The Liver: A Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

I have had terrible problems with my liver. I had hepatitis A when I was a kid, and even though I had a very mild case, it has continued to effect my liver. As a result I have never been able to drink much alcohol (1 beer has had me puking for hours the next day — ugg). As a result I am always interested in any info I find on the liver. Drinking kombucha regularly has greatly improved my liver. This article is reposted from and gives some really helpful tips on how you can tell if something is going on with your liver as well as a simple breathing exercise, dietary recommendations, exercise suggestions and more. Spring is a good time to pamper your liver. A big thanks to Dr. Steven K.H. Aung for this article.

The Liver: A Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective by Steven K.H.Aung

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), balancing and harmonizing the body requires maintaining a healthy liver. According to the holistic perspective of this ancient medical practice, a healthy liver influences an individual’s health in many positive ways, helping to maximize our quality of life physically, mentally and spiritually. A healthy liver is necessary for digestion and detoxification, mental stability and harmony, and spiritual grounding to make sound decisions.

The liver is considered a zang (solid) organ that is located in the middle jiao (body cavity). In its function as a yin organ, the liver controls the smooth flow of energy and nutrition. The main energetic functions of the liver are to mediate the flow of qi (vital energy) and to store the blood, while the main spiritual functions of the liver are to control a person’s congenital (present at birth) body constitution, determination and decision-making. The liver is paired with the fu (hollow) organ, the gallbladder, which moves and excretes toxic end products. The liver and gallbladder function physiologically in homeostasis, while also balancing and harmonizing with the other organs–like the heart, lung and kidneys–according to the Five Elements Theory.

Are You a Wood Personality?

According to the Five Elements Theory, each individual has a certain personality and nature that corresponds with one of the five elements, which are wood, fire, earth, metal and water. The liver is considered to be within the domain of the wood element, and is most active in spring.

Individuals’ corresponding element can be determined by observing the shape of their hands. People who are considered “wood personalities” have middle finger lengths that are equivalent to the length of their palms, with many fine lines on the palm’s surface. They also display non-prominent thenar (palm muscles at the base of the thumb) and hypothenar muscles (which control the little finger), with a tendency toward Dupuytren’s contracture, where the fingers curl towards the palm and cannot fully straighten.

People of wood personalities always enjoy mother nature and the color green, and can be short-tempered. Some can be prone to alcohol addictions. Wood personalities may often come into conflict with individuals who are of the elements metal and fire. In contrast, they are more sympathetic and comfortable with individuals of the elements earth and water.

Signs of Liver Problems
Liver problems, imbalances or disorders have been shown in TCM to correspond with changes in vision, as the sensory organ associated with the liver is the eyes. Emotionally, the liver is negatively associated with anger and frustration, but can also be positively associated with generosity. Angry feelings, foul odors and shouting sounds directly stimulate the liver.

The basic taste corresponding to the liver in TCM is sour, and its sensitive climate condition is wind. A windy day will cause liver qi flow to become stagnant and unbalanced, producing symptoms of dizziness and vertigo. Depression is always associated with liver qi stasis.

When the liver is hyperactive, it “overworks” and produces liver “heat.” Liver heat can then cause increased blood pressure, hot flashes and migraine headaches. Liver heat most frequently manifests as fissures and cracks on the surface of the right side of the posterior tongue along its edge. In extreme cases, such as cancer, the manifestations of liver heat can include purplish discoloration and lesions on the tongue. It can also be apparent as redness on the palms of the hand and soles of the feet. On the face, the liver is frequently reflected by the condition of the cheeks, known in Western medicine as rosacea, especially on the left side of the face. Alcoholism results in liver irritation, producing liver heat that can also clinically manifest as rosacea.

According to TCM, every organ controls a specific tissue of the human body. The finger and toe nails present the main clinical manifestations of the liver. If the liver is constantly irritated, it is reflected by unhealthy, thick nails with lines or bumps. Bumpy nails reveal that the liver qi is stagnant. A lined nail that peels easily shows that the liver qi is deficient. Nails with thick lines indicate that there is excess “heat” in the liver.

Therefore, in TCM, physiological or pathological disorders of the liver can be detected and diagnosed by observing external manifestations of the internal disturbance.

The Liver’s Meridian System
The basic tenets of TCM hold that every organ has its own meridian pathway that is paired on the left and right sides of the body. It is along these pathways that qi flows. Qi flows both from the outside to the inside and the inside to the outside of the body through acupoints, so as to exchange energy between an individual and their environment.

The liver has its own meridian system, beginning at the “Liver Point 1” on the big toes. From there, the liver meridian runs along the ankles, proceeds up the insides of the knees, and continues through the groin region, across the abdomen, to terminate at “Liver Point 14” in the lower region of the chest. All points along the liver meridian have a direct specific action for the liver, as well as other bodily influences.

Caring for the Liver

Since the TCM approach to caring for the liver involves the totality of physical, mental and spiritual well-being, there are many natural approaches for an individual to choose.

Acupuncture treatments involve inserting a needle into points along the meridians to stimulate the influences of the organ to then integrate and harmonize the whole body system. If the body is out of balance, a medical acupuncturist must employ extensive information, knowledge and experience to adjust and balance the patient according to TCM theory and the body’s needs. In addition to acupuncture, acupressure and Tuina-An Mor (manipulation and massage) are very helpful treatments in caring for the liver.

Diet and herbal therapies also play an important role in the maintenance of the whole body system. The consumption of green vegetables and sour foods, according to TCM diet therapy, and the use of herbal medications, such as milk thistle and woodberries, stimulate and regenerate the liver and maintain its health.

Physical, mental and spiritual training exercises can also impart balance to the liver by actively stretching the muscles and tendons. Medical Qi Gong (body-mind and spirit meditation) and Tai Chi Chuan are particularly effective when used for self-care, by incorporating the mind and spirit to heal the body.

In Aung Medical Qi Gong practice, Breathing Exercise #3 is most optimal for the liver. In this concentration exercise, the liver energy is cleansed and tonified, and qi flow is unblocked and realigned by inhaling, holding, inhaling and exhaling the breath in sequence. The practitioner should alternate between completing a full sequence of breaths while visualizing white, and then a full sequence while visualising green. The white sequence should correspond to containment of the breath within a “small circle” from the crown of the head to the bottom of the abdomen, while the green sequence should expand the visualization to a “large circle” from the crown to the anus. Specific phonation sounds for enhancement of the liver to accompany the exercise might involve uttering the sound “SHEARRR” with the chakra sound “RAMMM.”


Dr. Steven K.H. Aung is a geriatric and family physicain and TCM practitioner and teacher. He seeks to blend Easter, Western and natural medicine in his medical clinic in Edmonton, Alberta. At the University of Albertya, Dr. Aung is a clinical professor in the departments of medicine and family medicine and adjunct professor in the faculty of extension and the faculty of rehabilitation medicine. Dr Aung is also a founding member and current president of the World Natural Medicine Foundation, the Canadian Medical Acupuncture Society and the International Buddhist Friends Association. Find out more at

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