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8 Tips for Summer Liver Care

The liver is particularly vulnerable to summer’s excessive heat. Uncover the tips to ensure you’re doing the most for your liver as the mercury continues to rise this season.

Being aware of your liver’s condition and what is best for it takes a slightly different turn as the temperature rises. When viewing hepatic health from the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, anyone with liver disease can make informed choices about how to best handle the summer’s heat.

According to TCM, the liver’s primary function is assuring the smooth flow of energy (qi) throughout the body. Assuring this smooth flow influences the mechanics of every body system, especially organs with digestive responsibilities. A diseased liver has less mobility than a healthy one, resulting in a reduced ability to move the qi smoothly. Similar to a sauce left on a stove burner for too long, lengthy heat exposure reduces the qi’s fluidity. Likewise, heat’s drying and clumping effect on qi will further its stagnation. For this reason, it is very important for people with compromised liver conditions to minimize the impact of summer’s heat.

TCM perceives humans as a microcosm of our environment, making us just as vulnerable to the elements as a flower. In the summer months, extra care is needed to protect a flower from the ravages of the sun’s heat. To prevent wilting, shade and water helps maintain and possibly revitalize a plant exposed to endless hot rays. Finding ways to keep cool and hydrated this season will protect you and the organ most vulnerable to excessive heat from sliding even further down the path of liver disease.

A logical goal to controlling excessive amounts of heat is through the balance provided by a cold application. However, in this case, the application of extreme cold harbors negative consequences to a person with liver disease. While excessive heat can reduce fluidity, cold can reduce circulation by contracting the tissues it makes contact with.

Our experts in TCM have compiled a list of seven options to consider for quelling the heat that typically accumulates within the liver during our hottest season:

1. Lightly cook foods – Avoid pressure cooking, deep-frying or baking to decrease the heat in your food. When sautéing, steaming or simmering, attempt to limit the total amount of cooking time. A healthy reaction to increased air temperature is perspiration, which serves to cool the body but also results in a loss of nutrients. A shorter cooking time helps food retain more of the nutrients necessary for liver health.

2. Hydrate – Drinking plenty of water is a wise choice to counteract the effects of excessive heat. This will prevent dehydration and helps to keep the liver well lubricated.

3. Limit heavy foods – Heavy items such as meat, eggs and fatty foods will slow down digestion and contribute to the accumulation of heat. Especially notable in the summer, a heavy meal will lead to sluggishness, hampering the liver’s ability to oversee the free and easy flow of qi throughout the body.

4. Choose cooling foods – Balancing temperature through dietary therapy is a major concept in many traditional medicines. To balance the summertime heat, try foods with cooling properties such as salads, sprouts (mung, soy and alfalfa are recommended), fruit (especially apples, watermelon, lemons and limes), cucumber, tofu and flower/leaf teas (chrysanthemum, mint and chamomile, particularly).

5. Restrict the use of ice – Consuming ice, such as drinking iced beverages or eating ice cream, will contract the stomach, hampering digestion. To support the liver’s role in digestion, all efforts should be made to aid the digestive process as much as possible.

6. Limit salt intake – Due to osmosis, excessive salt is very drying, and prevents your body from achieving healthful hydration. The drying of bodily fluids serves to increase the internal body temperature. Recognition of “over-salting” one’s food can be seen with feelings of puffiness, sluggishness and fatigue.

7. Counteract toxins – TCM recognizes certain foods as toxin neutralizers. Since the temperature characteristic of toxins is very hot, any toxins in the liver will gladly flourish with the addition of summer’s excessive heat. Toxin neutralizers include tofu, millet, mung beans, aduki beans, black soybeans, Swiss chard, radishes, turnips and figs. Consider adding some of these to your repertoire if you are concerned with toxic build-up in your liver.

8. A cooling and invigorating supplement – The herbal formula, Sho-saiko-to works by cooling excessive liver heat while maintaining hepatic circulation. These qualities typically help people support and maintain liver health and are especially valuable when inundated by excessive heat.

When managing the complexities of liver disease, tips that span all cultures have proven to be valuable. The far-reaching responsibilities and perspectives involving liver health mean that there is more than one way to take care of this organ. TCM concepts illustrate some very user-friendly information that anyone with liver concerns can use. Knowing that summer’s heat can perpetuate a liver imbalance gives us the chance to consciously counteract its effects while still enjoying the season.

Maciocia, Giovanni, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Churchill Livingstone, New York, NY, 1989.

Pitchford, Paul, Healing with Whole Foods, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1993., Eight Summer Food Facts, Natural Wellness, 2005.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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