The Liver System – An Eastern Perspective

Traditional Oriental Medicine always views the physical organs, along with their corresponding energy meridian pathways, as an integrated whole. Because of this, when Eastern medicine talks about an organ, it is referring to the entire system which often includes other associated parts of the body, not just the local area of the physical organ.

Emotions in general are said to be controlled by the Liver system, but in particular, anger and frustration are closely related to the Liver.

In the case of an angry, irritable person, the Liver energy is too active and is described as a Fire that rises up towards the top of the body. The normal direction of Liver energy flow, upwards and outwards, has been taken to an extreme, and this can clearly be seen as their voice becomes loud, their body movements become agitated, their blood pressure rises as blood rushes upwards to their head, their face turns red and the eyes become bloodshot, and veins in the forehead become distended.

At the other extreme of the emotional spectrum would be someone who suffers from depression. Instead of the Liver energy travelling upwards and outwards, it begins to stagnate and turn inwards on itself, causing symptoms such as pent-up emotions, frustration, depression, and an inability to express feelings. 

Another aspect is that in Traditional Oriental Medicine, the energy meridian system is described as functioning in pairs. In the case of the Liver, it is directly coupled with the Gallbladder meridian which starts from the temple area, travels down the sides of the head and neck, through the tops of the shoulders, down the ribcage, through the hips, and down the sides of the legs to the feet.

Because of this pathway, other common health conditions often related to the Liver include migraine headaches, neck & shoulder tension, and sciatica pain. Other body parts are also associated with the Liver system such as connective tissue, tendons, and the eyes.

Finally, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Liver is described as storing and regulating the Blood. Because of this close association with Blood, the Liver system is extremely important when treating women’s health issues.

Some health problems such as menorrhagia or amenorrhea are related to blood flow (too much or too little), while other problems such as dysmenorrhea (painful periods) and PMS are more to do with the energy flow of the meridians. In all cases, regulating the Liver system is an important aspect of treatment.

Hopefully, this brief introduction to the Liver system gives a better understanding of how Traditional Oriental Medicine views and interconnects the entire body.

Some conditions often related to the Liver

  • migraine headaches
  • neck tension
  • sciatica pain
  • irritability
  • stress
  • depression
  • PMS
  • irregular or painful menstrual periods
  • endometriosis

Tips for keeping the Liver healthy

  1. Eat your greens – green foods are particularly nourishing for the Liver. Some excellent green foods include broccoli, kale, cabbage, chard, spinach, spirulina, chlorella, and barley greens.
  2. Regulate your emotions – because the Liver regulates all emotions, it is important to try and keep them in balance. If you’re the type of person who tends to be irritable and easily angry, find ways of easing your stress levels, and deep breathing is an important tool for maintaining composure. On the other hand, if you are the type who tends to hold things in, find ways of better expressing yourself in order to maintain a healthy flow of Liver energy.
  3. Stretch your Liver meridian – the Liver meridian starts from the big toe and travels up through the inside of the leg and thigh before entering the torso. A particularly good stretch is a groin stretch, where you sit on the floor with the soles of your feet touching each other in front of you. Let your knees settle downwards towards the ground and hold this position for 1 minute, making sure to breathe into the tight areas.
  4. A little bit of alcohol – in small amounts, alcohol actually helps to promote blood circulation so is healthy for the Liver. However, moderation is the key, as too much of a good thing can actually have an opposite effect.