Liver health is a topic for much speculation on the glorious interweb - how do we cleanse the Liver? How do we protect the Liver? Why should we care about our Liver? Its kind of endless, but the Liver is very important, both physically and energetically, and kind of amazing due to its regenerative abilities (if you donate your liver for a transplant, they commonly take anywhere from 40-60%! You regenerate most of what’s taken over time and continue to function just fine).
Despite all the chatter, however, its Springtime which is the time of the Wood element in Chinese Medicine - the best time of year to strengthen the Liver and I want to honor this time by talking about one of my favorite herbal remedies - Xiao Yao Wan, also known as Free and Easy Wanderer.
So, are you ready to feel Free and Easy? Read on to learn more about Liver Qi, Xiao Yao Wan and how Acupuncture works to strengthen this amazing organ.
Liver Function in Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Liver is responsible for smooth flow in the body. The smooth flow of Qi, the smooth flow of your emotions, the smooth flow of menstruation and the smooth flow of digestion. Its primary job is to harmonize the system and keep everything copacetic.
When things are not flowing well, however, due to external factors like poor diet and stress or internal factors directly contributing to poor digestion or liver health like Hepatitis, IBS, fatty liver disease etc., the Liver can become impaired in doing its job and become stagnant.
Since the Liver’s energetic function affects so many actions in the body, Liver Qi Stagnation can be part of many different ailments. It can contribute to:
Xiao Yao Wan - Free and Easy Wanderer
Xiao Yao Wan is a relatively simple formula that focuses on the specific harmony between the Liver and the Spleen. In Chinese Medicine the Spleen is primarily responsible for digestion, not the stomach (remember this is energetically, not physically) and this includes transforming food and drink into blood for the bodies’ use. The Liver then governs menstruation specifically and holds blood as part of its harmonizing function.
When the Liver Qi becomes stagnant, it often attacks the Spleen instead of helping it with digestive function. This specifically results in feeling sensitive to stress and in certain patterns of IBS, PMS, menstrual cramping, and loose stool associated with stress.
Xiao Yao Wan addresses this pattern by combining herbs that move Liver Qi (mint, Buplerum), move blood (angelica, peony), tonify the Spleen (astractylodis), Drain Dampness to improve Spleen function (poria) and harmonize (ginger, licorice).
It is suitable for men or women who feel stressed out or out of balance, or for women who have PMS especially with cramps, water retention and irritability. Its also excellent for people who want to protect their Liver against upcoming stressful events.
This remedy is not indicated for people who are pregnant or nursing, and if you have Hepatitis and are on interferon therapy you should check with your provider - Buplerum or Chai Hu is a powerful anti-inflammatory for the Liver and can change interferon dosing.
Acupuncture for the Liver
Herbs are highly effective on their own, but always go a little further when combined with Acupuncture. Acupuncture for the Liver varies person by person depending on their individual presentation. Do they show more heat as a result of long standing Liver Qi Stagnation? Do they show more emotional distress or digestive symptoms? And how do they sleep?
Each of these things will change any individual person’s point prescription, but since the function of the Liver is to balance and harmonize body function, the Acupuncture treatment for the Liver focuses on the same. We can use points to move Qi, to move blood, to strengthen Liver function and - just like Xiao Yao Wan - to harmonize. Acupuncture works by balancing the imbalance shown as a result of Liver distress to improve Liver function and reduce associated symptoms.
Ear points are especially effective for the stress component of Liver Disharmony and for promoting Liver Detoxification. They can be stimulated with Acupuncture and with Acupressure after the fact using ear seeds or ear beads to extend treatment. AND you can even learn to do it yourself as a take home therapy!
Ready to be Free and Easy!
As mentioned above, Xiao Yao Wan is pretty easy to find, but Plum Flower is my favorite brand of traditional remedies. Plum Flower has a great reputation, is GMP Certified and comes in a traditional teapill form for easy absorption. You can also find them in my office, at OCOM and at Whole Foods or New Seasons.
As for Acupuncture - you can book in online anytime or, if you have questions, comment below or come in for a consult!
Until then - meditation, movement and plenty of water are the orders of the day to promote Liver health and wellness!
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.