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How to Stay Healthy in Spring - Part 2

Welcome to the second part of my How to Stay Healthy in Spring blog series.

Last month, we focused on the transition from winter to spring, touching on traditional Chinese medicine. We learnt how the Liver and gallbladder are two of our internal organs in the spotlight during spring and what we should or should not be eating. If you missed last month’s blog, you can find it on my blog page.

This month, we explore how we know if we are 'yin or yang natured' and how we can help balance our emotions.

Liver yin deficiency

Those with Liver yin deficiency can experience signs such as dizziness, dry eyes and weak vision, night blindness, ringing in the ears and dry, brittle nails. Yin deficiency signs are red cheeks and tongue, hot palms and soles, night sweats and afternoon fevers, and frequent small thirst.

Emotionally, deficient Liver yin can manifest as depression, nervous tension or irritability. On the other hand, balanced Liver yin calms and stabilises. Foods that boost Liver yin include soybean products, millet and liver.

Blood and the Liver

Without sufficient blood production in the body, possible problems include anaemia, numbness, pale fingernails and face, memory loss, insomnia, seeing spots in your eyes, ringing in the ears, dry eyes and irregular periods or very light or absent periods for women. Emotionally, insufficient blood can cause depression, nervous tension or irritability. Watercress is a spring food that builds yin and blood. To assist blood flow, eat plenty of leafy greens, dates, beans, peanuts and a small amount of liver and red meat.

Liver yang excess

The Liver is often excessive in spring. The Liver is a real action organ. It gives you force and helps you get things done. But too much Liver yang or Qi can manifest as anger. So, Liver yang is like rain – without rain, nothing grows; with the right amount of rain, things thrive, and with too much rain, everything is washed away.

Foods that calm the Liver will benefit everyone in spring. For people who have plenty of yang characteristics, or heat, this is even more relevant. Sweet foods – that's the full sweetness of grains, vegetables and meat, soothe aggressive Liver emotions such as anger and impatience. In spring, foods such as a bay leaf, coconut milk, black sesame, celery, kelp and spring onions all have a calming effect on the Liver qi. These can be particularly useful since if the Liver qi gets out of hand, it can invade the Spleen, causing vomiting, nausea, distension, flatulence and diarrhoea. As long as there are no signs of heat, quick-acting sweeteners can be eaten in spring to calm the Liver. You can try eating raw honey, apple cider vinegar or liquorice root too.[2].

Take some liquorice roots in spring to calm the Liver

We should be careful not to overstimulate the Liver, which is especially true if we have a strong and vigorous body type, or you have a history of aggressiveness. Liver imbalances are most likely to occur in middle age. Foods that cool and calm the Liver yang are useful. Try celery, watercress, lettuce and seaweed. If these are new foods to your diet, introduce them slowly and don't overeat them as they can cause diarrhoea.

Overeating and how it affects the Liver

Overeating, especially rich and greasy foods, make the Liver so hard it gets sluggish, and then it can't distribute qi properly, causing stagnation. When qi and fluids don't flow about the body properly, eyes and tendons suffer. Tendons can tear, become inflamed or inflexible. Eyes may become red, itchy or swollen, or they may develop visual abnormalities such as cataracts. When the Liver becomes sluggish (stagnant Liver qi), this leads to anger and frustration and a sense of being held back. At first, the Liver Qi becomes blocked, we can become depressed or frustrated, and then when the Qi pushes through the blockage all at once, it shows up as anger.

Stagnant Liver signs include a feeling of a lump in the throat, distension in the breasts or abdomen, allergies, lumps or swellings, chronic indigestion, neck or back tension, inflexible body, eye problems, tendon problems and being slow to get going in the morning. Emotional signs of stagnancy can be emotional repression, anger, frustration, resentment, impatience, edginess, depression, moodiness, poor judgement, difficulty making decisions, mental rigidity and negativity. Foods that help ease the Liver stagnancy in spring include both pungent and sweet foods, including watercress, cardamom, oregano, dill, pepper, or rosemary.

Heat in the Liver

Rising Liver heat can be caused by stagnancy. A stagnant Liver eventually generates Liver heat, often called Liver fire. Think about the term 'gung-ho' in English; it comes from the Chinese words' gan-huo' or Liver-fire. Liver heat symptoms include anger, impatience, headaches and migraines, dizziness and high blood pressure. Other signs of Liver heat include a red face, dry red eyes, red tongue, menopausal disorders, indigestion and constipation. Liver heat can predispose people to frequent irritability, an explosive personality, shouting, wilfulness, arrogance, rudeness, aggression and even violence. To cool the Liver, you need to build up yin fluids. Watercress is perfect for counteracting heat in the Liver. Bitter and sour foods help reduce Liver excess, too, including grapefruit [3], rye and chamomile.

Looking after the Gallbladder

The rich, fatty foods that make the Liver struggle also negatively impact the gallbladder, manifesting as indigestion, flatulence, shoulder tension, and a bitter taste in the mouth. Remember that spring is the time for energy to float up. Anything heavy, such as oil or rich foods, weigh us down and make it very difficult for the energy to move up. A simple diet of cooked vegetables, grains and legumes can assist in clearing these symptoms gradually. Specific foods that speed up the process include lemons, limes, turmeric, parsnips, radishes, linseed oil, chamomile tea and seaweed.

So what to eat in spring?

Foods that eliminate Wind getting the energy up and moving also support Liver yin, calm Liver yang, remove heat and stagnation from the Liver and support the spleen. In general, foods that are good for spring are warm and ascending sweet foods.

In early spring, try cabbage, sweet potato, carrot and beetroot. As the weather changes, move to mint, sweet rice, shitake mushrooms, peas, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, and cherries in late spring. Gently warming pungent foods are particularly good for spring. These include fennel, oregano, rosemary, caraway, dill, bay leaf, grains, legumes and seeds. Pungent flavoured foods stimulate the circulation of Qi and blood, moving energy up and out.

Remember, a little goes a long way. Pungent foods also regulate Qi, enhance digestion, disperse mucus, stimulate the Lungs, blood and heart, guard against mucus-forming conditions such as the common cold, remove obstructions and improve sluggish Liver function. Pungents improve digestion and expel flatulence from the intestines to fix bloating. And pungents make grains, legumes, nuts and seeds less mucus forming. Pungent foods you can add to your foods in spring include mint, spring onions, ginger, horseradish, chamomile and black pepper.

Ginger helps eliminate Wind

Combining foods well can get the best out of them. Spinach strengthens both the blood and Liver, but if you are feeling angry, too much spinach may stimulate the Liver and increase your anger. However, spinach can be balanced with tofu, as tofu will counteract the spinach's effect on the Liver because tofu builds yin and is cooling. Honey and mint tea is perfect for spring as it is gently warming and encourages Qi upwards. Mung beans, green peas and green beans are colour coordinated to revitalize the spirit of spring. They also remove heat, which can be very beneficial for many people during spring.

Enjoy the energy of spring!

[1] The capital 'L' is used here to indicate that in this case, the Liver in TCM represents not only the physical organ but also the functions as described by TCM, the channel of the Liver system, and also the emotional and spiritual energies of the Liver.

[2] In large amounts and with long-term use, liquorice root can cause high blood pressure and low potassium levels, which could lead to heart and muscle problems.

[3] Eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice can affect some medicines. In most cases, it increases the level of medicine in your blood. This can increase the risk of side effects or alter the effect the medicine has. If you are on any medication, please check with your healthcare professional if eating grapefruit has any effect on your medicine.

Material sources: Straight Bamboo Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

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