Is Your Liver Insulting Your Lungs?

by Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.

Autumn is the season that’s related to the Lung energy and the Metal element. According to Chinese Medicine, the Lungs thrive on moisture and since dryness is predominant during Autumn, the Lung energy tends to be most vulnerable during this season.

Issues related to the Metal energy are therefore more likely to occur during this time of year. Metal is associated with the Lungs, Large Intestine, and skin so symptoms may manifest in the form of respiratory and skin infections and inflammatory flare-ups such as allergies, asthma, psoriasis and eczema. Furthermore, since the emotions of the Lungs are sadness and grief, these states may surface at this time as well.

As we all know and have experienced, Autumn is a dry season. We may notice this dryness manifest in our skin and in our sinuses. In Chinese Medicine, the Lungs like adequate moisture though not too moist with dampness or phlegm. If you notice your mouth and lips are drier at this time of year, it’s likely that your Lungs are as well and this dryness will weaken the Lungs’ function and make them predisposed to illness.

Another common complication during Autumn is that the Lungs' vulnerable energy makes them susceptible to “insult” by the Liver. This idea is based on the Five Element Theory of Chinese Medicine. Normally the Metal energy, which is related to the Lungs, controls the Wood energy, which is related to the Liver.  However, if this relationship is imbalanced due to a weakness in the Metal energy, which is common during Autumn, the Wood energy can insult the Metal energy especially if the liver is overheated with toxicity.

If these patterns are occurring within your body or your life, it likely indicates that it’s a good time to do a Liver detoxification. 

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Let’s take a look at how these patterns can manifest. 

Generally speaking, we do not suggest doing a Liver cleanse at all times of the year. It’s best to avoid cleansing during the cold Winter months because your body needs to maintain its warmth and not be subjected to the cooling effects of a cleanse. While it’s best to consult a healthcare practitioner before starting any cleanse, generally as long as the weather is relatively temperate in your area and your body is not feeling challenged by cold temperatures or feeling cold internally such as having cold hands and feet, a liver cleanse may be appropriate during the Fall. 

 

How To Identify if Your Liver is Insulting Your Lungs

One of the common signs of toxicity in the liver is tightness or discomfort in the flank or sides of the ribcage (not due to injury), as well as a feeling of oppression in the chest making it difficult to take a deep breath. This is often due to an overly tight diaphragm that’s preventing the lungs from comfortably expanding.

The Liver is considered 'the General' who leads the troops since the Liver controls the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. If the General is abusive however, his overbearing and insulting actions can compromise the performance of his troops. In the same way, a toxic liver can impair not only the lungs’ functions but also the digestive and elimination systems.

If the liver is not properly detoxifying the body or keeping the energy circulation flowing smoothly, this will lead to inflammation and pain as toxicity will build up in the tissues, especially in the joints.  

In Chinese Medicine, the Liver energy has an ascending quality and through this action it helps bring blood to our eyes to support strong vision and into the brain to support memory retrieval. However, if there is liver congestion due to toxicity its natural ascension of energy may become impaired and lead instead to a horizontal spreading out of energy hence causing tightness along the diaphragm and across the ribcage or flank regions. If more severe, overt pain or cramping can be experienced in the region of the liver itself.

If the Liver energy is spreading sideways pathologically rather than ascending this will also lead to the Liver or Wood energy over-controlling the Earth-digestive energy and causing numerous digestive complaints ranging from GERD to gas and bloating as well as nausea. In fact, according to Chinese Medicine, more serious conditions such as Crohn's, Ulcerative Colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are often rooted in a toxic liver that is insulting the Large Intestine and depending on the condition can involve the Small Intestine as well.

Since the Large Intestine is the other Metal element organ along with the Lungs, it is therefore also predisposed to being insulted by a toxic Liver.

A toxic liver is overheated indicating inflammation, but this may not overtly present in a blood test with elevated liver enzymes. A "hot" liver, however, may show up in your day-to-day health in different ways. For example, if you suffer from allergies or asthma during the Autumn season, it is likely that your Liver is insulting your Lungs and therefore needs a good cleanse.

An overheated liver can push its heat into the Heart system, causing hypertension, and into the head, causing headaches behind the eyes, around the temples, migraines and even temporomandibular joint pain (TMJD). In addition, since the Liver Blood nourishes the tendons and nerves, too much heat in the liver can dry up the blood and cause the development of muscle spasms and cramping or restless legs and neuropathy. All of these conditions are indicators that the liver is overheated and causing irritation of the muscular, vascular and neurological systems.

In these cases, you may benefit from doing a liver detox this season. You can start with a simple 10 day detox or try for a 4 week or more period depending on the severity of your condition. And during this time, it is important to avoid spicy foods such as coffee and alcohol which further create heat and dry up the blood. Of course, smoking is going to create both heat and dryness in the lungs and liver as well.

 

Tips for Detoxifying Your Liver

A powerful way to support liver detoxification is with an amino acid supplement called N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC). NAC helps synthesize glutathione which is a major antioxidant of the body that helps reduce the toxic effects of lipid oxidation which can lead to liver damage. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant stored in the liver to further support detoxification and repair of the liver itself. Numerous studies have shown NAC to improve liver function. Furthermore, taking 600mg twice a day has been shown to reduce mucous in the lungs and improve respiration with patients suffering with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, also known as COPD.

Another important amino acid supplement that supports liver detoxification and intestinal repair is L-Glutamine. Glutamine is now popularly used to repair a "Leaky Gut" due to erosion of the mucous membrane of the small intestine. It's also an important amino acid for the production of brain neurotransmitters, GABA and glutamate. These two neurotransmitters act in a Yin and Yang fashion as GABA helps down-regulate nervous system activity and glutamate helps stimulate the nervous system.

Bupleurum, Milk Thistle and Turmeric are important herbs used to improve glutathione levels as well in the liver and support liver restoration. Bupleurum and Milk Thistle are especially useful when there is heat in the liver. In regards to Turmeric there are three parts of the turmeric plant used in Chinese Medicine. I will mention two of them. The root is called Yu Jin. Yu Jin is cooling, very good for depression and anxiety as well as reducing the chest constraint and flank pains related to Liver Qi stagnation. The rhizome of turmeric is called Jiang Huang. This is the common turmeric herb used in cooking. Jiang Huang is warming and especially useful for joint pain and swelling from wind, dampness and blood stagnation. It also is used when blood stagnation is occurring in the liver and causing pain in the abdomen or flanks as well. Both forms of turmeric are used in anti-inflammatory supplements but have a clear distinction in action.

Your Chinese Medicine practitioner can diagnosis what liver conditions may be present upon examination of the tongue and pulse. In regards to tongue diagnosis, a tongue that shows blue veins along the sides of the tongue would indicate liver blood stagnation and if the tongue sides are especially red, this indicates heat. Please consult with us or your practitioner for a more detailed assessment before beginning any detox regimen.

Turmeric is commonly used in cooking in many Eastern cultures. It contains compounds that can support restoring healthy glutathione levels and boost the activity of glutathione enzymes.

Turmeric is commonly used in cooking in many Eastern cultures. It contains compounds that can support restoring healthy glutathione levels and boost the activity of glutathione enzymes.

Essential Oils to Reduce a Toxic Liver Insulting the Lungs and Large Intestine

Petigrain is an important oil to relax the chest and deepen inspiration when Liver Qi stagnation has constricted the diaphragm. Petigrain is a leaf oil and in general leafy greens help spread the Liver's Qi when it congests. Liver Qi stagnation will result in an irritable mind and if the Lung Qi gets depressed, depression of the mind can set in too. Petigrain helps resolve both of these patterns and transforms dampness in the process to improve memory as well. Apply diluted over the center of the chest and at the wrists to relax the diaphragm, deepen respiration and soothe the mind.

Peppermint is the signature oil to decongest the liver. Its antispasmodic action is useful for spasms of the colon and cramping of the muscles which may occur with liver toxicity. Taken internally in capsule form, peppermint oil has been shown to improve symptoms from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Lavender & Lavandin are all-purpose oils that can diffuse Lung Qi for chest tightness with diaphragmatic stress from liver congestion. These oils can calm an irritable or nervous mind and relax muscle tension due to Liver Qi stagnation. Both of these oils are antiseptic and used for reducing Lung Heat presenting with sinus infections and sore throats.

Lemon essential oil is an antiseptic for Lung heat problems such as sinusitis and sore throat as well. It also reduces Liver Fire with symptoms such as headaches, migraines, abdominal distention and gas. If excess Stomach Fire is occurring, lemon essential oil can reduce acid reflux and burning of the epigastric region. All citrus oils are effective antioxidants and very alkalizing for acidic conditions. Lemon essential oil is also useful for congested lymphatic regions and best when applied in diluted form with a carrier oil over the areas affected. Lemon essential oil is considered a liver decongestant and rejuvenator as well as a blood tonic. Lemon essential oil has been known to help strengthen fingernails which are supported by Liver Blood according to Chinese Medicine. 

Helichrysum (Everlast) is an amazing flower oil that's useful when the lungs have too much heat causing asthma, chronic bronchitis, coughing or allergies. It's especially beneficial to reduce toxins during a liver detoxification. Helichrysum is one of the key essential oils to use if Liver Fire (inflammation) has created Liver Blood Stasis as indicated with the red sides of the tongue along with blue veins which commonly occurs with the overuse of drugs (both pharmaceutical and street drugs).

Rosemary essential oil has a powerful therapeutic action on both the liver and lung systems. Rosemary can help relax the diaphragm to deepen respiration, and stimulates both the liver and gallbladder to support detoxification. Its stimulating action improves circulation, focus and concentration. Rosemary is a very warming oil that is considered a heart tonic so be cautious in its use if there is hypertension.

Roman Chamomile and German Chamomile are both amazing essential oils that can help regenerate a toxic liver and reduce liver inflammation. They are relaxing oils that can also reduce diaphragmatic constriction and discomfort around the ribcage and flanks to improve respiration by relaxing the nervous system. They are very calming oils hence the use of Chamomile tea before bed to help with sleep. When a toxic liver is causing trouble with the GI system in the form of dyspepsia, bloating, IBS, etc, both of these Chamomile essential oils can be rubbed over the affected regions in a diluted form for relief. In general, Roman Chamomile is used for children while German Chamomile is used with adults for anti-inflammatory and detoxification purposes.

 

Conclusion

When the Liver is relaxed and clear of toxins, the mind is calm and Qi can flow smoothly throughout the body. This helps us to also breathe more deeply and increase the strength of the lungs so they are less vulnerable during the Fall season.

These health suggestions are for educational purposes, so please consult your health care provider for personalized support and guidance.