Liver Fire in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Woman with a headache
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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 and it houses the ministerial fire of the blood, which they believed returned to the liver during rest. 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.


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.

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
  • Feel hot
  • Blood pressure rises with stress
  • Migraine
  • Dark, scanty urine
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation


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 nine different points.

  • 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


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

  • Dandelion
  • A variety of other herbs may be recommended, including aloe, or combinations of herbs.

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

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

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
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  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.