The Importance of the Liver in Chinese Medicine
By Dr. S. Khoshbin
The heart may be the ‘King’ of the body but the Liver is certainly the ‘General’ and ‘Planner’. As one of the most important organs, it defends against any and all invaders and protects the body-mind from external poisons and pathogens. It is responsible for the body’s detoxification and its elimination of metabolic poisons.
The liver is consistently working hard to refine, filter, and store nutrients such as proteins, glycogen, vitamins and minerals for use by the body. It also has the ability to alter and excrete various hormones.
The liver is the first organ in our body to be affected by stress and emotions. So many hormones are thrown out of balance as a reaction to emotions like fear, stress, sadness or happiness. Therefore, the liver plays a crucial role in maintaining a clean and balanced mental state.
The liver is also responsible for detoxification and the excretion of many drugs such as sulfonamides and antibiotics, like penicillin.
The main functions of the liver are:
1. Storing in the blood
Once food is digested in the stomach, it travels into the small intestine, where all the nutrients are absorbed, from the intestinal villi they are transferred into a special vein called the portal vein. All veins go directly to the heart, except for the portal vein, which goes to the liver. The enriched blood is processed in the liver and there it is either stored it or utilized.
Finally the enriched blood is transferred to another large vein called the ‘Vena Cava’, which leads to the heart for distribution to the entire body.
The liver also produces many plasma clotting factors like prothrombin and fibrinogen, as well as the all-important liquid bile, which is necessary for the saponification of fats and the absorption of vitamin K necessary for the production of the different types of clotting factors.
The liver stores the blood and regulates the volume of blood in circulation when the body is at rest. Then the amount of blood decreases as the liver stores the surplus. When the body is active, the liver releases stored blood into circulation. If there is a problem in the liver with the storage and its release functions, it will have an effect on the entire blood system, causing hemorrhage diseases such as vertigo, spasms of the muscles and tendons, scanty menstruation in women and a delay or even interruption of the menstrual cycle.
2. Smooth flow of Chi (energy)
In Chinese Medicine, the chi or energy, is regulated by the liver. One of the very important processes of the liver, is changing glucose into glycogen for cellular storage for later use as reserve energy if needed. It can change it back to glucose and release it into the blood stream for energy, in order to maintain a balance and the normal physical activity of all body organs.
The liver is also responsible for the balance of the emotional and mental state in humans. When the liver is healthy and the flow of energy and blood is normal, we experience happy and pleasant emotions. If the free flow of energy is disturbed, the result are feelings of unhappiness, mental depression and crying. When the liver has too much energy, it causes irritability, anger, insomnia, vertigo, ringing in the ear and deafness.
Blockages of energy and chi or accumulation of toxins in the liver cause swelling of the glands, formation of cysts and lumps, and tumors in women’s reproductive organs and breasts.
The liver is responsible for detoxification and elimination of both endogenous and exogenous toxins. Endogenous toxins are created as a result of stress, while exogenous toxins are produced from external toxins and pollutants in our external environment and our diets. Endogenous and emotionally produced toxins can cause anger, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, PMS, aggravation of menopausal symptoms and other behavioural problems.
3. Liver condition can be seen in our eyes
In Chinese Medicine, every organ in the body has a sensory organ outside the body, which reveals the condition of the corresponding interior organ. The eyes represent the condition and health of the liver. If there is a problem in the eyes, like blurry vision, itchy eyes, red or dry eyes, this may be an indication of an underlying liver problem that has manifested itself as a symptom in the eye.
One of the reasons that the liver is connected to the eyes, is because the beta-carotene we consume from foods is converted to retinol (a form of vitamin A). This vitamin then combines with a protein called opsin to form rhodopsin, found in the rod cells of the retina and responsible for our night vision.
Liver also maintains our epithelial tissue, responsible for proper function of the cornea in the eyes and other mucous membranes.
Dryness of the eyes is caused by liver dysfunction. Chronic eye problems can usually be traced back to the liver. In Chinese medicine it is quite common to treat eye disorders by treating the liver.
4. The liver also affects our nails
The health of our nails is dependent on the metabolism of vitamin A and primarily to liver function related to protein metabolism.
Other functions of the liver include the production of hemoglobin, and this affects the inability of the liver to expel heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, silver and other toxins
Nails are the “flowering” of the liver. When the blood is plentiful it goes to the farthest areas of the body such as our finger nails and toe nails. The nails then become lustrous, thick and shiny. But if our liver blood is deficient, our nails become pale, weak and brittle.
Herbs known for cleansing and detoxifying the liver and blood are:
1. Milk thistle (Silibum marianum)
· Active ingredient is called silymarin
· It is used to treat liver disease such as cirrhosis, jaundice and hepatitis
· It protects the liver against poisonous substances
· It works against liver cancer cells
· It is beneficial for alcoholics and those with hepatitis B and C
· The medicine marketed under the name sylimarin is also derived from this herb
· Has antifungal property
· Repairs liver cell damage
· Significantly improves liver function (ALT and AST)
· Reduces liver damage caused by chemotherapy treatments
· Also lowers cholesterol levels
2. Dandelion (Taraxacum)
· Dandelion leaves are abundant in minerals and vitamins
· Especially rich in vitamins A, C, D, and K, and are good source of calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese
· Has been used a s a herbal remedy for gallbladder and liver problems and as a diuretic
· Helps to adjust blood pressure
· Normalizes blood sugar levels
· Lowers cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL
Other herbs known for cleansing and detoxifying the liver and blood are:
3. Bupleurum root ( Bupleurum Falcatum )
4. Wild yam ( Dioscorea villosa )
5. Boldo ( Peumus boldus )
6. Oregan grape ( Mahonia aquifolium )
7. Nut grass ( Cyperus rotundus )