I think now the Spring Equinox has passed we can safely say Spring is here. Get your shorts ready but don’t put them on yet. And remember to protect yourself against the Wind, it’s still pretty chilly out there!
The Liver’s Role: East & West
So this week I want to talk a little more about the Liver, its role in fighting infection and autoimmune disease.
The Liver has one main similarity in both Chinese and Western medicine, it stores blood. However, in Chinese Medicine (CM) it is also responsible for ensuring the smooth flowing of Qi, which influences every other part of the body as well as our emotions (see my anger blog). In CM storing of the blood has three functions:
- It regulates blood volume
- It regulates menstruation
- It moistens the eyes and sinews
In Western Medicine (WM) the liver‘s job of storing the blood is more accurately filtering the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body. In this way the liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. As it does so, the liver secretes bile that ends up back in the intestines. It also controls and makes the proteins, fats, cholesterol and clotting agents.
So whichever way you look at it, the Liver is pretty important.
The Warrior within us all
There is another similarity between the East and West concepts of the Liver that I would like to focus on, and that is it’s role in the body’s ability to fight infection.
In Chinese Medicine the Liver is said to be the General, the minister responsible for defending the nation’s borders. To help explain this, let me first tell you a little about how the ancient Chinese viewed the body. The Chinese saw the body as a reflection of the world around them and our organs represented the ministers required to manage an empire. The channels and bodily processes are the empire in action – agriculture and grain storage, irrigation and waste management, and an army. In this system the Heart represents the role of Emperor, the sovereign of all organs. It is responsible for intelligence, wisdom, and spiritual transformation. The Liver, however, is the General, smart and courageous, and responsible for defending the borders of the Empire and making plans to do so. In other words, fighting infection.
Protecting the boundaries
In Western Medicine the liver is the primary organ for breaking histamine down, that’s why antihistamines are used to help treat the symptoms of liver failure. In this way it is the Liver that is responsible for mobilising the troops against foreign invaders, such as bugs and parasites. And if you have ever had hay fever, you know that histamines can make you feel very irritable.
This role of the Liver fighting off infectious agents that attack the body suggests the image of a warrior, whose job it is to defend the boundaries of the empire. Without an adequate plan, the immune system would be ineffective, unable to resist potential invaders. This is quite commonly the explanation when a person suffers from recurrent infections.
On the other hand, when the primary symptom is allergies (or hay fever as mentioned above), the immune system is essentially attacking the wrong enemy, generating antibodies against pollens, which are harmless. Then it is as if the Liver is an overly zealous military leader, going to war too vigorously with no leniency. In the case of autoimmune disease, the immune system can be seen to be a hyper-vigilant warrior who actually turns against his own side, creating an inflammatory reaction within the body’s tissues.
What can you do?
Well, as you would have gathered from my blogs so far, good health is a balancing act. When it comes to the Liver, it’s important of course what goes through it: too much alcohol, fatty food and medicines will all have a detrimental effect on the Liver over time….or not, of course, because we are all different. We all feel and express anger in different ways. Some of us exercise, others do not.
Chinese philosophy advocates a balanced life, but a life that is lived. Eat well (and drink), but in moderation. Exercise is important, but you don’t need to run a marathon. In Qi Gong there are various exercises and posture that are practiced to cleanse and nourish the Liver. And an Acupuncture session every now and then will ensure your Liver Qi flows smoothly.