle and we can experience symptoms like contractions, spasms, numbness, tremors and muscle cramps.


In Chinese medicine, illness or disease is seen to be a blockage of the flow. When things, like blood, are not flowing properly, the results can be catastrophic, like a stroke. So, the Liver’s function of keeping Qi moving in the body is important for our health. A blockage of the flow of Qi is central to almost all Liver disharmonies and is one of the most common patterns seen. Part of the Livers function of moving Qi smoothly throughout the body is also to ensure the proper flow and direction for all the organs.

If the Liver is functioning normally, the Qi will be flowing and the emotional state will be balanced.

If the Liver Qi is obstructed, there can be anger, frustration, depression and a feeling of being &wound up; as well as physical symptoms like hypochondriac pain, a sensation of oppression in the chest, a feeling of a lump in the throat and distension in the abdomen.


Liver blood is responsible for nourishing and moistening the nails in the same way as it is for the sinews.

If Liver blood is abundant, the nails will be hard, shiny and moist.

If Liver blood is deficient, we can see symptoms like dry and brittle nails, and nails with ridges, spots, cracks and can be dark and have a withered appearance.

Foods that are beneficial for the liver are:

  • Honey, molasses

  • Grains & legumes: rice, millet, quinoa, spelt, mung beans, lentils, rye, amaranth, sprouted grains.

  • Grass feed organic meats

  • Seeds and nuts: black sesame seeds, hemp seeds, chestnuts and pine nuts.

  • Wild caught seafood

  • Vegetables: mustard greens, spinach, chard, chinese greens, beets, kale, watercress, asparagus, cabbage, turnip, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, lettuce, rhubarb root, mustard greens jerusalem artichoke, carrots, corn, celery, yams, peas, pumpkin, sweet potato, water chestnuts, leek, alfalfa, parsnips, radish, spinach, daikon radish, radish leaves, tomatoes, peas, cucumber, dandelion leaves, mushrooms, taro root, seaweed, onions, garlic

  • Fruit: plums, apples, cherries, mango, dates, peach, lychee, coconut, grapes strawberry, citrus fruits (e.g. kumquat, tangerine, grapefruit, lemon, lime)

  • Herbs & spices: dandelion, milk thistle, chamomile, basil, turmeric, cardamom, cumin, fennel, dill, ginger, bay leaf, marjoram, rosemary, sage, anise, citrus peel, parsley, pepper, caraway, horseradish, mint, lemon balm, angelica root, prickly ash bark, dandelion root, bupleurum, mandarin, milk thistle seeds, oregon grape root, chamomile flowers

Foods that hurt the liver: Fried Foods



Excess red meat

Refined Foods

Too much raw or cold food & drinks- Opt for room temperature water, slightly steamed vegetables, and if you are craving those crunchy raw salads, have a cup of nice warm soup or bone broth first

Excessive dairy & sugar

Excessively spicy foods

Additional Tips:

  • Stay calm. Take things easy and go slow; take a nice long walk in the park or do other gentle exercises to relax your mind, body, and spirit. Let go os as much stress as you can.

  • with your hand in fist, tap your legs up and down the insides of your thighs and calves, starting at the ankles, for about five minutes. This gently stimulates your Liver meridian.

  • When possible, don’t eat while distracted or emotionally upset; select a calming space for meals.

  • Avoid alcohol! The Liver is responsible for metabolizing alcohol, so reducing or stopping alcohol can go a long way towards preserving your Liver’s energy.

  • Sleep by 11pm as much as possible.

  • Do regular exercise to allow the smooth flow of qi- Yoga, Qi Gong or Tai Chi or martial arts especially help

  • Eat less at each meal, eat main meals earlier; try to avoid late night meals and skipping meals.

  • Eat as much organic, local, seasonal wholefoods as possible

  • Express your anger in a healthy and constructive way

  • Avoid being out in the wind (this aggravates the liver)

  • Meditate or journal daily. Writing is an excellent tool with which to transfer busy thoughts from the mind onto paper so that they feel less burdening. Writing helps us to process our emotions and get clear about our goals.

  • Leave room in your stomach - eat until 80-90% full

  • In Spring, cook food for shorter time but higher temperature (e.g. sautéed vegetables).

Other things that contribute to an imbalanced liver are:

  • Chemicals

  • Recreational drugs

  • Excessive prolonged anger

  • Chronic stress

  • Not getting enough sleep

  • Poor diet such as eating a diet high in sugars and fats (especially refined carbohydrates and unhealthy types of fat such as those found in deep-fried foods)

  • Eating too much, exercising too little or being under constant stress

Essential Oils to Support the liver:

LIVER- Designed to strengthen, balance and energize the liver so it can perform its numerous functions with optimal vitality. The liver processes everything we eat or drink and filters and detoxifies any harmful substances from the blood. It also plays a critical role in fat digestion and managing our energy by storing and releasing blood sugar. Without healthy liver function, sugar cravings, and other health concerns are almost guaranteed.

LIVER SUPPORT- Supports liver and gall bladder. Helps gently release emotions of anger from the cells of the liver.