We often say in Traditional Chinese Medicine that the liver is the system most easily susceptible to stress. Stress knots the Qi (energy) and makes its flow stagnate - this happens most quickly in the liver energy system. The liver, in TCM, is in charge of the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. This means that if Qi flow is impaired (ie, by stress), the liver system will suffer. Likewise, if the liver energy system is weak or stagnant (from lifestyle choices, diet, trauma, emotional stress, illness or genetic factors), Qi flow throughout the body may be impaired.
Common symptoms of liver Qi stagnation include irritability, anger, tension headaches, migraines, trouble sleeping, PMS, irregular menstrual cycles and just a general stagnation of feeling stuck or blocked.
Chinese herbs can be a very useful treatment for moving stuck liver Qi and helping it to flow smoothly, to reduce these sorts of symptoms. Chinese herbs are safe and effective when prescribed by a licensed practitioner. To effectively treat liver Qi stagnation, other supportive energy systems must also be moved or nourished, depending on the person. For this reason, these herbs are almost never taken alone, but rather as part of a formula targeting liver Qi stagnation as well as the backdrop on which is occurs.
Chai Hu (Bupleurum): Chai Hu is one of the most commonly used herbs to regulate the liver Qi and treat Qi stagnation, so it can be used in formulas targeting depression, stress, tension headaches and menstrual pain. It also has a function of harmonizing the liver and the spleen energy systems, for treating indigestion, bloating and flank pain. It has a rising action, so needs to be used cautiously in patients with high blood pressure, but making it ideal for patients with sinking energy causing issues such as prolapse or hemorrhoids.
Xiang Fu (Cyperus Rhizome): Xiang Fu directly spreads and regulates liver Qi, for treating symptoms such as hypochondriac pain, menstrual pain, irregular periods, epigastric pain and stress. Xiang Fu moves the Qi but is said to “move the blood within the Qi,” meaning it can move stuck blood by moving the Qi, and that it is a powerful Qi mover. It is an excellent herb for gynecological issues stemming from liver Qi stagnation.
Bo He (Field Mint): Bo He is an herb for “releasing exterior heat,” which means fighting off acute infection with symptoms such as sore throat, fever, cough and headache. However, it has a secondary function of mildly soothing the liver Qi. As such, it can be a great supportive herb for liver Qi stagnation. It can therefore be used to treat menstrual issues, emotional issues, PMS, temporal headaches or pain along the sides of the body.
Yu Jin (Turmeric Tuber): Yu Jin is an herb used to move stuck blood. It is therefore frequently used in formulas to treat pain following traumatic injury to an area. However, it also has the function of moving liver Qi, so it can be added to formulas for symptoms such as chest and flank pain, muscle pain or menstrual pain.
Fo Shou (Finger Citron Fruit, “Buddha’s Hand”): Fo Shou is another herb that directly regulates the liver Qi, specifically for symptoms such as rib pain or belching. It also strengthens the digestive system through tonifying the spleen and stomach, as well as drying dampness and transforming phlegm to treat chronic wet coughs.
For the most effective and safe treatment, consult a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Safe home treatments for liver Qi stagnation include mint tea, turmeric tea and exercise.
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.