Your Health in Spring: The Five Element Theory & the Season of New Beginnings

Spring is the beginning of the seasonal cycle—the time of birth and new growth. The earth shakes off the mantle of winter and invites in warmth and light and new possibilities. We continue to use the seasons to explore the Five Element Theory of acupuncture, which is a guide to how each element corresponds to an internal organ system, and each system is associated with certain physical and psychological conditions. If we are paying attention, especially to the signs on our faces, our bodies signal these imbalances and ask for healing. The next season to explore is spring.

Spring: The Wood Element

This time of year marks the change from the quiet stillness of winter to the energetic burst of spring. After taking nourishment in winter, new grass pushes through the snow, new branches grow out from old wood creating new leaves, and flower bulbs reach for the soil surface in search of sunlight. As such, in the Five Element Theory, the element of nature associated with spring is Wood; and the liver and gall bladder are the organ meridians connected to the Wood element.

When the Wood element is balanced, the individual characteristics include positivity, patience, kindness, resilience, enthusiasm and a willingness to grow. An unbalanced Wood element is expressed through anger, impatience, resentfulness, stress and nervousness. When the liver is out of balance, mentally an individual can be very inflexible and resistant to change, creating irritability, nervousness and frustration. An unbalanced gall bladder can be associated with experiencing indecision, and lack of planning, direction and vision. However, when the Wood element is in full harmony, balanced and strong, an individual’s qualities include assertiveness, drive, fairness, flexibility, gregariousness, and achievement.

A Look at the Liver & Gall Bladder

The liver’s main job is to filter the blood coming from the digestive tract before sending it to the rest of the body. The liver filters anything that is consumed or eaten such as food, alcohol, medicine or toxins. It pushes toxins through urine or stool while releasing nutrients back into the bloodstream.

The liver also keeps blood sugar under control. It stores sugar in the form of glycogen that is then converted back to sugar as necessary. A healthy liver synthesizes good cholesterol (HDL), which protects us from stroke and heart attacks. It provides stability to every cell in your body, and maintains strong inner walls (endothelium) of the blood vessels. If a liver is unhealthy (fatty liver, inflamed), it produces more of the bad cholesterol (LDL), which builds up plugs or deposits on the arterial walls, potentially leading to atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Conditions linked to the Wood element during the spring season affect the health of the liver. These complaints disrupt the flexible energy and new growth tendencies associated with the liver meridian, and include the following:

• Dizziness

• Dry red eyes and other eye conditions

• Breast distention and cysts; menstrual pain

• Fibroids and cysts

• Muscle tightness/stiffness; tendonitis

• Abdominal distension

• Pain on the right upper abdomen

• Migraines/headaches in the temples and behind the eyes

• High pitched ringing in the ears

• Feeling like something is stuck in the throat

• Bitter taste in the mouth

• Brittle nails

• Teeth grinding and jaw clenching

• Hypertension

The gall bladder is a pear shaped hollow structure located behind the liver on the right side of the abdomen. When the liver secretes bile (about 2 liters per day), which helps to digest fat and pull out toxins, the gall bladder’s primary function is to store and concentrate bile. It then secretes bile into the small intestine to break up fats, and also drains waste products from the liver into the small intestine. Inflammation of the gall bladder can lead to bile stagnation and the creation of gallstones.

Because the liver and gall bladder work in tandem, symptoms of a gall bladder meridian imbalance are similar to that of the liver, and include:

• Pain in the upper right abdomen associated with fried or rich food consumption

• Bloating and belching

• Pain in the chest and around the right scapula (shoulder blade)

• Sciatic pain

• Yellow-white lumps (xanthelasma) around the eyes and nose

• Pain behind the eyes and temples

• Bitter taste in the mouth

• Dizziness, tinnitus

• Yellow tongue coating

• Nausea

The best ways to support the health of your liver and gall bladder involve lifestyle and dietary changes. For example, establish a routine of moderate exercise to get your Chi and circulation moving. You should eliminate fried and sugary foods, caffeine and alcohol, and instead add more liver-healthy foods into your diet: spirulina, dark grapes, blackberries, artichokes, beets, dandelion leaves, kelp, avocado, sesame seed, chicken soup, eggs, green apples, pickles, watercress, chrysanthemum flower tea, beets, prickly pear, grapefruit, and cruciferous vegetables. Choose organic produce and meats where possible.

Other liver-gall bladder healthy tips include:

• Control heavy periods with acupuncture, herbs and nutrition

• Reduce pharmaceuticals (consult with your Doctor)

• Use organic personal cleaning and personal care products when possible

If you have more advanced conditions such as fatty liver disease, cholecystitis, gallstones, fibroids, cysts, and/or menstrual disorders (hot flashes), acupuncture and natural medicine can help.

Special Note on NAFL

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFL) is the most common chronic liver disease in this country. This is a condition in which fat accumulates in the liver cells, and it typically goes undetected for years. NAFL is caused by poor dietary choices (primarily excess fructose or sucrose, i.e., table sugar) and is linked to increased rates of pre-diabetic obesity and metabolic syndrome. Furthermore, it creates bad cholesterol instead of good cholesterol, which leads to cardiovascular disease.

The symptoms associated with NAFL are: difficulty losing body fat; chemical and food sensitivities; chronic constipation; distended stomach; brown skin spots; candida; hypothyroidism; and diobesity. Those symptoms can be reversed with proper diet, elimination of food sensitivities, liver detoxification, and specific herbal and nutrient supplements and acupuncture.

Facial Signs of Liver and Gall Bladder Deficiency

Early indicators of problems in the liver and gall bladder can often be seen on your face. The following conditions are facial red flags, so be aware of:

• Yellowish skin and whites of the eyes

• White deposits around the orbit area

• Dark circles and eye bags

• Frown wrinkles

• Skin rashes

• Red face and eyes

• Uneven dark spots on the face

The energy of the earth is ready to return in spring, and you should be ready to embrace the Wood element when the time comes. Live in harmony with the season by promoting good health for the organs associated with it, i.e., the liver and gall bladder. Begin your day early with a brisk walk. Enjoy a liver-healthy diet that includes many of the nutritious foods seasonally available. And use the energy of spring to enjoy new beginnings and to make plans for the future.

Helena Amos, M.Ac., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist, European physician, and natural medicine practitioner since 1986. She is the owner of the Acupuncture and Natural Medicine Clinic in Rockville, MD, and is available for complementary consultations. Call 301-881-2898, email her at doctorhelena@aol.com, and visit rockvilleacupuncturemd.com/ for more information about acupuncture and pain management services. LIKE on Facebook @AmosAcupunctureAndNaturalMedicine. See also her ad on page

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