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Chinese Medicine and the Liver

The Liver and Qi

Qi is energy. Qi flows in our body much like water flows from the springs to the seas. In Chinese medicine, the liver dominates the free flow of Qi throughout the body. The liver is like General of the Army of our body. When there is free flow of Qi there is health, energy and vitality and happiness. When the Qi is blocked the liver becomes angry. The liver works in harmony with the spleen in Chinese medicine. The liver controls Qi. It doesn’t make Qi but assists the other organs that do make Qi.

These other organs involved in Qi production are the spleen and the stomach. The stomach “rots and ripens” food and the spleen “transforms and transports” the food essences for the body. These food essences are essentially our vitamins and minerals. Even though we may get enough in our diet, if our liver is not healthy it can affect our absorption of nutrients and result in deficiencies. Healthy Qi goes in all directions in the body. Stomach Qi should go down and spleen Qi should go up. When the stomach Qi does not go down, this is called “rebellious” stomach Qi and causes symptoms such as burping, nausea and vomiting. When the spleen Qi does not go up we can get “sinking” spleen Qi which results in varicose veins, prolapse of organs and even repeated miscarriage.

Acupuncture essentially moves Qi. Problems with the spleen and stomach may stem from the liver so the treatment principle may be to move the liver Qi as well as “raise” the spleen Qi or “subdue” rebellious stomach Qi. Acupuncture points are chosen accordingly and herbs have specific functions do the same thing. Similarly, food is medicine, so eat foods that are good for your liver.

The Liver and Blood

The liver has a lot to do with energy. This is because the liver stores blood. When the liver has enough blood, “ the feet can walk, the hands can hold and the fingers can grasp”. At night in bed, the blood goes from the muscles, back to the liver and heart. When we are active the liver blood nourishes the muscles for movement.

Conditions associated with weak limbs can be due to liver blood deficiency. Interestingly, when the liver blood is deficient, the liver “Yang” can rise and stir wind in the body causing stroke. In Chinese medicine, a stroke is called a wind-stroke. When liver blood is deficient this results in muscle spasm and muscle tremors. Eye twitches and night time leg cramps are also due to deficient liver blood.

The liver and the sinews

As the liver blood nourishes the muscles for energy, so to is it responsible for the health of the tendons and sinews. The liver blood nourishes the tendons and sinews to promote free flow of movement. When the liver blood dries up, the tendons and sinews can contract and spasm to cause pain and impair movement.

The liver and the nails

In Chinese medicine, the liver is said to manifest in the nails. The nails are an extension of the sinews. If the liver blood is strong, the nails are healthy. Problems with nails such as ingrown toenails, flaking and brittle nails and ridges can be a result of liver blood deficiency.

The liver and menstruation

The liver blood also regulates menstruation. If the liver blood is healthy the period is problem free. Symptoms of period pain, heaviness and clots can be due to liver heat. Lack of periods can be due to liver blood deficiency. Chinese Herbal Medicine Dang gui or Chinese angelica root In Chinese terms this herb tonifies and moves blood. Avoid Dang gui when pregnant. Ginger Protects the spleen from the dominating effect of an unhealthy liver. Grate it into everything. Mint Mint is pungent and cooling. It enters the liver channel to move liver Qi and clear liver heat from the eyes.


This is the Chinese herb for the liver. It is known as the guide herb for the liver and assists other herbs to work more effectively on the liver. Chrysanthemum This herb pacifies the liver and brightens the eyes.

See also Carahealth Liver and Carahealth Xiao Yao San which contains bupleurum.

Carina is available to lecture for your group or institution on this subject.

Carina Harkin BHSc.Nat.BHSc.Hom.BHSc.Acu. is a practitioner of 11 years, complementary medicine lecturer of 4 years and mother of six in Galway, Ireland who practices what she teaches.

For an appointment call Carina directly on 083 34 66 333.

All products are available through www.carahealth.ie. Remember, we are here for a good time not a long time, enjoy your food life!

Carahealth Galway, Acupuncture, Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Herbal Medicine, Nutrition, Nutritional therapy, Flower essences, Iridology, Short Courses, Cosmetic Acupuncture