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Your Right Side Your Liver

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It seems that when we end up talking to patients these days we end up talking to them at least in part about their Liver. I am particularly called to consciousness about this by a patient I had in most recently. They called me about a shoulder problem and wanted to know over the phone just how long it would take to fix it. This is never an easy question to answer because unless the problem is directly related to an injury of some sort, the source of the problem is rarely just the shoulder itself.

When I delved a little deeper into the condition of the patient, the person on the other end admitted to me that her husband, the patient in question, had been suffering from a plethora of chronic symptoms that only seemed to be at their worst around the shoulder and had steadily gotten worse over the years. So, I quickly asked her, “Which shoulder?” Now it may seem odd to you that knowing whether the problem is right or left matters little, but this is often my first differentiation of the origins of chronic conditions. “The right one,” she said. Then I was able to make a lot of educated guesses which really took this lady aback.

“Is he a light sleeper who wakes up a lot between the hours of 11 and 3?” Yes. “Are most of his problems on the right?” Yes. “Does he get short-tempered easily?” Yes. “Does he sigh a lot like it is hard to get a deep breath?” Yes. “Are his muscles always tight and does he find it hard to get comfortable?” Yes. “Does he get short tempered easily?” Yes. “Well,” I said, “He has a problem with his Liver and Gallbladder.”

In Chinese medicine we are often led into doing a fair bit of sleuthing, but sometimes a pattern is so clear that the pattern becomes a no brainer. Characteristic of Liver/Gallbladder blockage were a series of predictable circumstances. He had definite pain running from his shoulder and neck up the right side of his head and around his right scapula. Because he had worked in the building trades for a number of years and was right handed, he put this down to overuse. That may have been partly to blame if it had not been for the fact that his right hip ached constantly and a pain down the right side of his leg was also a constant strain. He was a light sleeper, sometimes waking up and finding it hard to get back to sleep between the hours of 11pm to 3 or 4 am.

Right Side Pain

This may seem too simple for some of you, but the right side is the virtual domain of the Liver and Gallbladder. Most often this will come to light around the mid thirties or early forties. Muscles on the right side can feel extremely tight, too tight to be freed, with a constant intractable pain that just can’t be stretched out.

Insomnia - of Sorts

The Liver keeps us up at night because it reaches its highest level of activity and pain between the hours of 11 pm to 3 or 4 am. Many of my Liver patients swore that they only slept for a very short time before the alarm went off. Sometimes they were too tired and overstressed to even get to sleep the next night.

Anger, Frustration and Short Temper

Even in literature down through the ages the term “Liverish” was the very meaning of frustration and a peevish temper. We are tight and bound up internally and then we explode. In women with this Liverish angst, can be exacerbated by the buildup of blood within the body before the onset of monthly menstruation. This is a case of the energies being stuck and not moving within the body which is bad enough and then doubling that tension with another pint of blood behind the dam. One is going to explode! This is of course what happens when women in the pressure cooker of everyday life meet the internal pressures of blood buildup before a period, ending in PMS.

Night sweats and Shakes

The Liver is the organ most responsible for the even flow of blood throughout the body, according to Chinese medicine, and it also has a profound effect on the flow of Qi (pronounced Chi), or vital energy. Blood and energy have a very close relationship. Qi is the energy that moves the blood. When we are stressed, the Liver is affected and the Qi will stagnate there. If the Qi stagnates or hardly moves at all, then so does the blood. If the blood stagnates then many things will happen. One of the things that doesn’t happen is that it doesn’t cool and calm the body at night like it is supposed to. (This encompasses a little bit of yin –yang theory which is the essence of Chinese medicine and a little involved.) If the blood does not get to the eyes, they will become dry and may show floaters in front of the eyes. Our vision can even become blurry and somewhat blocked.

Blood, in turn, is the anchoring force for the Qi. If for some reason the blood becomes stuck or stagnated, such as the result of a major surgery, a traffic accident or an extremely emotional period in one’s life, the blood may not be fluid enough to run with the force of the Qi and it separates from the flow. In this case the Qi runs wild without the anchoring effect of the blood, and becomes a wind that may have a special effect on the muscles and tendons of the body. The Liver is usually responsible for keeping these bathed in blood, moving freely and without pain. This wind that affects the muscles and tendons can be as mild as a tick or a fidget, to something more serious like calves that quiver and shake our heads that bob, but in the extreme it can result in things like facial tics, spasms or more serious matters like Parkinson’s disease or a partial paralysis of some sort.

What can We do?

The complicity of the Liver in a whole host of problems from right side aches to menstrual problems, to eye problems, and skin conditions pretty much runs the continuum complicit to a whole host of chronic health problems. But basically there is a lot around lifestyle, emotions, stress and diet that when they fall under our sphere of control, can be done to turn things around.


My directive when dealing with Liver - Gallbladder people is always to avoid: coffee, chocolate, cheese and oils. Oil is of course the big one encompassing: fried foods, margarines, nuts and nut butters, most crackers and chips, fatty meats, mayonnaise etc. Most of the time when I give people this list in lectures, half of the audience smiles for themselves or their spouses because as someone always says, “That’s my whole diet.” Be that as it may, all of the above foods are congestive and far too acidic to be balanced or even balanceable. Unfortunately, our rich diet in North America and its accent on acidity and richness are some of the reasons why we lead the world in heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, bowel problems and cancer.


Most North Americans find extra time at the cost of this one basic need. In order for the Liver and Gallbladder to be healthy, basic sleep must be properly tended to and satiated. Most hard to heal insomniacs started this indemnity with a conscious sacrifice of sleep time and now find a bit of natural sleep nothing that they can take for granted anymore. People who at one time made and extra buck by working late at night or graveyard shifts are spending a good deal of their hard earned money in places like my clinic to try and get their sleep cycle back to something close to normal. Once the body starts suffering the effects of sleep deprivation, the Liver becomes angry, muscles tighten and the problems become embedded in this liver-gallbladder condition.

Avoiding Stress and Confrontation

Liverish people have a whole lot of traits that naturally lead to the demise of the Liver. Problems with the Liver exacerbate the need to make these traits more important than they probably are, and add the biting teeth of anger, short temperedness and frustration to the effort. Liver types commonly have to have every problem resolved and will fight to have them resolved in their favor. Every issue is a battle that has to be won or it is a source of angst or a thorn in their sides. In order to find peace with their Livers, one has to learn to accept many things as non issues and learn to let more issues fall by the wayside without needing to conquer it. Choosing our battles carefully and recognizing when we are consumed by anger are primary steps to staying away from the vicious cycle of this liver-gallbladder family of syndromes.

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