By Carrie Demers, MD, Yoga International
I recently went to see an acupuncturist for some chronic digestive problems and she told me that my liver is congested. Is this something serious? What should I do?
Consider this diagnosis a wake-up call. A congested or stagnant liver won’t put you in immediate danger, but it will produce symptoms—in your case digestive problems—that can lower your quality of life and indicate that you’re headed for trouble down the road. Think of liver congestion as a precondition for more serious problems. It occurs before Western medicine can detect any sign of liver malfunction, and it is a “condition” you and a traditional medical practitioner—such as a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or ayurvedic doctor—can remedy.
Both TCM and ayurveda attribute liver congestion to heat that is trapped in the liver, and they seek to clear and cool the organ through lifestyle changes and herbal treatments. The liver is a natural multitasker: it plays a large role in metabolism, helps build proteins, breaks down hormones, clears toxins from the bloodstream, and much more. Ayurveda views the liver as “hot” or “pittic” because the fiery, dynamic energy of pitta—one of the three doshas (along with vata and kapha) that regulate the physiological functions of the body—guides and supports these myriad functions of the liver. Too much fiery energy, however, can accumulate in the liver and lead to physical problems. Ayurveda describes symptoms caused by excess pitta that are very similar to what is called “liver fire” in TCM: headaches; flushed face; red, burning eyes; acne; nosebleeds; and outbursts of anger. Ayurveda adds inflammation, allergies, and symptoms of indigestion (like heartburn) to the list. Changes in lifestyle—like eating cooling foods, getting regular exercise, and taking time to relax—are often enough to bring pitta back into functional balance.
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