How Chinese Medicine Views the Liver and Allergies

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) stresses that an allergy-free and healthy body often depends on a balanced liver. The liver, a yin organ, controls tendons, keeps the qi moving throughout the body, and stores blood. Its yang partner is the gallbladder, which stores and excretes bile, protects the nervous system from overreaction, and helps stabilize emotions. When the liver is congested (made more yang) from eating yang (heating) foods or overloading the body with toxins, the gallbladder’s function is likewise impeded, and symptoms of allergies may manifest.

One day, on a hike, Stan, a 39-year-old computer engineer, inadvertently came in contact with poison ivy. He was unaware of the fact until, two days later, when he broke out in a rash, accompanied by uncomfortable itching (allergic contact dermatitis).

Stan tried to relieve the symptoms by taking an over-the-counter antihistamine, Beneadryl. This lessened the itching, but the rash continued to get worse. By the time he consulted acupuncturist Ira J. Golchehreh, L.Ac., O.M.D., of San Rafael, California, six days after exposure, he hard large, red, raised blisters all over his body, particularly on his abdomen, thighs, and groin.

Dr. Golchehreh discovered that Stan had a history of harsh allergies in addition as signs of a liver imbalance, which manifested on an emotional level as occasional angry outbursts. According to TCM, this indicates a “hyperactivity of liver yang,” explains Dr. Golchehreh, or liver whose energy, or “fire,” is so overreactive (yang) that it creates problems throughout the body and mind. Poison ivy, too, is a manifestation of too much heat, says Dr. Golchehreh, “and the boils are considered an infection of poison in the organs.”

The first order of business was to remove the heat from Stan’s system so that the toxic manifestation would be deleted. Dr. Golchehreh used acupuncture to redirect qi imbalances and allow the poisons to drain from his system. Additionally, he gave Stan the Chinese herbs Bupleurum schizonepeta (commonly used to treat hives) and Gypsum fibrosum (calcium sulfate) to help disperse the heat and remove the toxins from his system. Stan also moistened the Gypsum fibrosum powder with water to make a paste and applied it topically to cool the lesions. Another cure in TCM that rebalances the liver is a combination of the herbs Tang-Kuei and Gardenia (3 g, three times a day, between meals).

“I recommended that Stan drink cooling drinks and eat ice cream to cool down his body temperature,” Dr. Golchehreh says. “When you have blisters that have become inflamed, it indicates too much heat on the surface of the body and the best thing is to cool down the system with something cold.” Applying ice to the skin can also be advantageous for poison ivy symptoms.

Since poison ivy often lingers for weeks, Stan was greatly relieved to find that 48 hours after his visit to Dr. Golchehreh, all traces of his allergic contact dermatitis had disappeared.

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