Our liver is an incredible organ with many functions, which is also related to a whole bunch of symptoms you wouldn’t have thought!
The liver is directly related to the eyes and both are the seats of Pitta dosha in our body – which is why you can determine liver health from the state of your eyes (e.g. yellow eyes, etc.). Pitta dosha is our inner fire, the principle of transformation and metabolism. When in balance, the fire element promotes healthy metabolism and digestion, passion, ambition, drive and focus, balanced circulation and healthy tissue.
Some of the functions of the liver are:
Cleansing and detoxification. The liver filters and cleanses the blood from toxins (ama) and waste products, preventing them to enter the cells of the tissues of the body.
Bile formation & secretion secretion. Important for a healthy digestion and metabolism of food as it emulsifies fats. The by the liver produced bile is temporarily stored in the gallbladder before released into the small intestine and therefor liver and gallbladder health are closely connected.
Hormone production. The liver produces hormones vital for bodily functions.
Synthesis and metabolism of proteins. The liver is the primary location for protein synthesis, metabolism and then degeneration. While most of our bodies tissues are made of protein it is particularly important for muscle build and Ayurveda links a weak or low liver directly to weak or defect muscle tissue.
Blood pressure and volume regulation, generation of red blood cells. The liver does not only generate new red blood cells but also eliminates dead ones.
pH regulation. Next to lungs and kidneys the liver also regulates the base-acid homeostasis of the body.
Metabolism and storage of fat, carbs and proteins as well as storage of vitamins and minerals.
Also, did you know that the liver is the only organ in our body capable of restoring gone tissue? A liver as little as 25% of it's normal size can rebuild itself to a full size, healthy and functioning liver. Pretty incredible, huh? So, our liver is well worth looking after!
Working in synergy with so many other body parts and functions, the following symptoms can be a sign of an imbalanced liver:
- Anger, irritation frustration
- Flushed face, skin irritations, acne
- red, itchy/burning eyes
- water retention
- slow, sluggish metabolism
- lymphatic stagnation
- seasonal allergies
- dark urine, pale or tar-looking stool
Both, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine see trapped fire in the liver behind symptoms and work with diet, herbs and lifestyle to cool down and balance out the excess fire to regain optimal health again.
Liver Cleansing Practices
Here are a few Liver cleansing practices I personally use especially now in spring time when my hay fever is going through the roof (which is often a sign of accumulated pitta in the liver due to Kapha foods and lifestyle over winter, which may have increased the work load on the liver, increasing ama and sluggishness in the body).
Clean eating & consuming.
Eliminate the consumption of processed foods, refined sugar, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, meat & dairy to take strain of your liver. For all the coffee lovers – yes, unfortunately caffeine aggravates the liver too by increasing the body’s stress response. (Did you know that coffee seems to give you an energy kick but really it activates your stress response putting you into fight and flight mode and fatiguing your adrenals?)
You also want to cut back on:
- oils (healthy oils in moderation is great, not too much though and no deep fry, grapeseed or sunflower oils in processed foods)
- night shades like tomatoes, eggplants
- fermented foods (contain vinegar and alcohol)
- hot spices and anything heating/spicy
Eliminate toxicity and chemicals.
Our liver does not only process what we eat but also what we absorb via our skin. Try to eliminate any chemical products in your household and replace them for natural options. This includes soaps and shampoos, any skin and bodycare products through to your dish and laundry liquids and cleaning items. You can find natural alternatives in your local health food shop or handmade on markets, conscious gift & wellbeing stores and often even find better alternatives in your supermarket isle.
Increase bitter, light, sweet, dry and cooling foods.
As we want to pacify Pitta in the liver, which is comprises of the fire and water element, we need to dry up excess water and cool down excess heat. You can do so, by increasing the following foods:
- leafy greens, especially bitters (e.g. kale, dandelion leaf, rocket)
- green vegetables like bitter leaves, cruciferous vegetables, cabbage family
- beans and lentils
- whole grains like oats and barley
- raw foods (cooling and balancing for excess heat)
- beetroots and other sweet root vegetables like sweet potato and pumpkin
Lemon water first thing in the morning.
Starting the morning with a glass of warm water first thing at least 20min before any other drinks or foods is what I recommend all of my clients regardless: It is a great way to flush and clean the system and GI tract before gulping more “food soup” down, it stimulates bowel movement (which ideally we’d have every morning NATURALLY) but it also helps to flush out any toxins and eliminate those from the body via urination.
Intentionally for cleansing your liver, squeeze one lemon and mix with 2C of hot and 2C of cold water, also include the lemon rind (bitter taste). Drink as much as you can of it right away. You can drink what’s left throughout the day. (I usually top that jug back up, the water turns more bitter throughout the day due to the lemon rind, which – if you can bare the taste – has a liver cleansing effect too.
Slow down. – Chill!
Overheating comes from over-doing and too much stress. Allow yourself to slow down, get back to self-care and nourishment in a yin kind of way. Move your body gently with nature walks, swims, surfs, gentle hatha or yin yoga, anything but intense exercise. Allow yourself to “do nothing” and enjoy it. Read books, journal, breathe, stretch, be creative, nurture yourself!
Connect with nature.
Spend time in nature when you can. Get your bare feet onto the ground. Forest bathing or moon bathing are great practices, take a beach walk, or meditate under the trees. Allow nature to ground you as often as possible.
Avoid conflict, stress and tension.
May be easier said than done BUT our liver fire increases with fiery emotions and vice versa. Keep clear and open, yet kind, communication and avoid heated conflicts. When feeling yourself or another person getting worked up, take 5min for each of yourselves to release and re-ground or sleep on it, allowing yourself to vent out your emotions first and come back to the conversation to be civil, constructive and objective later.
Detox tea & liver cleansing herbs.
You can either buy an organic detox tea blend at your local health food store or make your own with some or all of the below herbs:
- dandelion root, dried
- burdock root
- calendula leaves
- liquorice root
- milk thistle
- fresh ginger
- lemon juice
Tongue scraping is a great practice to do each time before brushing your teeth to eliminate plague and therefore toxicity from the tongue. Use a copper tongue scraper and start on the back of your tongue, scraping the plague forward and off.
Avoid brushing your tongue with your toothbrush as this can actually cross-contaminate bacteria of your tongue with those on your teeth and toothbrush and be counterproductive. Also you may brush toxins from one spot to another if not brushing them deeper into the tongue’s tissue if using a brush.
Neti pot is another great Ayurvedic cleansing practice clearing your sinuses by flushing warm salt water through one nostril at a time. It helps clear excess mucous from sinuses and can help snoring and allergic reactions. Fill a neti pot with warm water and about ½ tsp Himalayan pink salt, hold pot onto one nostril, for water to stream back out of the other. Once the pot is empty do a few strong, forceful exhales (Or Kaphalbati pranayama) before doing the same on the other side.
Coffee enemas are an incredible self-therapy practice, helping resolve so many issues from migraines to boosting digestion, metabolism and liver function while clearing and detoxifying the GI tract. It’s been used as a treatment (Basti) for thousands of years in Ayurveda. Other benefits include:
- “boosts immunity
- increase energy
- stops yeast overgrowth
- treats autoimmune diseases
- removes parasites from the digestive tract
- removes heavy metals from the body
- treats depression
- treats cancer” – via healthline
Coffee enemas are something I personally use on a regular basis (one a week or fortnight) as it’s a great maintenance (relative to your body mind type and state of balance.) When actively cleansing I might do an enema every morning on an empty stomach for a week maximum to support boost my bodies metabolic functions.
Conducting a coffee enema
What you need:
- enema kit (you get a plastic one at your local chemist, I bought a stainless steel kit online)
- a relaxed atmosphere in your bathroom (or close to a toilet😉)
- blanket/yoga mat with towel over it to lay on
- little bit of natural moisturizer or organic oil
- high quality organic (!!) coffee
- it is important that you are relaxed when doing an enema. Of course, if you have not done such practice before (or an colonoscopy or hysterectomy in hospitals) it can be a little uncomfortable at first, hence it is very helpful to set the right atmosphere. If you are tense/nervous/stressed/anxious, your stomach and GI muscles are the first ones to tense up which will be counterproductive and make cause discomfort or you not being able to hold the liquid.
I recommend lighting a candle/burning incense or a diffuser, having soft lights in your bathroom, relaxing music (I do them in my backyard in the sun over summer, laying on the lawn as I feel best in nature but each their own).
- Lay on your LEFT side while doing the enema/kneel or lay flat on your back.
- Practice deep breathing meanwhile. You might do light reading or perhaps listen to an audio book or music, do anything that does not create mental strain either because again it will cause the body to tense up.
- Given you are making liquid go against gravity and the usual way it would move through your GI tract, it can take a few attempts to get used to it. Be easy and gentle on yourself, remember the deep breathing and staying relaxed. Don’t try to clench your pelvic floor or anal muscles to “hold the liquid in” but rather allow yourself to soften into it – your anus muscle naturally engage just enough for you to not usually leak, right? 😉
- Take is slow – as mentioned, especially when being new to it, it can create sensations of discomfort temporarily. Slow down, your enema kit has a clip on the hose with which you can regulate and slow the flow down or stop and start as you need to.
- I usually do two enema rounds, try to hold the liquid of each one in for 12-15min. The first one is always the harder one, which I do with only water and use the coffee for the second one.
- Prepare your coffee either in a plunger or boil in pot (which I usually do for a stronger mixture). Let cool down to lukewarm/room temperature.
- Meanwhile start on your first enema round just with lukewarm water: fill water into enema bag, lubricate nozzle and anus with a little natural moisturizer or oil (I just used organic sesame oil).
- Hang enema up high on a hook (because gravity fed) and lay down comfortably (on your LEFT), kneel or turn onto your back on your towel, inserting the nozzle into your anus and regulate the flow with the clip on the hose. Start slow and stop and start whenever you need to. Stay present with deep belly breaths.
- The liquid run 3-4min until enema bag is fully empty. You can then take out the nozzle (kink hose with nozzle, I put enema nozzle & hose into shower next to me) and relax for another 10-12min holding the liquid in you before eliminating on the toilet. Again, take your time, don’t push (as your muscles will tense and may trap liquid) but stay relaxed.
- When you are ready start the next and final round with coffee. Same procedure.