How can we use the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine to support our liver health? (6 minute read, or bullet points at the end if that's too long)
Why do acupuncturists shift their self-care during Spring, and how can you do the same?
We can look to the ancient practice of acupuncture and to the most modern research to show that we are not separate from nature, we are nature. We are made up of more microbial cells, such as bacteria, virus and fungi, than we are human cells, so we are more bugs than we are human. It is important that we live in harmony with our environment and that we would adapt our self-care during the different seasons.
Which organ do acupuncturists pay attention to during the spring?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), each organ has a time of year where the energy of that organ is more active. As we enter spring, the liver energy begins to rise, which helps to draw us out of our winter cave. The function of the liver is slightly different to the findings of modern medicine, but there are similarities. In TCM the liver is thought to support digestion, store blood, influences the smooth flow of qi (energy), and is reflected in the eyes, tendons and nails.
Are you are often in ‘full Hulk’ mode?
Even though any part of the body can hold any emotion, unexpressed or unresolved anger tends to be held in the liver. When the liver is in balance we are able to practice flexible thinking and confident decision making. When the liver is out of balance we are more likely to feel frustration, irritability or resentment. For women especially, we are brought up in a culture where expressions of anger may have been deemed inappropriate, or it may have been unsafe for us to show anger, so instead of having our anger rage like a fire and burn out, the embers are constantly glowing in the background.
How do I know if my liver needs some love?
An imbalance in your liver energy may look like digestive issues, bloating, IBS, constipation, depression, or insomnia - especially if you are waking up between 1am-3am. For women in their fertile years, menstrual disorders such as painful periods, heavy periods, clots, PMS, tender breasts, or issues with your fertility may reflect an overworked liver.
How can I bio-hack my liver back to health?
Rather than any quick tricks, your path to healing may require time and consistency. Do you remember that we said the liver was there to help us with the smooth flow of qi - well there are a few different ways that we may be accidentally causing blockages that create stagnation, but there are many attainable affordable ways we can get that stagnation moving.
Most adults and children are working or studying from home (lockdown #3 here in the UK), so we are probably moving much less than we normally would. We may be missing out on a walk to the train station or school. We are possibly missing our yoga or gym class. After telling our children the dangers of too much screen time we are now telling them that all of their lessons and social life will be through a screen. So, we need to move more to counteract the physical stagnation. As we have been in hibernation mode during winter, it is better to emerge with gentle movement rather than a full on exercise regime. Walking, stretching, yin yoga (Yoga with Adriene is free on YouTube) are gentle ways to bring nourishment to the tendons and oxygen throughout the body.
All emotions are valid. You cannot be human without access to the full spectrum of emotions. If you find that your anger bursts out of you and frightens you and everyone around you, then it might be time to pause and sit with your feelings. If you find that you are resentful, saying phrases like ‘it’s all-right for you’, then take a moment to reflect on your unmet needs. With our modern life it is easy for us to start running on empty, reaching burnout and juggling too many balls. Are you needing support? Do you want to feel appreciated? Are trying to be everything to everyone so that you feel worthy? Do you have unresolved anger that you could talk through with a friend, express in a journal or process with a therapist? Feeling your feelings in a safe space, without any judgement will free up resources for you to live with more vitality, and your liver will thank you for it.
Don’t forget to play
The spring years were those childhood years when we had no responsibilities and lots of wild abandonment. Some of us were asked to be the caregiver at a young age. Some of us were made to do adult things while we were still children. Sometimes we need to grieve the loss of a childhood we should of had. Or maybe the responsibilities of adulthood or parenthood have got in the way of play. We can honour our inner child by taking them out to play. Spring is a great time to tap into the joyful child-like energy and dance, draw, grow sunflowers or jump in the waves.
How to deep clean your liver
You don’t have to do anything because your liver does it’s best deep clean while you are sleeping! The quality of your sleep matters, so make it count. You know what I’m going to say - reduce your screen time before bedtime, leave your phone out of the bedroom if possible, or invest in some blue-light blocking glasses if you have to look at a screen before bed. Try to have your last meal 3 hours before you go to sleep, its quite hard to wind down when you are busy digesting food or your news feed. If you find that you often wake up between 1am - 3am then your liver is probably too busy processing.
Why does your skin care routine affect your liver?
You already know the importance of optimising your nutritional status.
Now that spring is approaching, you are starting to add more green food to your plate. You know to minimize processed foods, trans- fats and sugar. But the products you put on your body also have to be metabolised by the liver. Some of the products that we put on our hair, skin and nails is absorbed into the body and this is then another thing that your liver has to clear. Go for more natural products - although beware of ‘greenwashing’ where a company will put a natural sounding word on the label even though it is full of harsh chemicals!
Women are not little men
If you are in your fertile years then your hormones will run on a cyclical monthly cycle. Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone all rise and fall during the month. Running at 100 miles per hour throughout the whole month will raise your stress hormones such as cortisol, and tell your body that now is not a good time for a pregnancy. This may reflect in changes in your periods or it may affect your fertility. You remember that anger and irritability are often stored in the liver? Well, that PMS might be your body telling you that you need to stop, to rest and retreat while you are on your period so that you can get back to wonder woman duties around ovulation.
I can’t talk about Traditional Chinese Medicine without throwing in a really useful acupuncture point called Liver 3 which is in the flesh between your big and second toe. You can easily massage it yourself (although it’s much more therapeutic if someone else does it for you). Imagine there is a pool of energy underneath the skin and you are gently drawing it up with your massage, then imagine sending that energy to your liver. And while we’re talking all things TCM, even though the sun starts to beam at this time of year, it can still be cold, and that wind is thought to bring pathogens into the body. So don’t strip off all of those layers yet; make like grandma and pack a scarf in your bag so your neck doesn't catch a draft.
So, if you have never paid attention to how much your liver actually does for you day and night, then spring is the perfect time to give back some of that love. And if this blog was too long, then here are the bullet points.
Alison is a registered acupuncturist and co-owner of Blossom Natural Health in Chelmsford. She has been specialising in fertility and women's health for the last 20 years, and is the fertility acupuncturist for Bourn Hall fertility clinic in Wickford. She loves combining acupuncture, cranio-sacral therapy and somato-emotional release to help her clients with stress, digestive issue and pain relief.
Photo by Rowan Heuvel on Unsplash