Are you feeling emotionally, physically, and/or mentally STUCK? Take the following quiz to find out if you have a classical Chinese medical condition known as Liver Qi Stagnation:
1. Do you suffer from depression?
2. Do you suffer from migraines or frequent headaches, particularly at the temple region?
3. Do you have a tendency to anger or irritability?
4. Do you carry a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders?
5. Do you have TMJ, or grind your teeth at night?
6. Do you often wake between 1-3am, and/or have difficulty sleeping during that time?
7. Do you suffer from frequent ribside pain or get "side cramps" when running?
8. Do you often get hiccups, sigh a lot, or experience a "lump" sensation in the throat?
9. Do you have mild to severe PMS symptoms, including breast tenderness, irritability and emotional sensitivity, premenstrual migraines or headaches, or menstrual cramping and clots?
10. Do you have allergies that include itchy, red, or tearing eyes?
11. Have you ever been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism?
These are all symptoms that Chinese medicine connects with Liver Qi Stagnation, and all are some of the most common symptoms our patients bring to us in clinic.
If you answered yes to one or all of the above symptoms, you are not alone! You are in fact, in the majority. The typical American life-style includes busy schedules and exhaustive to-do lists, with not enough time in the day to ever feel complete. We are well-trained to push aside the simple pleasures of life in favor of perfecting our commitments, which can leave us frequently feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Add this daily pressure to the normal ups and downs of Life, and we get the perfect recipe for stressing our Livers out!
According to Chinese medicine, the Liver is the storehouse as well as the regulator of the flow of Blood and Qi in the body. The Liver's job is to absorb and assimilate all toxins, provide and transport pure Blood, and cleanse the body of blockages so energy can move freely. When the Liver's function is disrupted, we are forced to take on more toxic burden than we can handle emotionally and physically. Without proper detoxification, our reactions towards our external environment are transformed into emotional outbursts of frustration and irritability. We become prone to allergies, autoimmune illness, and subject to chronic obstructive tension in the body that may manifest as headaches, neck and shoulder pain, jaw tension, etc.
With long periods of Liver stagnation and malfunction, Liver Blood is said to be consumed. This can lead to short term memory loss and mental fatigue . The eyes are directly connected with the Liver, resulting in vision impairment, dryness, and light sensitivity. Depression and mood swings--an epidemic in America today--are common symptoms of disordered Liver Qi.
The Liver governs the reproductive system in Chinese medicine. This ties in closely with the Western medical understanding of the liver and its critical role in processing hormones. PMS symptoms that point to Liver dysfunction include breast swelling and tenderness, irritability, cramping, blood clotting, migraines or headaches before, during, and after menstrual bleeding. Light periods or even lack of a period (amenorrhea) are indicative of the long-term consumption of Liver Blood. This condition may or may not coincide with Liver Qi Stagnation.
Certain foods and spices can help eliminate stagnation in the Liver, and produce a clear flow of energy. Milk thistle, dandelion greens and root, garlic, onions, turmeric, and common kitchen spices such as oregano, thyme and basil assist the Liver in it's moving and regulating function. Used in moderation, coffee can also be a potent Liver Qi regulator: patients often report their symptoms helped with a little caffeine. Careful though--too much can easily aggravate!
Other foods, such as squash, sweet potatoes, dates, beets, and dark leafy greens help to nourish Liver Blood. In fact, the best food for the liver IS liver: raw or cooked liver several times a month is the most common way traditional people supported overall health, and especially reproductive health.
Chinese herbal formulas and regular acupuncture are particularly effective for treating Liver Qi Stagnation and Liver Blood deficiency symptoms. Taking herbs for a few months and/or receiving weekly acupuncture treatments will resolve most PMS symptoms and menstrual discomfort, as well as headaches or migraines, neck and shoulder tension, irritability and insomnia, and even "plum pit qi" (sensation of a lump in the throat).
Exercise is very important for moving Liver Qi, and faciliating flow in the body. Chinese medicine recommends moderate exercise such as tai chi, yoga, biking and hiking. More extreme forms of exercise can lead to a loss of Liver blood. Liver Blood is said to nourish the tendons, and a deficiency will lead to weak and brittle tendons prone to injury. This Liver Blood loss with excessive exercise is seen most graphically in female athletes who typically will either stop having a monthly period, or have a very light period.
As the American culture thrives on competition and achievement, this determination welcomes all the typical Liver dysfunctions outlined in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. In a sense, the American culture is the definition of Liver Qi Stagnation. With balance, good Liver function can produce confidence, ambition, and assertion. Those with a healthy Liver function can be extremely successful, innovative, and pioneers at their passions in life. However without proper care, and taken to excess, this lifestyle quickly leads to burn-out, and many of the physiological symptoms listed above start to manifest.
Our advice for the typical American Liver-Stagnated individual is to meet the challenges of Life with enthusiasm, while at the same time being willing to carve out time for rest, relaxation, and "smelling the roses" along the way. Deep breaths, your chosen exercise that mindfully connects you with your body, intentional quiet moments where you literally have "nowhere to go and nothing to do", mindful eating, acupuncture, mindful sleep, and annual or seasonal liver detoxification cleanses should carry you down the road quite a ways toward being one of the few with a healthy Liver.