In traditional Chinese medicine, the Liver is responsible for (1) ensuring the smooth flow of Qi and (2) storing and releasing blood. If the Liver Qi is good, the blood vessels will be free flowing and the Qi of the body moves easily, our emotions are balanced, our mind harmonious and our body supple.

1. Ensuring the smooth flow of Qi

If the qi is slow in moving around the body, the flow of blood will also be affected and thus we may find blockages or poor flow of blood.

Liver qi moves in all directions, unlike most of the other organs whose qi generally moves up or down. The liver is closely related to the emotions and in highly emotional times, the liver can suffer. Stagnant liver qi can cause depression or sadness. Overactive liver qi can cause insomnia and dizziness.

Being of the element wood, Liver Qi likes to move upwards, straight up like a tree. If it is impaired, food can become stagnant in the stomach resulting in symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

 

2. Storing Blood

The liver stores blood when the body does not require it and releases it according to the needs of the body. When at rest, blood will flow back to the liver and when the body moves, it is released by the liver into the organs, muscles and sinews. When this function is impaired and the liver cannot store blood, symptoms such as vertigo, cramping muscles and tendons, scanty menstruation and / or amenorrhea and rigid limbs will manifest.

According to the The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, when we close our eyes and fall asleep, the blood returns to the liver to be rejuvenated.

In women, the volume of blood stored in the liver will affect menstruation – poor liver functioning will cause scanty menstruation. Stagnant liver qi will cause painful or cramping menstruation while excess blood in the liver will result in heavy or long menstruation. Due to its role in blood storage and movement, the liver is important to the wellbeing of women.

The Neijing states, “In females, the ability to conceive arrives at the age of 14; at this point, the conception vessel will be open, the penetrating vessel will be exuberant, and therefore menstruation arrives in regular intervals and pregnancy becomes possible…At the age of 49, the conception vessel becomes deficient, the penetrating vessel is exhausted, the ability to conceive (tiangui) dries up, and menstruation stops; aging is taking place and there will be no more pregnancies.”

The liver governs the tendons and when there is problems with liver qi, the tendons will be weak resulting in poor ability in movement and numbness in the limbs. Strong liver blood will show in strong, healthy nails. In diagnosis of liver problems, check the nails for dryness (brittle, cracked, pale or thin nails) to indicate insufficient blood in the liver.

The liver opens into the eyes and bright eyes, full of life and vitality reflect a strong liver qi. Deficient liver qi can result in blurred vision and over time, problems with the eye develop. Dry eyes or irritated eyes can be traced back to fire in the liver.

Our etheral soul is housed by the liver. The etheral (spiritual) soul is  closest to the western concept of soul and it gives our lives purpose and meaning. The lungs are responsible for storing the coporeal soul. When we ‘die’, the etheral soul leaves the body and continues the journey.

The Liver stores blood and also commands the ‘ministerial fire’ – when in good health, this fire is warm but not hot. A healthy liver helps the Spleen qi ascend and the stomach qi descend.

Element: Wood

Body part:  Opens into the eyes / nails

Paired with: Gallbladder.

Yin or Yang: Liver is a Yin organ.

Time: Liver qi most active between 1-3am.

Season; Spring

Taste: Sour.

Illustration showing the liver channel of leg  -  from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust.
Illustration showing the liver channel of leg – from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust.