Your Eyes Monitor the Health of Your Largest Organ
Recently a woman in her mid thirties came to me for a consultation. Her primary complaint was a persistent sty in her right eye. Upon questioning and examination, I found that the sty had first arisen in the spring, that she had lots of yellow mucus forming in her eyes, and that the area between her eyes was swollen and puffy. She also felt her life was floating without any stability, she had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, and her impatience about seeing me, about curing herself, and even about getting out of my office was extreme. For twelve years she had been a lacto-vegetarian, consuming regular quantities of dairy products, honey, and spicy foods, considering herself to be eating a “healthy, natural diet.” (Indeed, she did all her shopping at a natural foods store.) her “healthy, natural diet,” had caused her liver to become swollen, inflamed, and congested with animal fat and protein. The symptoms she was exhibiting, from the eye sty to her impatience, were all classic signs used by traditional healers to diagnose illnesses of the liver.
Within two weeks of balancing her diet according to macrobiotic principles, the woman reported that the sty in her eye was completely gone. Within two months the yellow in her eyes disappeared, she started arising in the morning without an alarm clock, and she became much more relaxed and clearer about the purpose of her life, her goals, and her aspirations.
By far the most common of all liver problems is a general condition of congestion due to overeating, especially of fatty and greasy foods, eating before sleeping, and lack of exercise. This general condition can progress toward any of a number of more specific illnesses, including low blood sugar, indigestion of fats leading to flatulence, fatty mucous accumulation and obesity, jaundice, gallbladder and liver stones, skin roughness or oiliness, a fatty or anemic blood condition, excessive or insufficient body heat, cyrrhosis of the liver, and ultimately liver cancer.
For the purpose of diagnosis, we can divide these more specific liver conditions into two main categories: an overly tight and contracted (yang) condition of the liver and an overly swollen (yin) liver condition.
First let’s take a look at how we can apply visual diagnosis to determine which of these two liver conditions is likely to arise due to constitutional or inherited tendencies. In traditional medicine, the liver has been associated with the eyes due to their simultaneous embryological development as well as to their connection via the energy meridians of acupuncture. If the eyes are small or tend to cross, if they are close-set, or if the eyebrows grow closely together or slant upward, there is a constitutional tendency for the liver to develop problems from becoming overly contracted. If the eyes are large or tend to move outward or if the eyes are set far apart, there will be more of a tendency for the liver to become swollen. In addition, any inherited or congenital eye defects will usually indicate some related weakness in the liver. Also, since the liver is on the right side of the body, which receives more of the mother’s influence than the father’s, tendencies in liver conditions tend to follow more the inheritance from our maternal ancestors.
First, and most important in determining the present liver condition, is a thorough assessment of the eyes. If yellow, fatty excess accumulates in the whites of the eyes, this shows a similar fat accumulation in the liver. (This often will ooze or crust in the corners of the eyes, particularly during sleep when the liver does most of its cleansing of fats from the blood.) If the eyes are red or bloodshot, or if a rash or inflammation arises between the eyes, this suggests a swollen and inflamed liver condition. The eyes or eyelids or the area between the eyes also commonly develop red spots or stys, a sign of excessive storage of animal protein in the liver.
If the eyes become watery or swollen or begin to burn or itch, this indicates an overly swollen liver condition. Conversely, dryness indicates an overly contracted condition. If there appears a single, deep vertical line between the eyes, the liver is overly contracted, while if there are several shallow vertical lines, the liver is overly expanded. Crossed eyes, down turned eyes, and farsightedness all indicate a contracted liver condition, while eyes drifting outward and upward as well as nearsightedness all indicated an expanded liver condition.
You can confirm these visual assessments by feeling the liver pulse. To find the liver pulse, place the thumb of your right hand on the center of your left wrist. Place the first three fingers of your right hand on the inside of your left wrist below the thumb. Your middle finger will fall on the inside wrist bone-this is where the liver pulse is located. Check whether the pulse is heavy or light and excited. In addition, with the fingers of your right hand feel underneath your right rib cage. You should be able to extend your fingers underneath your rib cage up to the second knuckle. If you can’t your liver condition is swollen. If you can but you feel pain and hardness the liver is too contracted.
Next, take a look at your nails, especially the nail of your big toe, which is the terminus of the liver acupuncture meridian. Do the nails tend to be ingrown (yang) or flared (yin)? Are there white spots on the nails, an indication of an expanded liver condition because of too much refined sugar? Are they yellowing at the edges because of excessive fat accumulation in the liver? Are they dry and eroding (yang) or brittle (yin)?
From the big toe, you can then follow the acupuncture meridian of the liver along the inside of the foot and up the inside of the leg. This part of the leg may be tight and pulling, a contracted liver condition often resulting in leg cramps, particularly of the right leg, or bowleggedness. (Bowleggedness is natural among newborn infants, due to the still compact nature of the internal organs. By the age of six months to one year, as the child starts to grow and the organs expand, the legs should gradually straighten out.)
To see these conditions in the posture, look in a mirror to see if your right shoulder is raised (yin) or drawn inward (yang), or look at your friend from the back to check for swelling of the right upper back, shoulder, and shoulder blade, all indicative of an overly expanded liver condition.
If the skin color is yellowish, usually appearing first on the palms of the hands, this indicates a blockage of the bile ducts from the liver and the gallbladder to the stomach, leading to bile backing up and into the bloodstream. This is usually caused by an excessive consumption of saturated fatty foods, particularly of cold fatty foods such as ice cream. If there is a greyish cast to the skin, this indicates a swollen, hard liver, usually accompanied by depression and anger. If the overall skin tint is green, a progressive development of cancer in the liver is indicated.
Traditional healers attempted to view humanity not as an amalgam of separate parts but holistically, interrelating the internal with the external environment, the material with the immaterial, and the physical with the emotional and psychological. Each internal organ or function was associated with a particular emotion, certain thought processes, creative tendencies, modes of behavior, and movements.
The liver was associated with both our degree of stability as well as our creative drive and sociability. The most common signs of a disturbance in the liver were anger or impatience, a loud voice, and instability, with stagnation in the liver often resulting in unexpressed emotions and antisocial behavior.
Externally or environmentally the liver has been traditionally associated with the spring season, the early morning hours of the day, the new moon moving toward full, and windy weather. Each of these natural phenomena was thought to have a tonifying or energizing effect on the liver. Just as these and other aspects of nature move in a constantly changing order and rhythmic ebb and flow, so the liver mirrors these rhythms with its own increases and decreases of energy and activity. In the springtime, in the early morning hours, and during the waxing of the moon and rising of the tides, the liver energy rises and begins its active and outward functions of distributing nutrients to the blood, cells, and tissue of the body. In the fall of the year, in the evening, and during the waning moon and falling tide, the liver turns within to the quiet processes of cleansing and purifying our blood. Knowledge of this rhythm is one main reason why traditional healers encouraged people to avoid eating late at night and to go to sleep before midnight.
A contracted liver condition is caused primarily by an excessive consumption of meat, eggs, cheese, and baked goods while an expanded liver condition is caused more by an excessive consumption of drugs, stimulants, alcohol, spices, citrus fruits, refined sugar, vinegar, and oil. Since all these substances are quite widely consumed in modern society, most people have serious health problems resulting from some combination of these foods. In order to restore balance and revive the liver, it is necessary to reduce or eliminate these extreme foods from your diet, increase your consumption of whole cereal grains and beans, and regularly eat fresh and lightly cooked green leafy vegetables. As a side-dish it is also important to eat daily some form of fermented foods such as pickles, tempeh, miso, or shoyu. Along with regular doses of fresh air and exercise and a positive mental outlook, these dietary recommendations should help you avoid any liver sickness and increase your enjoyment of life.