Welcome to Part 2 of my series on painful menstruation, cysts, bloating, depression, and well…. pretty much everything you can imagine that relates to feminine and mood issues! This series can be applied to disorders ranging from PCOS to anxiety to estrogen dominance – all the way to IBS and gastritis because the underlying issue we’re discussing here is Liver Qi Stagnation. It’s all about the liver, baby. As soon as our liver incurs any blockages or congestion, the health of our whole body declines. These blockages, whether physical or energetic, manifest as hormone imbalances, mood disorders, painful stomach syndromes, etc. Click here to read Part 1: The Cause, which completely explains the liver’s role in the root of all of these issues. Below I’ll be talking about how the body gets to the point of Liver Qi Stagnation, and how to treat it for good.
As I explained in Part 1, the basic energetic imbalance that causes PMS is Liver Qi Stagnation. The liver is responsible for “spreading the Qi” throughout the body at the right times of the day (Qi can be interpreted as energy, hormones, and life force). When there is congestion in the liver, your Qi is congested in the lower abdomen. That Qi is responsible for moving your blood, so when it’s stagnant, the blood also becomes stagnated. Over time, congested or ‘stuck’ blood will lead to ovarian cysts, fibroids, endometriosis, myomas, chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, and painful menstrual periods because the body is cramping/seizing up to expel your period.
The liver is also the seat of emotion, so any congestion of energy in the liver stagnates your emotions causing depression, lack of motivation, sadness, lethargy, fatigue, and more. When this stagnation builds up heat, and that heat rises to the heart, it causes anxiety. A liver full of stagnant heat will also attack its neighboring organ system, the stomach, causing painful conditions like gastritis and IBS (especially those that get worse with stress and emotions! It makes perfect sense). This is all very simple to understand, with a very simple root cause, but Western medicine never looks at the source of disorders and only aims to cover up symptoms. This is why I had no answers for so long when I was sick.
Before I discuss the treatment it’s very important to understand why this problem is so prevalent among modern women today. According to Chinese medicine, the liver is the “temperamental organ.” That means it is easily harmed by emotional upset. It is particularly susceptible to anger, which makes the Qi rise up rebelliously:
One of the main goals of menstruation is for the Yang energy (the heat of the body, which would move the energy/Qi) to descend into the pelvis so that blood can move out. When this energy doesn’t descent, that’s when the liver Qi becomes stagnant. If the body is focused on anger and negative emotions, the Qi will just rise and project outward instead of moving down for ease of menstruation and blood flow.
Most, if not all women with PMS (and all women in general because of our modern world) have more than an average amount of emotional stress in their lives stretching back at least to puberty. Stress = frustration and anger, and the burden we face just keeps building. So many women are mothers, even single mothers, working full time jobs fulfilling both the roles of caring for the home and bringing home the bacon. It’s not easy and these women are true heroes.
Unfortunately, our world is only speeding up. We have to keep up with 20 text messages, 17 e-mails, getting a workout in, looking our best even when we need 10 more hours of sleep, getting to work/school on time, making time for family and friends, nurturing our relationship, and somehow in the mix of all that finding time just to relax and read a book. Most of my friends have been working a full time job since they were 16 and haven’t stopped once, even when they began college. Where are we supposed to fit a moment in there to prepare 3 fresh, home-cooked meals as we should be eating? When do we have any time to breathe?
On top of that, the world is getting meaner. When you commute home from work and need peace and quiet, you have to fight traffic and road-rage drivers that are overworked just like you. People don’t say hello or how are you on the street anymore; most just cat call or give you a look. The media constantly projects fear on us to keep us controlled whether it’s Ebola, measles, shootings, or terrorism. We’re bombarded with advertisements that tell us we’re not good enough and need to rush out to buy a product or service to make us acceptable to society. Music no longer talks about love; if you turn on the radio all you hear is Nicki Minaj yelling that you’re basic or Juicy J rapping about sex. Even pop songs are about competition and materialism rather than companionship and emotion. Reality TV and drama have replaced wholesome programs about what it means to be a family. Internet anonymity has given people the power to project their insecurities and say whatever they want without consequences. Even if you aren’t at the brunt of the insults, if you’re using the Internet, you’re constantly exposed to these comments all over YouTube, Instagram, and more. As a whole, the world is harsh right now. Even though technology has given us the ability to communicate with people all around the world, we are losing our ability to disconnect from the virtual and live in the moment. Every party or family function I go to consists of at least 3/4 of the attendees scrolling through Facebook or staring at screens. We’re living in a time where we can speak constantly, but have nothing to say. People are lonelier and unhappier than ever and we’re all feeling the frustration. This frustration completely impedes the flow of Qi, immediately affecting our fragile livers.
Our lives are incredibly stressful on an emotional level, but there’s an environmental and energetic war being fought as well. Our entire lifestyle generates more stress than the human organism is capable of withstanding. Background noise from our computers that are constantly on, background music everywhere we go, blaring televisions, EMF radiation from our phones that are constantly on our bodies, driving in cars, pollution, denatured processed food, politics, the breakdown of the nuclear/extended family, and the rise of disease such as cancer causes us more stress than most of us are aware of.
As I mentioned before, the liver is responsible for keeping the Qi (energy and hormones) flowing smoothly throughout the body. Birth control pills, which are completely unnatural, add hormones that are out of phase with the body’s normal periodicity. These synthetic hormones adversely affect the Liver’s spreading function and thus the energy of the entire body. This is why birth control pills are implicated in high incidences of pelvic and breast tumors, which according to TCM always begin as Liver Qi Stagnation. Recently, The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer re-classified hormonal contraceptives as carcinogenic to humans. Dr. Samuel Epstein, world leader in cancer research has warned that the pill is “the largest unregulated human trial that’s ever been conducted.” In The Breast Cancer Prevention Program, Epstein says, “more than 20 well-controlled studies have demonstrated the clear risk of premenopausal breast cancer with the use of oral contraceptives. These estimates indicate that a young woman who uses oral contraceptives has up to ten times the risk for developing breast cancer as does a non-user, particularly if she uses the Pill during her teens or early twenties; if she uses the Pill for two years or more; if she uses the Pill before her first full-term pregnancy; if she has a family history of breast cancer.” What kind of odds are those? Breast tumors always begin as Liver Qi stagnation. It’s all about the liver.
Other birth control methods, such as IUDs, tubal ligations impair the proper circulation of the Qi and blood in the pelvis. Even common Western solutions like appendectomies and taking antibiotics to control an infection in the stomach/vagina impair this delicate energy flow and create stagnant blood and Qi in the liver/uterus. You can read my post here on a birth control method that requires absolutely nothing but taking your temperature, and is more effective than the pill on the Pearl Index!
– Poor diet, of course. We NEED to stop eating processed food and thinking that packaged food is acceptable. Packaged food will always damage your body in some way. It costs more per pound to buy junk food or pseudo-health food like granola bars/’meal replacement shakes’ than to buy rice and beans in the bulk section, bulk vegetables and fresh organic eggs from your local farmers market (most now accept food stamps!), and versatile filling foods like sweet potato that you can eat pop in the toaster oven and eat for breakfast for under a dollar. I eat one large sweet potato every single morning.
– Poor sleeping patterns. Look at the Chinese body clock! You are not supposed to be up past 9 or 10 pm. This is so important. You will never be healthy if you are staying up until midnight or 1 AM every night, even if you’re sleeping late the next day. After 11pm we enter gall bladder and liver time, and being awake or active during these hours directly causes Liver Qi Stagnation. Waking up with the sun sets your hormones for the entire day, so try to make it a habit.
– Environmental toxins. I addressed this before when I talked about pollution, EMF radiation, etc. Make sure you are drinking fluoride-free water, not using plastic to drink from or store/heat your food, eating GMO free or organic food, and avoiding heavy metals (like aluminum pots and flu vaccines) at all costs.
– Lack of Movement and Physical Exercise. We need to go on more hikes to move the blood and Qi. We need to go out into nature and breathe the fresh air, take a Qi gong or Yoga class, get a massage, try Acupuncture, rest in quiet contentment and gratitude for all that we have. These lifestyle changes can help soothe the agitation in our liver.
– Coffee, black tea, energy drinks, soda with caffeine. Anything with caffeine or stimulants makes you feel great because it temporarily and artificially released Liver Qi Stagnation. When the stimulant is excreted, however, the stagnation is even worse than before. Seriously, give up the coffee and your life will change.
– Thick, creamy, or cheesy sauces. Cut any hydrogenated fats and pasteurized cheese. The only cheese I ever consume is raw, grass-fed directly from the farm and even then it’s a few times per year at most.
– Alcohol. Don’t do it! It’s too yang and charges up your liver causing the Qi to ascend, just like anger. Actually, that’s why alcohol can make people angry and violent.
– Excessive sugar. Sugar is as addictive as cocaine and creates a viscous cycle. Taper down and break it off as soon as possible.
– Red meat: lamb, beef. These are very yang/warming and great in the winter. Those who do not have liver Qi stagnation are able to consume red meat in moderation. However, for those with live issues, chicken and fish are much better. As always, make sure that you know your farmer and that your meat is organic/pasture-raised (check your local Farmer’s Market). Do not over consume meat portions – vegetables should always be the bulk of your diet!
– Fried and oily food. These foods create damp heat in the body and liver, creating more anger, depression, and emotional issues.
– Heavy, complicated meals. Keep it simple, fresh, and full of whole foods.
– Super-sized meals. Eat smaller portions that your liver and spleen can handle.
– Late dinner and eating before bed. Night time is when your Qi draws into your body to regenerate all of your organs. Your liver is supposed to be healing itself, not secreting bile to digest the food that you ate. If you eat late at night, your liver will never fully heal.
– Inactive lifestyle. Get moving! Get that lymph pumping. Purchase a small trampoline for your home and jump on it several times a day. Best purchase I ever made!
– Repressing your feelings. Journal it out. Writing literally brings emotional and physical healing. The best thing you can do for your body is to keep a journal of your emotions and talk things out with yourself on paper.
– Excessive work and stress. Turn off the electronics!! In the last decade, electronics have taken over our lives in a whole new way. Constantly checking our smartphones creates agitation in our livers. Unplug and get outside at least once each day.
– Eat real food!
The best foods for Liver Qi Stagnation are on the list above. You can also include dates, cherries, chicken, deep ocean fish, coconut meat, squash, sweet potato, rice, and red beans. Fish, garlic, and greens are most healing in my opinion.
– Cooked, warm, nourishing vegetables. No raw food. I know that raw food is all the rage right now, but it’s simply not right for everyone. Vegetables, especially greens, are very yin and cooling. When you cook them, the color becomes richer. Humans are attracted to color because we know it’s good for us, and the deep hue signals us that the nutrients become more available once the greens or veggies are heated up. In traditional Chinese medicine, when you cook your meal, the stomach doesn’t have to exert its energy because the food is already at the temperature of your body. That means you can save your Qi for digestion and nutrient extraction instead of heating up the food. Nutrients are more easily assimilated because heating helps break down food structure making the vitamins and minerals more available. You need as many nutrients as you can get to heal the body and liver.
– Exercise!! When we sit, the Blood in our arms and legs returns to the liver for storage. This pooling of blood in the liver tends to aggravate the liver Qi stagnation. Exercise pumps this blood out of the liver and along with it, some of the stuck Qi.
– Spend time relaxing with activities or people you like. Whether you’re talking through the things that are bothering you or letting go of the cares of the day, relaxing and laughing with people you enjoy spending time with is a great way to unwind the stagnation in your liver.
– Breathe. One of the reasons why exercise is so helpful for Liver Qi stagnation is that you have to breathe harder and you get more oxygen into the body. Deep breathing is essential. Try lying in bed and breathing deeply 10 times before you fall asleep each night. At work, set an alarm at your desk to stop every 30 minutes and take 5 deep breaths. Or better yet, step outside and get 5 deep breathes of fresh air.
– Use your liver acupuncture/acupressure points.
Press these points off and on all throughout your day. You can use them when you wake up in the morning and especially whenever you are stressed or angry. Pressing on these points can also provide relief of menstrual cramps in the moment.
– Deep relaxation and meditation. What will get at the root of the full/stagnated liver Qi is deep relaxation. This, more than anything else, remedies the effects of stress and emotional upset and can be sufficient enough to heal psychoemotional problems if done the right way. The right way means that it must include the entire body: muscular relaxation – not just cerebral relaxation. It also must result in the center of consciousness coming out of the head as found in deep meditation. It then must be done for a minimum of twenty minutes per day, but does not need to be done more than thirty minutes. And finally, it must be done every single day without missing a day for at least 3 months or 100 days.
– Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine: Xiao Yao Wan!
Xiao Yao Wan is the most amazing formula for Liver Qi Stagnation. The herbs in this formula disperse stagnant energy in the liver, regulating the secretion of hormones – especially estrogen dominance, which is so common due to pesticides, petrochemicals and xenoestrogens in items such as plastic. In a study including 51 patients, levels of estrogen and prolactin were significantly reduced after use of Xiao Yao Wan whereas no change was observed in levels of testosterone.
Preliminary research suggests that xiao yao wan may have antidepressant-like effects. In a study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2013, for example, tests on rats revealed that xiao yao wan may help fight depression by protecting against stress-related changes in biochemistry.
Xiao yao wan also shows promise as a treatment for functional dyspepsia (a condition marked by indigestion), according to a report published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 2009.
Xiao yao wan has been traditionally prescribed for anxiety, depression, headaches, menstrual pain, premenstrual syndrome, pain alleviation, and mood improvement. It is also used to stimulate the digestive system and treat digestion-related health troubles, such as IBS and gastritis. The important thing is that it treats the root cause of stagnation in the liver, which is what I’ve been talking about all along. The photo above is of the batch we’re brewing now and in 6 weeks when it’s done, you’ll be able to find xiao yao wan tinctures in my Organic Olivia shop! You can click here to subscribe to an e-mail list and receive a notification when it’s done.Affiliate Disclosure