Liver and Gall Bladder Health Are Vital to a Good Life:

How to Support These Yin and Yang Organs of Chinese Medicine and the Wood Element

In Chinese medicine, the liver and gall bladder are paired as yin and yang organs of the Wood element. Anything we do to strengthen one strengthens the other. Conversely, anything we do to harm one harms the other. The liver is the yin(1) organ and the gall bladder is the yang(2) organ.

The liver works tirelessly to ensure the body absorbs everything it needs and dumps what it doesn’t need—waste and toxins—in order to keep the body healthy. The adjacent pouch-shaped gall bladder stores bile (produced by the liver) which breaks down fat.

The liver metabolizes nutrients and stores a number of vitamins and minerals such as iron. It helps assimilate and store fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K. This provides energy for the body.

Not only does the liver filter everything we eat and drink it filters any pharmaceuticals we take. The liver metabolizes drugs and breaks down alcohol.

Liver stores extra blood which can be quickly released when needed. It also filters the blood to remove harmful chemicals and bacteria. The liver regulates the body’s ability to clot blood. A deficiency of stored blood in the liver will often show up as stagnancy in the form of eye problems, fatigue and lack of luster and color in the hair and nails.

It also stores fuel in the form of glycogen which contributes to healthy brain function. This glycogen supplies the body with quick energy.

The liver works to maintain electrolyte and water balance in the body as well as create serum proteins in order to maintain overall fluid balance in the body. Serum proteins act as carriers for hormones like estrogen and other substances. The liver, too, regulates levels of sexual hormones manufacturing estrogen and testosterone and eliminating excess sexual hormones.

The liver also and very importantly strives to flow chi energy throughout the body which is completely characteristic of the Wood element’s need to grow and flourish. Without first having an adequate flow of chi, other systems of the body can become compromised.

When chi energy stagnates because of a compromised liver it can lead to overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, elevated cortisol levels, and higher stress levels. The immune system then becomes weakened.

All this is an awful lot of work for one organ such as the liver to perform even under the best of conditions and today’s lifestyle practices burden the liver with many stresses and toxins.

Consuming oily processed foods is a major insult to not only the liver but the gall bladder. Subjecting our bodies and thus the liver to lead from gasoline, food additives, preservatives, pesticides, herbicides and many other chemical compounds we come into contact with on a daily basis can load the liver with toxins that can become difficult for it to expel thereby causing much stress to the liver.

Alcohol, recreational drugs and even drugs administered for therapeutic purposes can seriously and adversely affect the liver.

Excess hormones like adrenaline constantly created in our bodies in response to our fast-paced lifestyle add even more insult to the liver. Under some circumstances, hormones can be stored by the liver for as long as a year and emotional imbalances such as depression and anger can result. Irritability and quickness to anger are actual symptoms in Chinese medicine of an overtaxed liver.

Potential symptoms indicating a toxin-stressed/overworked/overheated liver:

• ashen complexion

• acne

• eye problems (bloodshot eyes; blurry vision)

• muscular weakness

• insomnia; you wake up a couple of hours after falling asleep

• unexplained irritability; emotional depression or outbursts

• acid reflux

• cold hands and feet

• PMS/dysmenorrhea, breast distension

Potential symptoms telling you your gall bladder may be compromised:

• nausea

• gallstones

• muscle and body pain; upper abdominal pain

• bloating

• indigestion

Of course, if you suspect either your liver or gall bladder are being negatively impacted, seek out a competent physician who can accurately diagnose the issue for you.

But it never can hurt to utilize the energy of Chinese medicine’s Wood element to help detoxify both liver and gall bladder and support them in their vital functions.

Some methods for detoxification and care consistent with the Wood energy include:

1. Herbs and acupuncture. Seek out a well-qualified acupuncture physician to help get your liver and gall bladder back in balance if you suspect you have a problem. He or she will make sure your energy meridians are clear so vital energy directed from the liver can flow unimpeded. Chinese herbs will help strengthen and detoxify your organs.

2. Exercise. This is vital for the liver especially. It helps disperse the excess heat in the liver caused when we continually insult it with food, drink, drugs and lifestyle, in general. Moreover, the liver’s element Wood enjoys being physically active.

3. Ease off on your nutritional supplement intake if you consume a lot of them. Supplements are very concentrated and taking too many places an extra burden on the liver. Give your liver a break.

4. Do a periodic niacin flush—once every two weeks or so. Purchase the flushing type niacin (nicotinic acid; niacinamide) and consume one capsule before your largest meal of the day. This helps disperse excess heat from the liver throughout the rest of the body.

5. If you go to bed around 10 or 11 p.m., stop eating after 5 p.m. This gives your liver a good break from having to process food. It helps it to recover.

6. Eat your largest meal of the day at midday. This serves the liver very well.

7. Do your best to stop eating when you feel 80% full. Overeating and feasting puts undue pressure on both liver and gall bladder.

8. Support liver by consuming whole grains like brown rice, barley, millet, quinoa, spelt, kamut, oats and wheat berries. Since crackers, bread, bagels, and cereals are baked and dry, they are not conducive to optimum liver function.

9. Eat leafy greens, fresh herbs and berries which help to build liver blood.

10. Sautée fresh ginger with your vegetables. Ginger is very detoxifying to the liver. Turmeric and dandelion root are also detoxifying for liver.

11. Of course, consume alcohol in moderation. Do your best to keep pharmaceuticals intake to a minimum.

12. Look into gall bladder cleanses which most often involve olive oil, fruit juice and fiber.

13. Always drink a good amount of water which is the best solvent of toxins that exists.

14. For gall bladder eat fiber-rich foods; consume fresh fruits and vegetables; if you eat meat, make it lean; if you eat dairy, make it low fat.

Liver and gall bladder, like all organs of the body according to Chinese medicine and the Five Element Theory, in addition to physical functions also have functions related to the mind or mental body. In the Wood element’s case, well functioning, well-supported liver and gall bladder are absolutely vital to a good life.

“The liver function is considered to be the grand architect for our vision of the future. The liver is the center of strategic planning. The gall bladder is thought to be the center of our ability to make decisions and judge wisely. From the functions of the liver and the gall bladder, we can plan and choose–we combine new future possibilities with the wisdom of the past and, as a result, are able to see the clear and appropriate course to take.” —Jennifer Dubowsky, LAc.

1 Yin organs produce, transform, regulate and store fundamental substances such as chi, blood, and body fluids.

2 Yang organs are primarily responsible for digesting food and transmitting nutrients to the body.

Press, Tsinghua University. Traditional Chinese Medicine: Theory and Principles. Germany, De Gruyter, 2015.Levy, Susan, and Lehr, Carol.

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Anderson, Sandra K. The Practice of Shiatsu. Malawi, Mosby Elsevier, 2007.

Stiles, Kg. Chinese Medicine Guidebook Essential Oils to Balance the Wood Element and Organ Meridians. N.p., Draft2Digital, 2020.

Hobbs, Christopher. Natural Therapy for Your Liver: Herbs and Other Natural Remedies for a Healthy Liver. United States, Penguin Publishing Group, 2002.

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