What You Didn’t Know About the Liver – Function and Diseases

The Liver at a Glance

- The liver is a very interesting organ in the body! It is put through much use and abuse due our crazy lifestyles. It has many functions in everyday life and sometimes we don’t appreciate the organ for what it’s worth. In Traditional Chinese Medicine we attribute the liver to certain functions in the body associated with the circulation qi (or chi), which is an acupuncturist’s way of looking at different forms of energy and systems in the body.

Functions and Disease of the Liver

Here are a few facts about the liver from a western physiological standpoint:

  • The liver is the largest gland in the body, weighing about 3-4lbs.
  • The liver secretes a pint of bile a day. What is bile you ask? Well it’s a mix of cholesterol, salts, and old worn-out broken down bloods cells. It is responsible for dismantling fats into fatty acids and giving your feces it’s brown pigmentation.
  • The liver cells can detoxify substances in the body due to the Kupffer cells, which are located in the ….Liver! Substances include poisons, medications, and other toxins traveling through the blood.
  • Glucose in the body is converted to glycogen for storage and stored in the liver.
  • Some vitamins and minerals such as iron, copper, vitamin A, B12, and D are stored in the liver.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the Liver

In TCM we look at the liver a differently and more on an energetic level. It’s used for storage, circulation, and gives insight to its operating by the eyes or nails. The liver in TCM is responsible for promoting the free flow of qi (pronounced chee). The liver qi is responsible for pushing energy throughout the body and helps the other organs function. You can look at it like a train that is powering through, which may sometimes slow down or changes directions but never stops. This can have an affect on energy levels if the train isn’t powering up to full steam.

The liver in TCM can also be associated with anger, moodiness, and depression. This can happen when the qi of the liver is clumped up creating heat and anxiety, or when the qi is not spreading as smoothly as it should. Alcohol is a substance that affects the liver in both systems of medicine, which is very interesting. Liver qi can soothed by deep breathing and maintaining a stable emotional state.

The liver can also affect the digestive system in TCM and once again, mood does play a factor and can be the cause of dysfunction. It’s interesting though to see that there is a connection in both systems of medicine as well of the liver and the digestive system (In western physiology there is a connection via the common bile duct).

Tradional Chinese Medicine and AcupunctureThere is also a connection between the liver and the gallbladder in both health systems. Anatomically through a bio-med perspective the gallbladder is situated on the under surface of the liver and is used to store bile. In Tradition Chinese Medicine the liver and gallbladder are paired organs, the Yin and Yang of each other and can be affected simultaneously. Bitter taste in the mouth can be a symptom of gallbladder disharmony, but not always the case and an acupuncturist will look at all your symptoms to get a better idea of the body or the organs.

This is just an intro to the Liver in Chinese Medicine and no assumptions or diagnosis should be made just by reading this. Acupuncturist study for years to be able to identify the disharmony amongst the organs, and your acupuncturist can help you to determine your qi imbalances.

Diseases of the Liver

Lastly just briefly wanted to look at some of the diseases that affect the liver.

Hepatitis – This disease is inflammation of the liver, and the most common are A, B, and C. Hepatitis A can be acquired through contaminated food, such as not washing up after using the bathroom, which is one of my biggest pet peeves. Especially if you are going to be handling food! Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted through various mediums, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, needles, and blood transfusions.

Fatty Liver – Also known as steatosis, this occurs when there are fatty deposits in the liver cells. Obesity can play a big role, especially in the abdomen. Alcohol may also be a contributing factor, but if it is not then it will fall under what is called Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). Fatty Liver may lead to complications such as cirrhosis or cancer of the liver.

Liver Cirrhosis – A degenerative condition of the Liver in which scarring of the liver occurs faster than the liver can repair itself. The scarred damage is unfortunately irreversible.

I hope you learned something new and gained some new insight into a holistic mindset of studying your body. Each organ in our body has importance, and the more we know about our body, the more we will appreciate and take care of it.

Medline. Bile. 2012. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002237.htm
Normal Liver Physiology – http://biomed.brown.edu/Courses/BI108/BI108_2002_Groups/liver/webpage/NormalLiver.htm
Nursingtimes.net. 2005. The Liver – Part 2: Physiology. http://www.nursingtimes.net/nursing-practice/clinical-specialisms/renal/the-liver-part-2-physiology/203473.article
PubMed Health.  Cirrhosis. 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001301/
Medicinenet.com. Fatty Liver: Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. 2012. Fatty Liver. http://www.medicinenet.com/fatty_liver/article.htm