Fatigue, food sensitivities and farts. Early spring is the time of year when we are most susceptible to liver sluggishness. Know what signs and symptoms to look out for and what you can do about them.
October is the month of the year when I see the highest incidence of IBS, digestion and allergy complaints in clinic. Do you suffer any of the following nine symptoms in spring?
- stomach pain
- acid regurgitation
- passing wind to excess
- increased sensitivity or allergy to trigger foods
- skin discolouration, dark spots, flakiness, or circles
- tiredness and chronic fatigue
- allergy symptoms e.g. chest congestion, sneezing, running nose, itching eyes
If so, read on. Your liver may be in need of some serious loving!
Why the liver?
In short, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) explains this phenomenon better than any other paradigm I’ve come across in my Western medical career. Let me say right now that although I’m a qualified dietitian and nutritionist, I’m not a Chinese medicine practitioner. However, being half Chinese, I can attest to the power of TCM. As a child my mum used to feed my brother and I sweet, nutritive, herb-packed broths throughout winter and forced us to down her mystery bitter concoctions in early spring. We very rarely got sick and had so much energy we drove her half crazy!
The five element theory in TCM can help us to understand why so many people experience irritable bowels during spring, and why we may wake up one sunny spring morning with a runny nose.
This theory is based on the observation of the natural cycles and inter-relationships in the environment and within ourselves. For example, there are five environmental elements – fire, earth, metal, water, and wood -each corresponding to certain body organs or systems.
Spring is associated with the wood element, which governs the liver and gall bladder. Both organs work as blood cleansers, and since they’ve been working hard all winter to keep our blood free of toxins, it makes sense that it is now time to give them a much needed spring clean so they can function to their fullest. Wanting to sleep more than usual and feeling foggy-headed are signs your liver cannot appropriately excrete toxins, a process that would allow energy to flow freely through the body once again.
Strong winds are typical during spring. In TCM, the blowing of wind in spring can over-strengthen the liver, which in turn can affect the spleen. A disharmony of the liver and spleen may be detected by observing symptoms such as stomach pain, acid regurgitation, bloating, and diarrhoea. This is because the liver isn’t producing enough enzymes to aid your digestion. In other words: it’s a bit weighed down with toxins.
The liver plays a role in healthy blood circulation and detoxification. If it cannot do that properly you will see it in your skin, usually in the form of flakes and dark circles.
The flowers are out and that means allergy problems are abundant during spring. If the liver is not optimally healthy, it could affect the spleen and the lungs. Symptoms of this disharmony between organs include : chest congestion, sneezing, running nose, itching eyes and other symptoms that are associated with allergy problems.
Are you finding it difficult to lose weight, even if you exercise and eat healthily? Your liver may be too overwhelmed to produce and excrete the substances that detoxify and support healthy metabolism. It could also signal longer standing issues that are linked to the liver and need to be addressed such as sex hormone imbalances.
Other symptoms indicating your liver needs help can include : reduced immune function, elevated LDL cholesterol levels, high triglycerides, cellulite, and poor nails and hair.
How to cleanse the liver
For all the above reasons, it is very important during spring to cleanse the liver and lungs and to bring a balance among them and other body organs. Nutrition, Western herbal medicine, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can help to accomplish this balance.
Our energy is constantly changing, and therefore what we eat needs to be consistently changed. Therein lies the value of intuitive eating. Similarly, the energy of the seasons affects us enormously; so we should all cater our diets to the seasons.
There are many foods that can help in soothing and cleansing the liver:
- green leafy vegetables, e.g., kale, spinach
- bitter greens, e.g., mustard greens, dandelion greens, rocket, watercress
- sprouts, e.g., sunflower, mung bean, alfalfa, broccoli sprouts
- vegetable juices
- green tea
Green is the colour of the liver and of spring. Green leafy vegetables, particularly from young plants, help by cleansing and freshening the body. They benefit the liver’s overall wellbeing.
Dandelion also works well as a spring cleanser. A balanced diet with a variety of juices such as citrus fruits, pear, apple, celery, beetroot, and carrot is very helpful. Sprouts from seeds such as beans, mung, and radish are valuable for use in spring, as well. Warming spices such as garlic, ginger and turmeric increase blood circulation to the liver to give it a kickstart.
- Dandelion root
- St Mary’s thistle
- Globe artichoke
Speak with your naturopath, herbalist, TCM practitioner, or other suitably qualified health practitioner to get a specific spring cleansing protocol including herbs created for you.
If you’re up for some work, you could always harvest the dandelion that’s growing in your yard (or your neighbour’s because I’m sure they wouldn’t mind). Eat it or make it into a tincture. Just make sure it hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals.
How to harvest dandelion
The best time for the leaves and roots is early spring before the flower blooms, and late autumn when the flower has gone. Dandelion taproots are deep and best harvested with a shovel or trowel.
Leaves can be added raw to salads, or steamed and sauteed with garlic like other dark leafy greens. Early settlers did it, although if you eat the leaves, I recommend the early harvest for a sweeter taste.
To make dandelion tincture, harvest the root and leaves when flowers are not present. Both leaves and roots can be washed, chopped, put into a glass jar, and covered with alcohol, such as 100 proof vodka. Steep in a dark cupboard for 6 weeks. Strain and save the liquid. A dose is 10-30 drops of tincture per day to cleanse the liver.
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