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Caring for your Liver and Gallbladder to help manage stress

The topic of this blog post is very appropriate given we are now well into a most magnificent Spring, which is associated in Chinese medicine with the Liver and its paired Yang organ the Gallbladder. 

From both a western and eastern perspective it is a time of cleansing, new beginnings, detoxing mind, body, emotions, our living environments and hopefully our spirits. 

I will briefly explain the resonances of Spring with the Liver/Gallbladder. Chinese medicine always connects our outer environment with our inner terrain of mind and body, and each organ system has a series of correspondences that I will outline below:

The colour associated with the Liver/Gallbladder is green and it makes perfect sense to absorb the fresh green energy of Spring by enjoying being in nature. Green foods are also very cleansing (but more of that later).

The Liver governs the smooth movement of Qi throughout our body and mind. The Gallbladder channel travels from head to toe winding around many areas including the sides of the head, ears, shoulders, ribs, and lateral sides of the legs. The Liver and Gallbladder also govern the joints, tendons and ligaments. Tension headaches, migraines, tight neck and shoulders, and swollen achy joints are a few of the signs that your liver and Gallbladder energy might have stopped flowing freely and you are building up stress in your body. 

The emotion associated with the Liver is anger (with frustration and depression also being part of the spectrum) and the sound is shouting. Being in lockdown, Spring and Liver time is a perfect storm for experiencing greater levels of stress. However, when the Liver energy is in free flow, assertiveness, determination to achieve our goals and an ability to be flexible and open-minded can blossom and we feel grounded and comfortable in mind and body.

  • A good balance of exercise, stretching and rest are beneficial for staying flexible and looking after your joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments (as well as having a de-stressing effect on stagnating emotions. Any of the practices such as Qigong, Yoga or Tai Chi will help harmonise your emotions (as well as improving flexibility, balance and strength). Find what works for you: it could also be: a stretch class, aerobics, zumba, walking, or journalling and any other form of reflective quiet time to help balance your liver energy.  

The Liver and Gallbladder are likened to the general in the army and are responsible for making and executing our plans.

  •  It is important especially in lockdown to have structure in our day and to make do-able timetables and plans that balance work, rest and play, to keep the Liver and Gallbladder energy flowing. Plans that become stressful and rigid are another matter!

The liver stores the Blood 

  • Getting sufficient rest is very important to improve the quality of our Blood from a Chinese medicine perspective and is especially vital for fertility patients (this could be part of a whole newsletter in itself). Even a 10-minute rest during the day can make all the difference.

The Liver opens to the eyes and manifests in the nails. A pathway of the Liver channel connects with the eyes. Many eye problems have their origin in a congested, stagnated overworked Liver, while brittle, weak nails are a sign that so-called Liver Blood is deficient. 

The Liver is an extremely complex organ performing many vital tasks including  multiple pathways of detoxification. Just as we go on a spring clean of our house, now is a good time to cleanse our Liver and Gallbladder. If you want to do a full liver cleanse I would advise doing it under supervision of a health practitioner, but here are some simple tips to help to take the toxic load off your liver and gallbladder and release more energy.

  • Start the day with one to two mugs of plain warm water for a great boost to hydration and cleansing. The flavour associated with the liver is sour and lemon and cider vinegar on food and in drinks is very useful (but in moderation). 

  •  Include plenty of dark green leafy vegetables and beets (which are also blood nourishing) and cruciferous vegetables, which all help with the detoxification processes. 

  • Avoid over-salty, fatty, chemically adulterated and over-sweetened foods which all can congest the liver. Processed foods are both denatured of vitamins and minerals and more of a strain on the liver. Too much fried food is very toxic causing oxidative stress that the Liver then has to deal with, but including plenty of good quality fats such as avocados and (non-rancid) nuts and seeds, and wild oily fish such as salmon or mackerel is important.  

  • Eat organic where possible to reduce the chemical load on the liver. Use filtered water and glass storage jars for foods. 

  • Use less toxic cleaning and skin care products where feasible. There are a surprising number of kitchen cupboard staples such as vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, and lemon that can be used for cleaning. Don't forget that the Liver has a lot more detoxification to do the more chemicals that are introduced into your system. 

  • Include some sprouted foods (that have fresh enzymes to help with digestion) and organic lemon zest (has d-limonene that supports liver detoxification enzymes). 

  • Include plenty of fibre-rich foods such as chia seeds, fruit and vegetables, beans and oats to help eliminate toxins daily. 

  • Consume good quality protein with your meals (but not in excess) as it can put extra strain on your liver. Aim for a small portion with each meal rather than making it the entire meal. 

  • Skip late night snacks which will disrupt your sleep and detoxification process. The Liver's key regenerating time is 11pm -3am. It is also important to get to sleep before then. The Gallbladder is active from 11pm-1am so if you are awake during this period you could start planning and thinking about your work and have difficulty switching off and falling asleep.

  • Go easy on alcohol and caffeine.

  • Dry skin brushing with a loofah helps with detoxification which would otherwise fall to the liver and place more burden on it.

  • Take care if you are cold internally or have a weak digestion, that you consume less raw food and include more cooked food. (You might start using lighter cooking methods such as blanching and steaming.) Some Chinese medicine practitioners are totally against eating raw food. It does place more strain on the digestion so a balance between raw and cooked is important. And everyone would be advised to minimise eating food directly out of the fridge or frozen.

When making changes to diet and lifestyle it is important to go slowly, implement the suggestions that resonate best for you. You know yourself better than anyone else and no one size fits all. Building better foundations to good health is really satisfying and rewarding and you will notice the effects, but give your mind and body time and space to process the changes.

If you would like to discuss any of this further, please do email me:

At present I am also offering free 15 minute tele-health consultations on Wednesday mornings to help support you further. Do email me if you would like to arrange one.

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