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Fortifying Yin: Chinese Secrets for Battling Chronic Liver Disease


In accordance with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), chronic illness – including liver disease – can increasingly drain the body’s supply of yin. Discover what yin is, as well as the signs and symptoms of its depletion, such as dizziness and night sweats. More importantly, learn how you can take an active role in fortifying yin through nutrition, including the most beneficial foods and herbs to consume, and the best ways to prepare the foods.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), health is maintained when the two forces known as yin and yang are balanced. Most chronic illnesses progressively drain the body’s supply of yin, including liver disease. By enriching a person’s yin, the body is more balanced and has more strength to fight his or her illness. Preserving and fortifying yin is the approach TCM practitioners take to treating many types of chronic illness – and is also how patients can participate in directing their own recovery.

Yin and Yang
The philosophy of yin and yang lies at the heart of Chinese culture. The first references to yin and yang come from the I Ching, a classic text compiled and edited by Confucius. Literally translated, yin and yang mean the dark side and sunny side of a hill. While most people commonly perceive yin and yang as opposing forces, viewing them as complementary pairs is more appropriate to our health. Accordingly, health problems arise when there is an imbalance between yin and yang, not when the two forces are battling.

Opposites comprising of a whole, yin and yang cannot exist without each other and nothing is ever completely one or the other. There are varying degrees of yin and yang within everything and everybody. The well-known yin-yang symbol illustrates how these forces flow into each other with a little yin always within yang, and a little yang always within yin. In the natural world, sun and fire are yang, while earth and water are yin. Life is possible only because of the interplay between these forces.

The relationship between yin and yang can be understood by evaluating a candle. While yin represents the wax in the candle, the flame represents yang. Via the mechanics of a candle, one can understand how yin and yang depend on each other for their existence:

· As the yin component, the wax is the substance of the candle, nourishing and supporting the yang flame.
· As the yang component, the flame is energy rather than substance, and it needs the wax for its existence.
· Yang consumes yin and, in doing so, burns brightly.
· When the wax (yin) has been totally consumed, the flame (yang) extinguishes.

Both yin and yang are necessary for sustaining any kind of function. If one force dominates over the other, the imbalance typically leads to or perpetuates illness.

Yin Depletion
Yin represents the force that is responsible for moistening and cooling all of our bodily functions. When yin is depleted, the body begins to heat up and dry out. When faced with chronic liver disease, the perpetual battle against hepatic inflammation and liver scarring burns through the body’s moisture-rich, yin reserves. According to TCM, the liver stores the body’s yin. Therefore, when the liver is burdened with disease, it is less able to store yin, contributing even more to the hardening and non-supple characteristics of liver fibrosis.

Since the kidney yin is the primary source of the body’s yin substances, the kidney’s fluids are first to be drained. Manifestations of kidney yin deficiency include:

· Dizziness
· Night Sweats
· Ringing in the ears
· Weakness of the lower back and knees
· Warm palms and soles, afternoon low-grade fever
· Diminished sexual function
· Scanty and dark urine

When kidney yin deficiency manifests in a person with liver disease, the kidney yin fails to nourish the liver. Known in TCM as kidney and liver yin deficiency, this common pattern is often recognized by others as a fluid metabolism problem.

Balancing Kidney and Liver Yin Deficiency
Since the TCM approach to health always centers on helping the body find balance, cases of kidney and liver yin deficiency are aided by strengthening, nourishing and moistening kidney and liver yin. While TCM practitioners have many tools at their disposal to accomplish yin fortification, a patient can be actively involved in regaining his or her health through nutrition.

Restructuring food intake can have a dramatic influence over the body’s yin-yang balance. Foods known to fortify kidney and liver yin include:

· Vegetables – potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, yams, alfalfa sprouts, asparagus, kelp, seaweed, string beans

· Fruit – lemons, limes, mulberries

· Legumes – aduki beans, black beans, black soya beans, kidney beans

· Nuts/Seeds – black sesame seeds

· Fish – most kinds of fish, fresh water clams, oysters

· Meat – duck, pork

· Dairy – eggs

The manner in which food is prepared also imparts a dominance of either yin or yang. In general, the following cooking techniques foster yin fortification:

· Boiling
· Poaching
· Steaming

While TCM practitioners typically call on Chinese herbal medicine to fortify yin, there is a popular Western herb with yin tonification properties. Known to protect and support the liver for centuries, milk thistle is a true liver tonic. Milk thistle has been proven in clinical studies to reverse toxic liver damage, protect against toxicity, stimulate protein synthesis in the liver and help with the formation and growth of healthy new liver cells. This combination of properties causes milk thistle to reduce inflammation and nourish liver tissue. From a TCM perspective, milk thistle reduces liver heat and nourishes liver yin. Therefore, milk thistle is a simple, reliable means of yin fortification.

Dietary Cautions
Being conscious of fortifying yin through nutrition is twofold; in addition to increasing your consumption of certain foods, you must also avoid or at least minimize your consumption of others. Since stimulating foods further deplete yin, it is important to avoid or minimize consumption of caffeine, sugar and strong heating/pungent spices.

When considering how food is cooked, minimize consuming foods prepared by deep-frying, roasting or stir-frying. By increasing yang energy, these cooking methods work against the goal of fortifying yin. Additionally, be aware of how eating large amounts of food at one sitting affects your body. Especially because yin fortification foods have a tendency to promote digestive stagnation, consume small quantities frequently rather than large helpings irregularly.

Since chronic liver disease invariably depletes the body’s yin substances, fortifying yin can help direct the body back to a state of balance. By borrowing the lessons learned from TCM, a person with chronic liver disease can reclaim his or her health by using nutritional guides to strengthen the body’s yin. Through increasing the intake of certain foods and herbs, minimizing consumption of others, choosing the best cooking methods and eating small, frequent meals, people with chronic liver disease can be actively involved in equalizing their body’s yin-yang balance.

Bensky, Dan, Andrew Gamble, Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, Eastland Press, Incorporated, Seattle Washington, 1986.

Esher, Barbara, AOBTA CI. Dipl. ABT & Ac. (NCCAOM), L.Ac., Yin and Yang Deficiency, Part II, Massage Today, October 2002.

Jiang, Yong Ping, DOM, PhD, Dampness and Yin Deficiency, Acupuncture Today, January 2004., Traditional Chinese Dietary Medicine, Debra Betts, 2007., Yin Deficiency, Debra Betts, 2007., Yin and Yang in Chinese Cooking, Rhonda Parkinson, About, Inc., 2007., Milk Thistle Seed, Tillotson Institute, 2007., Chinese Food, Julie Kulik, Kaijia Gu and David Patt, Cornell University, 2007., Yin and Yang in Acupuncture and in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), ICBS, Inc., 2007.

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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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