Is Your Liver Depressed?

In the modern clinical practice of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), liver qi depression / qi stagnation is an extremely common pattern. Today, we are surrounded by environmental chemicals in our air, homes and workplaces, and in our water. Many of these were non-existent in earlier times. Moreover, our extremely fast-paced era bombards us with stressors. All of this makes it very likely that you have experienced liver qi depression / qi stagnation at one time or another. 

Modern biomedicine describes the functions of the liver as filtering and processing blood as it circulates through the body. It also makes blood clotting proteins. The liver metabolizes nutrients, detoxifies harmful substances, and performs many other vital functions. Liver cells contain proteins called enzymes that catalyze these chemical reactions. The liver rarely exhibits signs or symptoms of serious damage until liver disease is fairly advanced. Damaged or destroyed liver cells leak enzymes into the blood, where they can be measured by blood tests, including aspartate aspartate aminotransferase (AST-formerly called SGOT) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) - formerly called SGPT).

It's important to clarify that this article does not address Western biomedical liver disease, although one could have have concurrent hepatic disease and a TCM pattern of liver depression / qi stagnation. In TCM, the term “liver” refers to the function responsible for coursing and discharging (of qi and blood, respectively), as well as blood nourishment. The liver maintains the free flow of qi and blood and stores blood.

In the context of this article, the term “depression” pertains to depressing the aforementioned TCM liver functions. (Think of how a tongue depressor is used to hold down the tongue.) Stagnation means that qi is not properly coursing through the body; it is stuck. So if you’re not coursing and discharging you may have liver qi stagnation!


Qi depression (qi yu) is one of the Six Depressions, originally described by one of the most famous ancient Chinese physicians, Zhu Dan-xi, who lived in the 13th and 14th centuries C.E. The other depressions are those relating to blood, damp, fire, phlegm, and food. Qi depression is the most important, as it underlies all the others. When qi depression is successfully treated, all other forms of depression self-resolve.

The liver channel traverses the genitals, passes through the lower abdomen, spreads over the sides of the ribs and breasts, and runs along the neck. In TCM, the liver has an important role in the nourishment of blood and liver qi plays a critical role in gynecological functions and health.

Liver qi depression / qi stagnation includes a wide range of symptoms, which not uncommonly fluctuation according to how we manage stress.
Women are more prone to stagnation patterns ahead of and during menses because menstrual blood is accumulating in the uterus and qi levels are diminishing. But the pattern is not exclusive to women and certainly affects men as well. This pattern can develop from more fundamental patterns which, over time, fail to produce sufficient blood to nourish the liver.

So, how do you know if you have liver qi depression / qi stagnation? Well, you probably have this pattern if you experience …
  • Distention and pain in the chest and hypochondriac region Areas coursed by the Liver channels
  • Frequent sighing, releasing stagnant qi in the chest
  • Anger, resentment, frustration; these tend to feed, and be fed by, this pattern
  • Sensation of a lump in the throat with trouble swallowing (hystericus globus / plum-pit qi), as the internal branch of the liver channel ascends along the neck and throat
  • Nausea, vomiting, epigastric pain, reduced appetite, sour reflux, belching, awareness of pulsating (abdominal aorta) in the epigastric region, a sensation of the stomach churning (liver invading the stomach)
  • Abdominal distention, borborygmus, diarrhea (liver invading the spleen)
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhea, irregular elimination (liver qi stagnating in the intestines)
  • Irregular menstruation, dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), premenstrual breast tenderness, and/or PMS
There are a number of other liver-related patterns (ascendant liver yang, upward flaring liver fire, liver-spleen disharmony, liver-gallbladder damp-heat, and more).

TCM has effective treatments for liver health. Of course, any serious liver health issue should be discussed with your primary care physician. If the liver is under serious stress, adding many or more pharmaceutical medications can overwhelm the organ. TCM treatment may involve the use of herbal medicinals to course and disperse liver qi in order to enhance the body's ability to detoxify. It is also essential to strengthen supportive organs of circulation and elimination such as the heart and kidneys.

But a competent, licensed acupuncturist / TCM practitioner can help you sort out your symptoms and determine an effective plan of treatment.  That's why we're here.  Give us a call. 
952-767-4910 or click here to schedule an appointment.

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