Updated: Nov 1
Ahh the liver and gall bladder
Such an important pair of organs for our everyday filtration and digestive support. I have such a fond affinity for these two organs and what they can do for the body. Their personalities are usually unwavering, determined to help you make a plan and follow through with action. Organs of the wood element, the liver and gall bladder can be thought of like bamboo. When they are healthy, they should be able to bend easily without breaking, while standing tall in their conviction. But what happens when they are not in harmony? Let us explore each organs’ personality traits through the lens of Chinese medicine.
The Liver is in charge of planning for the future, coming up with a clear plan of attack for whatever you might envision for yourself. The Gall Bladder is like the Liver’s right hand man, the yang to Liver’s yin. He assists in turning these plans into action. If we consider the placement of the channels, we might see how they assist physically and energetically in the movement towards your goals. The Liver’s channel begins on the inside of your big toe, runs up the inside of your leg, up your torso to the breasts, eventually ending on the top of your head. The Gall Bladder’s channel begins on the outer aspect of your eyes, zig-zags along the side of your head, makes its way down the sides of your ribcage, torso and legs, ending on your second to last toe. So here we see the Liver connects with the head or brain (planning and thinking about your future), and the Gall Bladder taking side steps, zigging and zagging, twisting and turning towards your goals. The Liver, having its energy beginning in the big toe, helps to keep the Gall Bladder in line as they make their way forward in life.
The Liver needs to feel “juuust right”
The Liver can be thought of like the character Goldie Locks. She needs her environmental conditions to be just right in order to function smoothly. When the conditions are out of whack, she becomes a bully, acting out her frustrations on those who are around her, but especially those who are the weakest. Sometimes she enlists the help of her trusty partner, the Gall Bladder, to do her bidding. From a physiological perspective, the nervous system doesn’t actually touch the Liver or Gall Bladder. It does, however, interact with the hepatic portals or tubes that flow into and out of these organs for filtration purposes. When we are feeling stressed, these nerves interact with the hepatic tubes, clamping down on them, making it harder for the blood to flow smoothly in and out of these important organs. This is when we see the Liver go from a free and easy wanderer to a complete bully.
What symptoms occur when the Liver and Gall Bladder
are not in alignment?
Often we see the Liver taking her frustrations out on your menstrual cycle (if you have one). She has the potential to make your breasts tender, give you a headache, make you feel cranky, bloated and down right yucky just before or during your cycle. You may even find that your flow is stalled or you may have spotting for several days before your cycle. I call this “the little engine that could” syndrome. Your flow is like the engine that thinks she can and eventually does with a little courage and determination!
The general emotion associated with the Liver and Gall Bladder is anger. When these organs are feeling stifled and unable to carryout their duties, they tend to make you feel irritable, frustrated and easily quick to snap. Have you ever felt so angry that the sides of your head start to tingle and the heat rises to your head like flames from a fire? This is the Gall Bladder channel (sides of the head) and the Liver channel (ending at the top of the head) experiencing what we call “Liver Yang rising”. The blood flows upwards causing you to feel heated, your eyes and face might turn red and you may find yourself shouting.
We might also see your digestion take the brunt of Liver’s frustrations. If you ever experienced alternating constipation then diarrhea, pebble-like stools or even general IBS symptoms, you may be a victim of your Liver’s rage. On a rare occasion, we might even see the Liver take out her irritability on the Lungs. I once had a patient who would cough every time he was angry!
How to soothe your Liver and Gall Bladder
There are several ways to tend to the precious organs, allowing them to flow with ease once more. First and foremost, avoiding stress as much as possible. Obviously life happens that is out of your control, but there are ways to prepare for these stressful times.
1. Acupuncture: This is my favorite way to soothe my Liver and Gall Bladder when they feel cranky. Acupuncture helps to relax the nervous system that may been wreaking havoc on these organs as well as encourages smooth blood flow. It also releases endorphins that make you feel happy and relaxed.
2. Meditation: This is key to prepare yourself for stressful days ahead. When the mind is calm, the body is calm. Stressful events are bound to occur, but when you have a strong meditation practice you are able to keep the body and mind at a more constant rhythm as opposed to letting life throw your emotions this way and that. Many feel like meditation is too hard to attain which is simply not true. Meditation can be something as simple as taking 5-10 conscious, deep breaths before your start your day, or listening to a guided meditation on your favorite app. Choosing the right method for you is important to feel successful.
3. Avoiding alcohol: Of course a drink or two may make you feel less stressed in the moment, but in actuality it is only giving your Liver and Gall Bladder more work to do. Freeing up their workload is key to smooth functioning.
4. Herbal medicine: If you want a simple remedy that is easily accessible, try taking milk thistle. This western plant is an excellent remedy for a cranky Liver. As acupuncturists, we prefer using two or more plants to create a custom formula for your individual needs, but if you’re in a pinch milk thistle can be found at your local health food store and generally packs a punch.
5. Exercise: Getting in regular movement helps to aid the Liver in moving the blood throughout your body. Exercise is great for so many reasons, but in this scenario blood flow is key. Your Liver will be healthier and happier with a little daily exercise.
In general, if you find that any of the symptoms mentioned earlier are worse with stress, you may have a cranky Liver or Gall Bladder on your hands. Connecting with these two amazing organs by way of meditation, exercise, herbal medicine or simply asking your Liver and Gall Bladder what they need and listening for a response is an excellent path towards happy and healthy days ahead. When in doubt, visit your trusty acupuncturist for a diagnostic assessment to see what the best approach to soothing your Liver might be for you.