Role of Liver in (TCM) Traditional Chinese Medicine – by Naveed

The liver plays an important role in traditional Chinese physiology. Since it is in charge of the smooth flow of ‘qi’ throughout the body, any disruption in its functions usually affects another organ. Stagnation of the flow of liver ‘qi’ frequently disrupts emotional flow producing feelings of frustration or anger. Conversely, these same emotions can lead to a dysfunction in the liver, resulting in an endless loop of cause and effect.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, liver plays the following important roles:


1. The liver stores the blood.

The liver is considered as a storage area for blood when blood is not being used for physical activity. These periods of rest contribute to the body’s restorative processes. During exercise, the blood is released to nourish the tendons and muscles.

This function is also intimately associated with the menstrual cycle; the liver maintains an adequate blood supply and regulates the timing and comfort of menstruation. Any dysfunctions in the menstrual cycle are almost always treated through the regulation of liver blood, qi, or yin.

When liver qi is stagnant (a very common condition), a person experiences irritability, tightness in the chest and in a woman symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. When liver blood is deficient, symptoms such as dry eyes and skin, pallor and lack of menstruation can occur.


2. The liver ensures the smooth flow of qi.

The Nei Jing refers to the liver as a general in the army coordinating the movement of the troops. When the liver functions smoothly, physical and emotional activity throughout the body also runs smoothly.

When the liver’s ability to spread qi smoothly throughout the body is disrupted due to stress or lifestyle choices, the liver qi can becomes either stagnant or hyperactive causing havoc in other organs such as the lungs, stomach, and spleen. Often, stress-related problems such as irritable bowel syndrome or indigestion can be successfully treated by working through the ‘smoothing of liver qi’.


3. The liver controls the tendons.

As mentioned above, the liver stores blood during periods of rest and then releases it to the muscles and tendons in times of activity. When liver blood is deficient, tightness and inflexibility in the muscles and tendons can occur. If liver qi is stagnant, muscles can go into spasm. Such muscle spasms often occur when a person drinks strong coffee. Coffee, even the decaffeinated variety is regarded as one of the most disruptive substances in relation to the smooth flow of liver qi.


4. The liver opens into the eyes.

Although all the organs have some connection to the health of the eyes, the liver is connected to proper eye function. Chronic eye problems can usually be traced to a deficiency of liver yin or blood. It is therefore quite common to resolve eye disorders successfully by treating the liver.


5. The liver shows on the nails.

When liver blood is plentiful, it spreads to the farthest areas of the body including the fingernails and toenails. On the other hand, when liver blood is deficient, the nails can appear pale, weak and brittle.