Liver Fire in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Liver fire blazing (gan huo shang yan) is one of the traditional liver syndromes according to Chinese medicine. The liver is associated with both wood and wind. It stores blood at rest and commands the ministerial fire.

Strong emotions, especially anger, increase blood flow. Wood qi has upward momentum. If there is a constitutional yin deficiency, the liver yang can flare upwards and call for calming treatments.

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Liver Fire Symptoms

These are said to be signs and symptoms of liver fire:

  • Red face and eyes
  • Irritability
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Dry mouth and thirst
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Muscle tightness in the neck and shoulders
  • A headache, especially on the sides of the head
  • Feeling hot
  • Blood pressure rises with stress
  • Migraine
  • Dark, scanty urine
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Dream-disturbed sleep
  • Bloody nose (epistaxis)

Causes

Difficulty in managing stress and anger appropriately is attributed as a cause of the liver fire. Alcoholism and chronic liver imbalances can also result in a heat pattern. These may be conditions that require appropriate medical diagnosis and treatment to prevent serious medical complications.

Diagnosis

Traditional Chinese medicine often looks at the tongue and pulse as two easily conducted diagnostic tests. The tongue is an indicator of the hot or cold nature of the imbalance and it is less affected by immediate circumstances than the pulse.

Analyzing the pulse takes greater skill, training, and practice. The practitioner may take the pulse at three locations on each wrist to feel three different levels of depth.

This is a summary:

  • Tongue appearance: A red tongue that may have red sides can indicate a liver fire. The coating is yellowish and dry. However, the tongue may also be normal.
  • Pulse: Full, wiry, rapid pulse

Treatment

The type of treatment you receive will depend on the type of practitioner. Acupuncture and acupressure may be recommended for liver fire, especially if you visit a practitioner who specializes in those treatments.

Herbs for Liver Fire

Two formulas are indicated for liver fire: Long dan xie gan tang and dang gui long hui wan. Practitioners may modify those formulas in order to adapt them to a specific patient.

Pu gong yin (dandelion) clears the liver and clears the eyes. But jue ming zi (cassia seeds) has the same function and also subdues liver yang. Xia ku ciao (prunella) clears liver fire and brightens the eyes. Lu hui (aloe) also clears liver fire and is a purgative. However, it's not a central herb for liver fire.

Foods Used for Liver Fire

These are just some of the foods that are believed to help liver fire:

  • Seaweed
  • Spinach
  • Chestnut
  • Rye
  • Vinegar
  • Asparagus
  • Egg
  • Royal jelly
  • Aloe leaf (dried juice concentrate)
  • Bitter melon
  • Burdock root
  • Celery
  • Dandelion greens
  • Lemon
  • Peppermint
  • Spinach
  • Tomato
  • Water chestnut
  • Zucchini

These treatments should not be substituted for appropriately addressing medical risk factors and conditions that require medical diagnosis and treatment.

Essential Oils Used for Liver Fire

Oils used include:

  • Lavandin
  • Lemon
  • Chamomile
  • Valerian

Living With Liver Fire

Since symptoms of imbalances in alternative medicine may be linked to a number of medical conditions, it's important to consult your physician if you have any health concerns. Self-treating a health condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dashtdar M, Dashtdar MR, Dashtdar B, Kardi K, Shirazi MK. The concept of wind in traditional Chinese medicine. J Pharmacopuncture. 2016;19(4):293-302. doi:10.3831/KPI.2016.19.030

  2. Luo JW, Lin CH, Zhu YB, et al. Association of tongue bacterial flora and subtypes of liver-fire hyperactivity syndrome in hypertensive patients. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;2018:9536924. doi:10.1155/2018/9536924

Additional Reading
  • Kaptchuk TJ. The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. Chicago: Contemporary (McGraw-Hill) 2000
  • Lu, H. Chinese Natural Cures, New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 1994.