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Ask The Herbalist: Liver & Gallbladder Function


Liver Health

 

In many cultures, Spring is the time in which we need to promote and support healthy Liver and Gallbladder function. The transition into the Spring season is the optimal time to cleanse or tonic these digestive organs because this is when they are most active. Recently, with the warming temperatures and windy weather, you may have felt a certain something in the air…that would be Spring Liver energy! The old phrase “Spring cleaning” isn’t just about cleaning your place of residence, it is also referring to the cleaning, organizing, and strengthening of your body and overall lifestyle.

The sensations of Spring may bring on the following:

  • Desires for change
  • Motivation or creativity
  • Anger or frustration
  • Emotional constipation
  • Physical constipation or loose stools
  • Periods of intense excitement
  • Irregularities in menstrual cycles
  • Desires to roll around outside and play in the dirt again!

We have interviewed one of our in-house Clinical Herbalists – Paige Hill, owner of Oak Leaf Herbal – to give her perspective on supporting Liver health:

 

From and Herbalist’s perspective, what is the role of the Liver in the body?

The liver has a few main physiological functions:

  1. Perform catabolism for the entire body
    • Catabolism is the breaking down of wastes in order to be eliminated or detoxified, or the cutting up of nutrients to be utilized by the body.
    • Through this function the liver maintains the balance of many substances in the blood, by breaking down chemicals that are in excess.
  2. Storage
    • The liver stores blood, nutrients, sugars, and many other catabolites (other substances produced from catabolic processes) in the cells of the liver.
    • These reserves are released back into the blood when the body needs them. This is how your body maintains a healthy blood sugar, even when fasting.
  3. Aides in digestion through the production of bile
    • Bile is the digestive fluid that helps the body digest fats. It also lubricates the intestines and stimulates the movement of food through the digestive system.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the liver is also in charge of supporting the functions of:

  1. The eyes
    • Imbalances in the liver are reflected in the eyes, such as heat in the liver will cause redness and irritation in the eyes.
  2. The blood
    • The liver is in charge of storing blood at night, when we rest, and replenishing the blood’s nutrients. The liver also makes blood proteins for uses like clotting.
  3. The reproductive system
    • Part of this connection is in the liver role of balancing hormone levels in the blood. The liver also plays a big role in menstruation and fertility through the livers action on the blood itself.
  4. The nervous system
    • When stressed, the liver stimulates the nervous system causing muscle tension, spasms, headaches, and many other symptoms. This tension can also disrupt the flow of blood and the movement of the digestion, resulting in stagnation.
  5. The emotions
    • The liver is responsible for processing the emotion of anger and frustration. When in balance, a person will feel strong and able to tackle any obstacle. When out of balance, a person can feel angry and wanting to fight, or timid and defeated.

 

How is the Gallbladder related to Liver function?

The gallbladder is the liver’s sidekick, and sits just underneath the liver. As the liver makes bile, which is full of the toxic wastes from catabolism, it is transported to and stored in the gallbladder. Here the bile is concentrated into a potent digestive stimulant. When the stomach empties food into the intestines, the gallbladder is stimulated to release its bile. Thus the gallbladder directly aids in the elimination of wastes and in digestion.

When someone has their gallbladder removed, the liver is connected straight to the intestines and is supposed to produce and release bile on command. Since the liver was designed to continuously make bile, it has a hard time keeping up with the demands of digestion. Further the bile made by the liver is dilute and watery, which does not have the same power as the concentrated bile from the gallbladder. Without the bile’s contribution, fats are not well digested and food often slides too quickly through the intestines. Many people agree that they are not sure what is worse, the digestive issues they had before having their gallbladder removed, or the digestive issues after having it removed.

 

Why is it important to maintain healthy Liver and Gallbladder function?

I like to say “If the liver’s not happy, nobody’s happy,” because the body relies on the liver for many diverse functions. If any of these functions are disrupted, the consequences can be felt in the nerves, muscles, digestion, and mood. The liver is also the most susceptible to stress related imbalances, because of its connection to the nervous system. Because of this, most people have at least slight or occasional stagnation in their liver due to stress.

In TCM the liver is in charge of supporting all bodily functions by ensuring the smooth flow of blood, energy, food, fluids, etc. By improving and maintaining a healthy liver, all of the body benefits. In Ayurvedic medicine the digestion is the core of all health. The digestion is all about getting the proper nutrients and eliminating wastes. A strong liver plays a crucial role in good digestion, assimilation, and storage of nutrients, and is the body’s center for detoxification.

 

When the Liver is out of balance, how does it manifest in the body?

Excess – Anger, irritability, mood swings, headaches, muscle tension, hypertension, allergies, pain, painful menstruation, acid reflux, belching, bloating, constipation or alternating constipation and diarrhea, craving protein and fats

Deficient – Timidness, lack of assertiveness, depression, fatigue, weak muscles, insomnia, dizziness, scanty menstruation, blurred vision, weak digestion, poor fat metabolism, poor appetite, craving sweets

 

What are some ways to restore balance to the Liver?

Excess – Because the liver is so affected by stress and particularly frustrating situations, it is important to express your thoughts and feelings when something upsets you. Bottling in emotions causes physical irritation and stagnation in the liver. The liver also loves being organized, getting things done, and checking tasks off a list. One of the best lists to check something off of, for your liver health, is your bucket list. Get away from the daily grind and do something you have always wanted to do. Herbs can be helpful to reduce irritation and congestion in the liver, such as Dandelion Root, Oregon Grape, or Bupleurum.  Bitter herbs often have a detoxifying, liver stimulating action and help the liver to cleanse. Minimize food and drinks that irritate the liver, such as coffee, black tea, caffeine, alcohol, excessively spicy or greasy foods as well as large portions of meat.

Deficient – The most common cause of liver deficiency is blood deficiency, such as anemia. The liver needs a lot of resources in order to carry out its many functions, and if the blood is not rich in nutrients, the liver cannot perform at its best. In this case, blood building herbs and foods are essential to bring liver function back up. Herbs like Stinging Nettle Leaf, Dong Quai, or Yellow Dock are all blood tonics that can aid a deficient liver. Dark leafy greens, beets, bone broth, and meats are all nutrient dense foods that can build healthy blood. Avoid too many raw or cold foods, because these are harder for the body to digest.

 

What foods support Liver health?

Foods for excess – Light meals, lots of vegetables

Foods for deficiency – Dark greens, beets, bone broth, meats

Foods to avoid – Coffee, black tea, caffeine, alcohol, excessively spicy or greasy, large portions of meat.  These can all cause irritation in the liver, which is not good for either excess or deficient types.

 

Can you please explain “Liver Qi Stagnation”?

Qi roughly translates to energy or the force which causes action or change in the body. When it becomes stagnant, various functions can become impaired, because energy is either not reaching an organ or an action is not able to be completed. Liver Qi Stagnation is a type of liver excess and has many of the same symptoms listed above. Energy, bile, and blood all get stuck in the liver and are not allowed to easily move. This pattern is especially marked by mood disturbances from anger and frustration to just not feeling like yourself. If you have ever been in a “funk,” that is Liver Qi Stagnation. 

To release Liver Qi Stagnation, follow the recommendations for the Excess Liver type. It is important to step away from stressful situations to re-center yourself. Take advantage of vacation time and down time to relax and rejuvenate. Nervine herbs like Wood Betony, Skullcap, or St John’s Wort can be helpful in combination with lifestyle changes.

 

Anything else Paige wants to add:

The liver, by far, is the most abused organ of the body. With stress, hectic lifestyles, coffee to stimulate us, alcohol to bring us down, diets lacking real nutrition, and staying up all hours of the night, our poor livers are bombarded left and right. It takes the brunt of our bad choices, to protect the rest of the body from harm. Like a soldier in a war, it fights to keep us healthy. If the liver is strong enough to withstand all our torment, imagine what it could for you if the war ended.

 

The Liver is involved in many more bodily functions than what has been presented in this interview today. Follow us as we ask Paige to dive deeper into the importance of Liver health and how it specifically affects men's and women's health. If you have further questions about your personal Liver and Gallbladder health, feel free to reach out to Paige for more information: paige.olh7@gmail.com or give us a call to schedule your next Herbalist appointment: 402-533-4433 or you may also visit our clinic page: Prairie Star's Herbal Clinic. You may also visit her website or follow her on social media to see what she’s up to: http://oakleafhealingcenter.com/ @oak_leaf_herbal 


1 comment


  • Jenny

    Thank you for sharing this informative article. I’m so fortunate to have Paige guiding me on my way to a healthier liver and life :)


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