Liver Blood Stasis
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), illness is classified according to which organs or substances are affected, and how. In many cases, diseases arise from an excess or deficiency of a particular substance which has a negative impact on a specific organ or system. This leads to syndrome names such as Spleen qi deficiency, Liver fire hyperactivity, and so on.
However, in some cases, the cause of the problem is not an excess or a deficiency, but the fact that either qi or blood are not flowing around the body as they should. This is true for the syndrome which we will focus on in this article – Liver blood stasis.
Let’s take a look at how an unhealthy Liver can influence the circulation of blood and how to keep things moving as they should.
The Liver in Chinese Medicine
In western medicine, the job of the liver is to filter blood and remove toxins. However, in TCM, the Liver has a far more complex role. The TCM Liver is also involved in keeping the blood healthy, but it has some other important functions too.
One of the most crucial functions of the TCM Liver is to keep qi flowing around the body freely. Qi is necessary for every muscle, organ, and tissue to operate as it should, and so this function has a significant impact on the health of the entire body.
In TCM, qi is closely related to blood. They can be seen as two aspects of the same substance, with qi being more yang and providing energy and movement, and blood being more yin and providing nourishment and moisture. Since the Liver is responsible for circulating qi, it is also responsible for circulating blood. These two substances travel together through the vessels and rely on one another to do their work.
As well as circulating blood, the Liver is responsible for storing and replenishing this vital substance. When you exercise, the Liver sends blood to the muscles where it is needed, and when you rest, blood returns to the Liver to be nourished and stored. The Liver is said to be at its most active between 1am and 3am, and this is why acupuncturists recommend that you are asleep in bed at this time. This habit will give your Liver the best possible chance to keep your blood in good health.
Because the Liver plays such an essential role in circulation, it has a powerful influence over menstruation in women. It directly affects the chong (thoroughfare) and ren (conception) vessels which are responsible for a woman’s cycle and keeps the periods regular.
The Liver is also responsible for nourishing the tendons, muscles, nails, and eyes. It does this by ensuring that all of these tissues receive enough blood to stay supple, moisturized, and functioning at their peak.
Last but not least, the Liver is said to house the hun. The hun is the ethereal soul, the part of a person’s spirit that is thought to leave the body after death. It is the complementary opposite of the po, or the animal soul, which is housed by the Lungs and returns to the earth when we die.
To summarize, the functions of the Liver in TCM are:
- Effective circulation of qi and blood
- Storing and nourishing blood
- Nourishing tendons, muscles, nails, and eyes
- Housing the hun (ethereal soul)
Causes of Liver Blood Stasis
When the Liver is unable to circulate the blood as well as it should, it begins to stagnate in the vessels. This is what is known in TCM as Liver blood stasis. This syndrome is closely related to Liver qi stagnation, one of the most common TCM conditions in our modern world.
Liver qi stagnation is such a common problem as it is a direct result of emotional stress. When we become stressed, our muscles tend to become tight and tense which interferes with the flow of qi. Since blood relies on qi to help it move, when qi becomes stagnant for a long time, blood will eventually follow suit.
Therefore, it is not uncommon to suffer from Liver qi stagnation and Liver blood stasis at the same time. The more pressure you are under in your life, the more likely you are to be affected by these two conditions.
Symptoms of Liver Blood Stasis
When the Liver cannot circulate qi and blood as it should, symptoms can occur throughout the entire body and mind. Some of the most common symptoms of Liver blood stasis include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swellings
- Painful, irregular periods
- Dark, clotted menstrual blood
- Purple nails, lips, and tongue
- In severe cases, dry skin
Menstrual irregularities are one of the most important diagnostic features for Liver blood stasis in women. It is often linked with conditions such as endometriosis and fibroids. However, men can also suffer from Liver blood stasis. This could result in abdominal pain which is fixed in one location and feels like something is boring into the intestines.
It is also very common for the symptoms of Liver blood stasis to be accompanied by the symptoms of Liver qi stagnation. These include:
- Stuffiness in the abdomen, chest, or throat
- Pain that moves about or comes and goes
- Abdominal bloating
- Breast tenderness or swelling
- Depression or irritability
Fortunately, acupuncture is excellent at restoring the flow of qi and blood and relieving the symptoms of stagnation. There are also several lifestyle changes that may help.
Preventing Liver Blood Stasis
The most effective way to prevent and treat Liver blood stasis is to address its root cause. This means reducing the amount of stress in your life, or at least learning to manage it better. In our modern lives, we are under constant pressure regarding work, money, and relationships. This means that it is all too easy to get sucked into a high-stress lifestyle and neglect our own fundamental needs.
While it may not be possible to remove all the sources of stress from our lives, we can learn to cope with it better by using relaxation techniques on a regular basis. When we are always on the go, our sympathetic nervous systems (responsible for our fight or flight mechanism) are constantly switched on. Our parasympathetic nervous systems which are responsible for rest and repair hardly get a look in.
By practicing relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, mediation, or yoga, we can tap into our parasympathetic nervous systems and reduce our daily stress levels. In Chinese medicine terms, taking time out for these kind of activities helps our bodies to relax and allows qi and blood to flow more freely again.
It is also important to take time for yourself to do something that you enjoy on a regular basis. If that means saying no to certain obligations that you might not be happy with, then give yourself permission to do so. Remember that you need to take care of your own needs before worrying about everyone else.
If you are suffering from more serious mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, be sure to see a professional who can help you to work through your issues.
In addition to managing your stress levels, you can improve your circulation by exercising regularly (also great for blowing off some steam) and eating more foods which encourage movement within the body. According to TCM, some of the best foods for Liver blood stasis include:
- Chili peppers
Try adding more of these foods to your daily diet and avoid foods which are overly processed or high in fat. Doing this, combined with taking care of your emotional health, should help your qi and blood to flow smoothly and keep stagnation at bay.