As many of you know, I was busy this past fall taking care of my mother, who is now in End Stage Liver Disease due to a rare autoimmune condition. Damn, I never thought I would know as much about the Liver as I do now! At the moment, my mother has recovered from her last bout of blood loss (due to GI bleeding, common in this situation) and is gaining energy, in a kind of remission for a while, you might say. This leaves me some time to write to you about all that new knowledge I’ve gained.
If you come to see me at all for Acupuncture or Chinese Herbs, you already know that your Liver is a pretty important organ. In Chinese Medicine, it’s one of the first things to get messed up, with Liver Qi Stagnation, meaning the Qi energy is not moving well, kind of stuck. This can lead to all sorts of other problems. From a Western Medicine point of view, this makes total sense! You might also already know that your Liver is your body’s filter. It’s located on the right side of your body, just under the ribs, and they say it’s about the size of a slightly deflated football. It filters toxins (including alcohol and fats) from the blood by using various enzyme processes to break things down and change things to forms we can either use or more easily excrete.
So Qi Stagnation is kind of like the filter getting clogged a bit, although in Chinese Medicine, we say this can happen not only from toxins we ingest, but also from emotions, particularly stress and anger. That might seem “out there” to some, until you think about the fact that stress and anger causes the release of certain hormones in the body that the Liver then has to break down! For most people, this clogging leads to irritability, maybe some aches and pains,especially around the ribs or in the shoulders, maybe some stomach upsets, PMS in women. In more severe cases it can lead to headaches, insomnia, and even high blood pressure, to name just a few.
We also say in Chinese Medicine that the Liver stores the Blood. Well, if you’ve seen a Liver, it is a pretty bloody looking thing, and ALL of our blood has to flow through it to get filtered. But did you know that the Liver stores vitamins, minerals, and sugar until we need to use them? So it IS a storage place! And it’s said that the Liver demands 25% of the blood pumped by each heartbeat! So if you’re low on blood or anemic, it can really have an effect on the Liver. I witnessed this happen as each time my mother’s blood levels got extremely low, Liver failure symptoms started to show up, like ascites (fluid in the abdomen) and edema (in the legs). Once they gave her blood and stopped the bleeding, the Liver function gradually returned some, even though she only has 10% left!
One thing that I didn’t know that I found out through researching my mother’s condition is that the Liver also produces clotting factors. This is why if the Liver function gets really low, like in End Stage Liver Disease where less than 10% of it is operating, there can be a difficulty to stop bleeding since there aren’t enough clotting factors. Don’t worry, though, this only happens in extreme cases.
How can we take care of our Liver? The good news is that Acupuncture and herbs work really well to clean things up once some stagnation has happened or build the blood if it is low. Chinese Medicine also has always recommended exercise, and now Western Medicine does, too! It’s considered one of the best ways to fight fatty Liver disease, which is important not only for the Liver, but also because fatty Liver disease can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
While I consider Chinese herbs and a good cleansing diet a couple of times a year to be the best ways to clear the Liver, vitamin E is also considered important. Having at least 24 IU per day can lower the risk of Liver Cancer. You can find it in almonds, olive oil, and spinach among others. If you do have any concerns about your Liver, or would just like to cleanse, come and see me and I can help you out!