Spring is the time to tonify and care for the liver. In Chinese Medicine, the spring is the season of the liver and gallbladder. It is a time to eat simple, light and fresh fare to give our liver and our spirits a chance to renew themselves after the heavier, richer foods of winter. Young, tender leaves, sweet starchy vegetables such as beets and carrots, sprouted vegetables and grains, herbs such as basil, dill & rosemary and a wide variety of vegetables (watercress, mustard greens, artichokes, black radish, cabbage and onions to name some of the best) are good to consume at this time of year.
The liver is a veritable metabolic powerhouse- the principal organ responsible for detoxification of medications, drugs & environmental toxins, but also a major regulator of blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, a key player in male and female hormonal regulation, a regulator of nutrient storage and also an activator of some nutrients (playing a part in the activation of vitamin D). The liver also regulates tendon and musculoskeletal health. On a more energetic level, the liver is seen as the seat of emotion in Chinese medicine. If the liver is congested or stagnant (as so often happens in modern times), not only do metabolic processes suffer, but a number of mental and emotional manifestations can arise: anger, frustration, irritability, resentment, explosiveness, impulsiveness, depression, moodiness and challenges in making and carrying out plans and discerning the correct course of action. Unresolved emotions can also contribute to sub-optimal liver function. Physically, liver function can be impaired by excess consumption of fat, chemicals, intoxicants (alcohol and others) and poor quality, heavily processed foods. An erratic and insufficient sleep schedule and eating late at night can stress the liver.
To improve liver function, limiting one’s chemical burden and improving the clearance of toxins through the liver is advised. Diet is an easy and helpful way to influence liver health for the better. The bitter and sour flavors in the diet help to reduce liver excesses and to improve liver function. Examples of bitter foods include chicory and dandelion greens, radicchio, quinoa, citrus peel, asparagus, romaine leaves and other vegetables. Examples of sour foods include citrus fruits, vinegar, sauerkraut, sour plum, rose hips and pickles. In addition to diet, a number of stronger and more customized naturopathic and homeopathic therapies can be used to optimize liver function, including topical use of castor oil over the liver and abdomen, herbal medicine (lipotropic and other herbs), organotherapies, and a variety of dietary and cleansing regimens. If you feel that the last year or your current health conditions have taken a toll on your liver, be sure to give it some extra care this spring!
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