The longer days of spring bring more light, sunshine, and the rebirth of plants. For many people it is a happier season. Spring can open you to a fresh, bright perspective on your life as you emerge from the quiet, inward energy of winter.
However, for some, spring can bring on allergies, sinus issues, colds, migraines, digestive challenges, irritability, greater stress, depression, and intensity of chronic health conditions. Your mental, emotional states and physical health are influenced by and change with the cycles of nature.
Traditional Chinese Medicine, thousands of years old, is a credible health system, and is truly holistic medicine. Its Five Element Theory provides a good understanding of how nature and your body are intimately connected, and mirror each other. TCM relates each season to specific organs in the body and corresponding emotions. Understanding seasonal cycles can help you be healthier, happier, more content, fulfilled, and productive.
The liver and gall bladder correlate with the spring season and wood element. Both organs are quite active in the process of cleaning out and repairing. It is the perfect time of the year to give them some extra attention. But what kind of attention do they really need?
There are many syndromes that impact the liver. Stagnation, congestion, heat, dampness, wind, and blood and yin deficiency cause a variety of liver-related health issues. Each necessitates different approaches. Many people oversimplify the complexities of the liver and do more harm than good with a gunshot approach.
This post focuses on causes of and solutions for liver stagnation and congestion since many people experience symptoms of them in body and mind. I’ve also included symptoms; a gentle spring liver cleanse; and provide some suggestions for cleansing toxic thoughts and emotions. The other syndromes will be addressed in a future post.
What Does the Liver Do
The liver is the largest organ and is constantly working to process everything you consume. This means food, beverages, medications and supplements; substances you ingest through breathing and through your skin; and through your thoughts and feelings. It is said to be like the General of an army. Its complimentary organ, the gall bladder, gives the ability to make decisions.
The liver stores and distributes nourishment for the entire body. It is involved in the storage, formation, and breakdown of blood. Toxins are filtered and purified by the blood. When the liver is stagnant, blood purification can be inadequate, leading to the release of toxins through the skin. Impure blood is a cause of acne, eczema, psoriases, carbuncles, boils, acidosis and allergies. Toxic blood feeds all degenerative conditions, including arthritis and cancer.
Liver cells make bile which aids digestion. It stores bile in the gall bladder to be used in the intestines for the breakdown of fats, enhancing the ability of small intestines to absorb fatty acids. The liver is responsible for smooth flow or energy and blood throughout your body.
Hormonal balance is regulated by the liver and kidneys. Many menstrual, menopausal and other hormonal difficulties are rooted in a stagnant liver. Tendons, ligaments, and eyes are ruled by the liver. It also regulates your emotions.
Symptoms of a Stagnant Liver
- Nervous system disorders
- Lumps and swellings
- Chronic indigestion; acid reflux
- Menstrual and menopause problems; other hormonal issues
- Muscle pain; tendon and ligament issues
- Impure blood which causes skin disorders
- Eye problems; cataracts, glaucoma, dry eyes, night blindness
- Goiter and Thyroid Issues
- Neck and back tension; headaches, including migraines
- Distended abdomen, chest, or breasts
- Impatience, irritability, moodiness, frustration, anger, depression
Causes of a Stagnant, Congested Liver
Excesses of many types, including rich, fatty, greasy food such as cheese, eggs and cream, congest the liver. Intoxicants; highly refined and denatured food; chemicals and prescription drugs also contribute to a sluggish and congested liver. Overeating and late night eating inhibit the smooth flow of liver energy.
But food isn’t everything. How you perceive yourself and internalize your life’s experiences have as much effect as the food you eat. Perfectionism, control issues, need to be right, critical of self and others, resentment, and holding a grudge all damage the smooth flow of energy to and from the liver. Repressed emotions are stored in your liver.
Spring is a good time to lighten up these excesses. Your eating habits of one season are reflected in your health during the next season, and people generally eat more fat, salt, and heavier foods in the winter.
The Stagnant Liver Personality
Some indicators of liver stagnation include: excessive anger, impatience, frustration, resentment, edginess, arrogance, stubbornness, aggression, and an impulsive or explosive personality. When these states are repressed and not transformed, they cause depression. Mood swings are liver related. Emotions are an expression of qi (pronounced chee). When the liver is overloaded its energy becomes stagnant. That energy seeks release and is often expressed through extreme emotional states.
A healthy liver is reflected in patient, calm, orderly, creative, self-expressive, confident, direct, clear-minded, passionate, and decisive behavior. These qualities are already present within you. Heal your liver and they will become your constant companion.
Foods for Spring Health
While cooking food helps to maintain digestive balance, it’s time to use lighter and simpler food preparation; shorter cooking times at higher heat to thoroughly cook the food; light steaming, quick sautéing, and simmering. Baking, broiling, slow cooking, and pressure cooking create more heat in the food and in you. These methods are more suitable for the winter months, and all year round for those with cold conditions.
Green is the Color of Spring
Adding lots of green plants to your diet will put you in harmony with the season and with balanced health. Choosing foods with the expansive qualities of spring–fresh greens, sprouts, and young plants–will help to eliminate any excesses from the heavier eating and cooking of winter.
Green foods with an upward rising energy are beneficial because they clear stagnancy and cool heat in the liver. They offset stress from alcohol and drugs, reduce cholesterol, cleanse the arteries, detoxify the liver, and have antioxidant properties.
Include fresh dandelions, watercress, and other hard, dark, leafy greens, lightly steamed. Use leeks, scallions, sprouts, micro greens, pea shoots, chives, and parsley. Asparagus, cabbage, beets, daikon, radishes, and brussel sprouts are excellent spring foods that help to harmonize the liver. Here are a few health-supportive recipes you make like.
High chlorophyll products such as chlorella, algae, wheatgrass, and spirulina are purifying, cleansing, and rejuvenating. They all have different properties and benefits and are not one-size-fits-all. Contact me for help determining best chlorophyll products for you.
Culinary herbs, classified as the pungent flavor, move stagnant Qi (chee) and improve a sluggish liver. Include horseradish, bay leaf, dill, caraway, marjoram, basil, rosemary, dill, mint, and fennel. Vinegar is also useful for removing liver stagnation.
The whole, unrefined grains barley and Hato Mugi (also called Job’s Tears) cool and cleanse the liver and should be emphasized during spring.
Sour is the Flavor of Spring
The sour flavor is most active in the liver where it counteracts the effects of rich, greasy food, and the heavier foods of winter. It functions as a solvent by breaking down fats and protein. Sour helps in digestion to dissolve minerals for improved assimilation and can help strengthen weakened lungs.
In spring it’s appropriate to emphasize some sour foods such as lemon, sauerkraut, vinegar, pickles, plums, berries, tart apples, rhubarb, sourdough bread, and sprouted grains. Try my lemon pie and Tempeh Reuben Sandwich with Sauerkraut.
Increasing these foods can help correct physical and emotional liver imbalances. Of course it’s equally important to minimize fatty, heavy, congesting foods, and to eliminate intoxicants and chemicals. Doing so will give you the vitality to enjoy all the activities of the warmer seasons.
Scroll down for a gentle spring cleanse.
Professional herbal formulas, along with a health supportive diet, are very helpful for clearing liver stagnation. Some of my favorites are
Shu Gan moves liver stagnation, eliminates pain, treats food allergies, poor digestion, bloating, nausea, burping, hyperacidity
Aspiration clears liver stagnation with symptoms of depression, chest oppression, irritability, frustration, epigastric pain
Ease 2 invigorates liver Qi, relaxes muscular tension especially neck, shoulders, upper back; useful for emotional disorders; gastrointestinal disorders, food allergies
Ease Plus invigorates liver Qi; nervousness, insomnia, emotional distress, headaches, including migraines, substance withdrawal, gastric acidity, ulcers
Milk Thistle protects and nourishes liver; increases glutathione in the liver; anti-inflammatory; balances blood sugars; protects and regenerates liver and kidney cells; skin conditions
Rehmannia and Milk Thistle protects liver agains damage from environmental chemicals, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and other agents; vitalizes blood circulation; relaxes liver constraint; treats liver damage
Woman’s Balance. invigorates congested liver; relieves mild depression; useful for liver-fire headaches; IBS; treats PMS. Many men effectively use Women’s Balance for headaches and other liver-related symptoms.
There are many safe, effective herbal formulas for harmonizing the liver and correcting imbalances that cause physical, mental, and emotional distress. To determine the right formula for your health conditions, it’s best to consult with a professionally trained herbalist. Schedule a session for best foods and supplements for your constitution and condition. Or contact me with your questions.
Liver Supportive Habits
- Eat less food, have the bigger meal earlier in the day, and avoid late night meals. Doing so will reduce excesses, improve digestion, and cause you to feel physically and mentally lighter and more energetic as you move into spring.
- It’s time to rise earlier and awaken with the sun. Go outside in the early morning and breathe in the fresh air, walk, and stretch.
- Have more contact with nature. Brisk outdoor walks will invigorate your body and mind.
- Create a nourishing rhythm to your days, Avoid the tendency to overwork and overcommit.
- Be spontaneous and lighthearted. Play more. Laugh every day.
Spring Cleaning for the Body
Do you associate getting rid of the old stuff and spring house cleaning with this time of year? Cleansing your body of toxins and residues of food excesses, and purifying your mind and emotions are equally important in spring. Because cycles of rejuvenation and purification are at their height in the spring, it’s a beneficial time to embark on a cleanse, and there are many approaches. Their appropriateness is based on individual patterns, and extreme detoxification is not recommended.
Most people believe quicker cleansing is better and use rapid cleansing methods such as fruit and vegetable juices, and self-prescribed detoxification supplements and products. Fasting on an abundance of fruit and vegetable juice can seriously damage the metabolic rate and digestive strength. Extreme detoxification and lead to severe detox symptoms.
Raw vegetables, fruits, and juices are very cooling. Many people’s health is already damaged by too much internal coldness. Those whose diets are high in saturated fat from animal foods can benefit from some raw foods and juices provided their digestive system is strong.
A milder cleanse is best using select foods and methods of preparation for their therapeutic values. I’ve created a general approach to cleansing that you can follow for 10 days. If too difficult try for at least 5 days, or 2 consecutive days out of every week mid-March through April.
Cleansing and detoxification are neither appropriate nor recommended for pregnant and lactating women; those with serious physical and mental degenerations; or those who are deficient, frail, weak, or underweight.
For a customized approach to cleansing and regeneration for your personal health conditions, schedule a session.
Gentle Spring Cleanse
- Eliminate all animal foods, including dairy and eggs; alcohol, intoxicants, caffeine, sweeteners, artificial, chemical, and processed foods. You can take several days to ease away from these foods.
- Start your day with 12 ounces of warm water with juice of 1/2 lemon. Drink several 8 ounce glasses of lemon water throughout the day.
- For breakfast have a bowl of Spring Detox and Renewal Soup.
- For lunch and dinner have 3 or more cups of a variety vegetables, lightly cooked. Some raw and salads are fine unless you have digestive problems or mucus issues. Hard, dark leafy greens should be eaten at every meal — cooked. Regeneration Soup is a good way to include lots of vegetables.
- Eat sprouts each day of the cleanse, including mung bean sprouts.
- Eat some fermented vegetables at one or two meals daily.
- It’s helpful to take some digestive enzymes such as Chzyme, Quiet Digestion, Wheat Rescue, Enteromend, or Digestivi-Ti. Megasporebiotic is an excellent probiotic.
- If you need a snack, have some berries, a tart green apple or grapefruit. Avoid high sugar fruits during the cleanse.
- Non-caffeinated teas are fine as often as you like. These teas are especially therapeutic: dandelion, chamomile, peppermint, spearmint, fennel, nettles, ginger, and Astra tea.
- If you find you are too hungry, add a small bowl of whole, unrefined grains cooked properly and chewed well. Brown rice, barley, and hato mugi are excellent choices.
- Do not eat anything after dinner.
- Get outdoors daily; slow down the pace of your life during a cleanse; and get plenty of sleep.
It’s very effective to make cleansing and regenerative foods, and practices for mental/emotional clearing an ongoing part of your daily self-care routine. Good health, including a clear, focused mind and balanced emotions, will become sustainable. I’ve created a free guide, Cleanse and Renew Body, Mind, and Emotions to help you do just that. Access your Cleanse and Renew Guide Here
Toxic Thoughts and Emotions
Spring encourages and supports letting go and clearing out the old. This may mean habits; personal truths that have been guiding your life; ways of being in the world; work and relationships that are not supporting your highest good; and poor nutritional choices. Purging yourself of outdated beliefs, attitudes, and toxic emotions that are not supporting your health and happiness clears stagnant energy that may be keeping you heavy and stuck. I can help you with this.
It is helpful while embarking on a physical cleanse to work on mental/emotional clearing. Emotional repression harms the liver; causes mood swings and depression; and compromises physical health and happiness. Get professional help with this if needed.
What would you like to give birth to in your life?
It may be a creative project, a new relationship, a more challenging and fulfilling profession, a nourishing lifestyle, or a healthier, more fit body. Creating a vision statement is akin to planting seeds in the garden. Plant the mental seeds now by writing your goals and dreams; feeding and nurturing them, and taking action toward them. Watch them blossom and come to fruition as nature does in spring and summer.
Journal your thoughts and feelings
Include those that you want to clear out of your life. Emotions are often a metaphor for what you’re holding onto in your physical body. The process of writing can bring to your awareness thoughts, beliefs, and emotions that are keeping you where you are. Reflect on their positive purpose in your life. Negative emotional states can cause you to make poor lifestyle and food choices eventually causing health problems.
Renew your relationship with yourself
Make a decision to love and respect yourself. This requires eliminating negative self-judgment, perfectionism, and living in the past. In doing so, the beautiful growth that is occurring in nature will be reflected in your life. A more radiant, vital you will soon emerge.
My Holistic Life Coaching will help you create your vision and a strategy for achieving it; recognize what’s been stopping you; remove those obstacles; and actualize your dreams. Contact me with your questions.
Your body, mind, emotions and the environment are not separate and are mimicking each other. Seasonal changes are an opportune time to strengthen your whole health. Take your cues from the natural environment. When you adapt yourself to spring with appropriate foods and practices, you will maintain good health, and flourish as nature does. I’ve provided a lot of solutions and I know you can’t do all of them. Choose a few and put them into action.
“For many months I had digestive pain, heartburn, gas and erratic bowels. A gallbladder function test showed that my gallbladder was only functioning at 5% and would have to be removed which I did not want to do.” I consulted with you and within days of following your advice my symptoms were 80% lessened. It’s been several years now and I have not had any recurrence of the digestive and gallbladder issues–100% better. without removal of my gall bladder”
“After three months of debilitating headaches, severe eye pain, many aches and pains, flu-like symptoms, night sweats, fatigue, and an inability to focus, I scheduled with you. I had been through many, many medical tests and doctors found nothing. Just one day after following your regimen symptoms greatly reduced and a short time later flu-symptoms, aches and pains, fatigue, night sweats, headaches, and eye pain are gone. I’ve had a huge improvement in energy, focus and concentration too.”
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