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Breakfast Cure Blog

Depression, Anger, Frustration, and epigastic distress

How To Soothe Liver Qi Stagnation With Diet

When patients arrive in my treatment room feeling “wound up” and “stressed out”, I check the state of the liver organ and associated energy channel or meridian. Before we dive into how to soothe liver qi stagnation with diet, let’s begin with a little exploration into the role of the liver in Chinese medicine. 

The Free Flow of Liver Qi-Energy

The Liver organ and channel oversee the flow of energy throughout the entire body. We feel emotionally balanced and calm yet energetic when the Liver Qi is flowing freely.

When Liver Qi stagnates and the energy becomes stuck, we experience mental and physical distress. Over time, this stagnant Liver Qi also affects the ability of the Spleen and Stomach to process food properly, and the result is digestive distress. Acupuncturists refer to this state of imbalance as the Liver invading or overacting on the Spleen and Stomach.

What is Liver Qi Stagnation?

Liver Qi stagnation results primarily from anger, repressed feelings or resentments, and other emotional upset, especially when extreme or prolonged. Anger is the emotion associated with the Liver in Chinese medicine, just as worry and over-thinking are linked with the Spleen.

What are the signs of Liver Qi Stagnation?

  • Distension of the upper (epigastrium) or lower (abdominal) belly area
  • Pain across the lower ribs (hypogastrium)
  • Hiccups
  • Sighing
  • Depression, moodiness, melancholia
  • Anger or frustration
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Poor appetite
  • Acid reflux, GERD
  • Diarrhea
  • Irregular and/or painful periods (menses)
  • PMS – including breast tenderness and pre-menstrual tension and irritability

Common Causes of Liver Qi Stagnation

Emotional upset and problems with our mental state are the primary cause of Liver Qi stagnation. Prolonged inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle also contribute to stagnant Liver Qi. 

How to soothe Liver Qi Stagnation with your diet

How you eat

  1. Be present while eating. Breathe, relax, and enjoy or at least experience each bite.
  2. Chew thoroughly.
  3. Enjoy a short, peaceful walk after meals.
  4. Eat organic whenever possible. Preservatives, additives, and artificial colors and flavors upset the free flow of Liver Qi.
  5. Include specific foods that move Qi Stagnation.

What you eat

In his book, Chinese System of Food Cures Prevention & Remedies, Henry C. Lu recommends adding foods that move qi to the diet in cases of Liver Qi stagnation. He offers the following examples:

  • Caraway
  • Chive
  • Dill
  • Orange peel
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Spearmint
  • Star Anise
  • Sweet Basil

Some other options include:

  • Onions
  • Garlic 
  • Mustard greens
  • Carrots 
  • Asparagus
  • Celery
  • Horseradish
  • Nutmeg
  • Pepper
  • Ginger
  • Sprouted grains
  • Turmeric

A healthy Liver is soft yet bright

Together the Liver organ, Liver Qi, and Liver channel play a vital role in our health. A happy Liver system is soft, storing the blood and safeguarding the free flow of qi throughout the body.

The sinews or tendons and ligaments are controlled by the Liver. When the Liver is healthy, the nails are strong, and the eyes see clearly and appear bright.

The best diet for Liver Qi Stagnation:

Due to the intimate connection between the Liver and Spleen, the best diet for the Liver also supports the Spleen and Stomach. Warm, moist, easy-to-digest meals like congee, porridge, and soup support the Spleen. Adding foods that move Liver Qi stagnation will help maintain or restore the free-flowing nature of Liver Qi.

For Liver Qi Stagnation overacting on the Spleen and Stomach,  or qi stagnation epigastric pain, Bob Flaws, in The Book of Jook,  recommends a traditional congee called Xing Qi Jian Wei Zhou or Move the Qi and Fortify the Stomach Congee. This recipe is made of polished rice, dried finger citron fruit / Buddha’s Hand (Fo Shou), tangerine peel (Chen Pi), cardamom seed (Sha Ren), and bitter orange (Zhi Qiao).

Examples of Breakfast Cure flavors that contain foods to move Liver Qi stagnation include:

Apple Cinnamon: nutmeg, lemon peel

Kitchari: fennel, carrots, ginger, black pepper, turmeric

Masala Chai Spice: cardamom, fennel, ginger, pepper

Oregon Blueberry: lemon peel, ginger

Pear-fection: cardamom, ginger

Romano Bean Dream: garlic, lemon peel

Triple Berry: sprouted brown rice

Tropical Paradise: ginger, star anise

Honor and Gratitude for a great teacher and highly valued teachings

This year we lost one of our great teachers of Chinese medicine and Chinese dietary therapy with the loss of the honorable Henry C. Lu

May his work and memory continue to inspire healthy, healing dietary choices for people around the world. Thank you, Dr. Lu, for expanding and deepening my understanding of wise food choices.  

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