The Liver in Chinese medicine

Spring is on its way.  As the seasons change so too does our system change.  In Chinese medicine we have 5 phases, or 5 elements, that correspond to the different seasons.  Spring is linked with the Wood element.  Thus, as in nature, in our body after a quiet, more introspective winter we come into the burst of spring energy, growth, and development.  New plans start to get into motion, seeds are sown and the yearly cycle begins anew.  The Liver in Chinese medicine is most active in Spring, but is affected by winds and dampness.  Find out more.

The Liver in Chinese medicine 

  • Paired with the gallbladder
  • Strengthens the heart (Fire)
  • Controls the digestive system (Earth)
  • Controlled by the lungs (Metal)
  • Manifests in the nails
  • Most active in Spring and least active in Autumn
  • Emotion is anger (too much and too little are damaging)
  • Flavour is sour (too much and too little are damaging)

Its functions

  • Facilitates the smooth flow of qi
  • Stores the Blood and has a major role in the menstrual cycle
  • Nourishes the tendons and sinews
  • Houses the Ethereal Soul, which is involved in planning, creativity and decision making
  • Sense organ is the eyes

The liver does not tend to suffer from a lack of energy, but it can become deficient in blood and yin or excessive from stagnation, heat or cold.  Common symptoms due to liver patterns include:


  • Distention in chest and flank
  • Low mood and energy
  • Irregular periods with pain before
  • Long-term stagnation can lead to heat


  • Irritability and anger
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Bitter taste
  • Tinnitus
  • Dark urine and/or constipation


  • Fullness and distention of flank
  • Pain that is alleviated by warmth
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Headache


  • Dizziness
  • Numbness
  • Insomnia
  • Scanty periods

Internal and external factors

The liver can be affected by external wind and dampness, which do not tend to affect the liver directly, but if the liver is already out of balance they can precipitate tension and pains, skin conditions and stroke.  Anger, frustration and irritations stagnate the liver energy, which prolongs the emotions and can therefore lead to heightened anger or depression.  Worry and sadness can also weaken the liver.


The liver in Chinese medicine is particularly affected by diet.  Spicy foods, excessive meat and alcohol can cause the liver to heat, whereas dairy and fried foods lead to dampness.  A lack of nourishing foods can cause a deficiency of liver blood and particularly affect the menstrual cycle.  If these conditions remain for a time then it is common for them to get worse and attack other organs, especially the digestive system, the lungs, and the heart/mind.  Look for digestive issues, breathing issues (including coughing and regular colds), and heart issues respectively.

If you would like to talk through any of the issues raised in this blog please feel free to get in touch.