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What's wrong with my liver?


​When I first started seeing patients I was very eager to give my patients a clear picture of their condition and how they got to it. One of the phrases I used very often, a phrase that was uttered very frequently during my Chinese med studies, is "You've got liver qi stagnation" of sometimes ""liver blood stagnation" and even "liver blood deficiency".

Later on in my career I stopped using these terms almost entirely, since I realized how horrified my patients got at the prospects of them having a diseased organ in their body, especially since their primary care physician never hinted at any problem with their hepatic functions.

It is only recently that I learned how to explain myself and my patients what this "liver" is all about, and how to tie it in with what we know about the scientific concept of what the liver does.

When we talk in Chinese medicine about "the liver" it is not the organ we know from physiology and anatomy books. Sometimes there are indirect loose connection between the physical organ and functionality and the phenomena we, the Oriental medicine people describe, but in general it is an overall functionality of the patient rather than a specific organ's physiological function.

"liver qi stagnation", or sometimes referred to as liver qi depression" is such a general term that I can say with certainty that we all suffer from, to one extent or another. If we only had it mildly, we wouldn't even mention it, not to mention need to treat it. It is only when we over do it that we start suffering from all kinds of inconveniences and medical issues such as pain, digestion problems. sleep issues etc.

So what do we mean when we say you have a qi or blood stagnation? The two major functionalities attributed to the liver in Chinese medicine are:

* To control smooth movement and transformation, both in our body and mind

* To nourish and cultivate the blood.

The second functionality of the liver resonates with what we know from western medicine abut the functionality of the liver: it filters the blood, thus "nourishes" it. It is important to note that the absorption of nutrients, is a function attributed to the spleen rather than the liver, since nutrition is not attributed to the blood system in Chinese medicine, but to qi.

This functionality of the liver takes place at night' while we are asleep, since it has more of a "yin" quality. This is also why liver blood is so tightly linked to sleep issues.

But the first functionality of the liver is the more difficult to understand, since it sounds, and it is, very amorphous: "a smooth transition" means that we do not go through emotional strife, which is a kind of a disruption in the flow, it means that we do enough physical activity so our energy is not blocked, it means that our organs functions as they should with no disruption etc.

A disruption in one area over spills to other areas: if we are frustrated we may experience nods in our digestive system. When we temporarily don't have enough energy we may experience pain or fatigue, when our digestive tract is troubled it may reverse the physiological direction of its flow (belching, vomit, diarrhea) etc.

There are many ways to help harmonizing the energetic flow in our bodies. The most obvious tools the Chinese physician uses are of course acupuncture, herbal formulas and manual therapy.

However the patient can achieve at least as much by maintaining a lifestyle that removes these blockages: proper physical workout, which is neither to demanding nor too little, eating food that fit their digestive system and is in the right quantity, reaching a higher psychological awareness of the events taking place in our lives and above all reducing stress in our everyday life.

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