Nutrition to Strengthen Liver Yin

     Modern culture is Yang obsessed. We go-go-go, we seek sun, we burn the candle at both ends, we exercise vigorously, and we love stimulants. It is a rare bird that has enough quiet, meditative alone time, in a dim or dark environment. This is the Yin state – nourishing, moistening, dark, and quiet – Yin builds what Yang wears down.

Every organ of the body has a Yin and a Yang aspect. Some organs (Spleen, Liver, Heart, and Lung for example) are naturally more Yin in Nature. Other organs (Stomach, Gall Bladder, Small Intestine and Large Intestine for example) are more Yang in nature. These “natures” were determined by the functions each organ enact as well as more energetic attributes. Supporting the natural state of each organ will optimize health, and promote healthy functioning.

      Much is said about detoxifying the Liver, and reducing its Yang (brought on by alcohol, drugs and stimulants) but what happens when you actually have deficient Liver Yin that needs to be nourished?  Stripping an already deficient organ will create further disharmony that will eventually manifest as pathology.

      A diagnosis of Liver Yin deficiency means that this aspect of the Liver organ network is compromised. The Liver not only detoxifies, it has many other (building) jobs including cholesterol metabolism, vitamin storage, bile production, and blood reservoir. Blood is a Yin substance (all fluids are yin) and many B12 and iron anemias can be diagnosed early on as a Liver Yin deficiency by a trained Acupuncturist. Thin brittle nails, anemia, sallow skin, easy bruising, hair loss, blurred vision, tinnitus, dizziness, infertility  and some tremors  are all associated with a Liver Yin deficiency diagnosis.

Nutrition is one of the best ways to support and recover Liver Yin. A diet that is nutrient rich and nourishing is essential, as is sitting down to relax while you eat and chewing thoroughly to savor flavors. The diet should also include plenty of fluids, especially in the form of soups. Meals consist of 40% easily digested complex carbohydrates like whole grains and starchy root vegetables. Another 40% of the diet is cooked vegetables. Proteins comprise 10-20% of the diet, with a focus on high quality organic or grass fed sources. Healthy fats fill the other remaining 5-10%.

Below is a list of recommended foods to nourish Liver Yin. Do not limit your nutritional intake to only these foods. Instead follow the guidelines above of the optimum ratios of carbohydrates, vegetables and proteins, and add the recommended foods from the list below within your meals. Where ever possible choose organically grown foods to avoid genetically modified ingredients.

Foods to Nourish Liver Yin Deficiency

 Zucchini, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, string beans, beets,

Mushrooms including wood ears & tremella,

Tomatoes, spinach, carrots, parsley,


Apples, banana, mulberries, mango, coconut, peaches, lychee fruit, melons,

Grapes, raisins, cherries, plums

Olive oil, flaxseed oil, almond oil

Vegemite, kelp, spirulina, wheatgrass

 Oats, rice, millet, barley

Adzuki beans, black beans, mung beans

Organic cow, goat and sheep yogurt

Tempeh, tofu, miso

Nuts & seeds, black sesame seeds (great as a condiment!)


Pork, chicken, Chinese black boned chicken, duck

Mackerel, sardines, oysters, mussels, clams

Cuttlefish, squid, perch, eel

Foods to Restrict or Avoid

Chilies, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, onions, shallots, leeks, basil, cloves, wasabi

Coffee, black tea

Vinegar, pickles

Lamb, shrimp, veal

Citrus fruits

Cigarettes, alcohol

Recreational stimulants

Activities that build whole-body Yin nourishment are also encouraged while working specifically on Liver Yin. Rest more. Read. Spend some quiet, alone contemplative time in a cool, dark room with a candle lit (taking a bath is a nice way to do this.) Exercises like Tai Chi and Yoga are more Yin building than Yang in nature. Drink warm water and lemon. Get extra sleep. Breathe.


Clinical Handbook Of Internal Medicine, Vol. 2. MacLean & Lyttleton. University of Western Sydney: Australia. 2002.

Chinese Dietary Therapy. Liu, J. Churchill Livingston: Edinburgh. 1995.

The Healing Cuisine of China. Zhao & Ellis. Healing Arts Press: Vermont. 1998.

An interesting theoretical write up:


Managing Stress to Create Health

“But I don’t feel stressed!”

How does stress affect your body? Stress affects multi-systems. Here is a quick run through the major players in the stress domino effect, and some at home tips to balance and harmonize your stress hormones.

PHASE 1 (ALARM) There is a threat to your being. Your adrenal glands kick in and start producing hormones – for example, adrenaline.

PHASE 2 (RESISTANCE) You are holding up a good fight. You think you’ve won.

PHASE 3 (EXHAUSTION) Lots of small stresses add up. Eventually you can’t take it anymore. Body systems get run down, especially the immune system.

Adrenal glands

The adrenals are small, paired glands that sit on top of your kidneys, and secrete the “stress hormones” cortisol and adrenaline. When you are under stress, it is the job of these glands to release these hormones in a “fight or flight” response – providing energy to your brain, diverting blood away from your digestive system to your muscles, increasing your blood pressure and heightening awareness. This instinctual response was designed to assist a quick getaway from a dangerous or life threatening situation – but is instigated chronically day after day. Mental stress can trigger this reaction, as can alcohol, sugar and caffeine. Over time, the adrenals become fatigued, and not be able to maintain the demands you are placing on them. This leads to a host of symptoms including chronic low energy, irritability, insomnia, weight gain, headaches, sugar cravings, and dizziness.

Digestive system

Your digestive system is affected by chronic stress, partly in relation to the adrenal response. Under stressful situations, your digestive system slows down in order to provide extra energy and blood to your brain and muscles. Eating on the run, eating too fast, and eating while doing other things (like working) impairs digestive function and absorption of nutrients from your intestines. This can lead to indigestion, nutrient deficiencies, and  gas and bloating. While under stress, cravings for sugar and other simple carbohydrate foods are often increased, as they offer a “quick fix” energy boost. This is inevitably followed by an energy crash, which stimulates the sugar cravings again, creating a rollercoaster of sugar highs and lows – as well as chronic upset stomach and weight gain.

Immune system

Your immune system is greatly affected by stress via cortisol released by the adrenals. Any kind of stress can increase cortisol – work, yo-yo dieting, illness, financial worries. Cortisol decreases the rate your body can make new proteins, including proteins in the immune system, and this suppresses the immune response. The result is you may find you are becoming run down and catching colds easily. Aggravation of current allergies, or even formation of new allergies, are often a result of long term stress on the immune system. High cortisol or very low cortisol lead to high levels of inflammation – manifesting as joint disease, heart disease, and many multi-systemic autoimmune conditions.


The human body needs the nighttime sleep hours to recalibrate after the events of the day. Have you ever awakened from a full night’s sleep and felt more tired than when you went to bed? Does it take you a long time to fall asleep or do you wake often during the night?  Sleep has emotionally charged phases that increase when you have more stress. A busy head while you’re awake can be carried over into sleep and decreases your body’s ability to rest. Natural hormone balance between cortisol and melatonin is also upset by stress resulting in early waking and sleep deprivation.


Stress decreases your body’s ability to rest and heal.  When everything is functioning properly, pain symptoms are minimal. When your system is overwhelmed, it can no longer manage or adapt as well to its environment. As stress levels increase, your ability to tolerate pain decreases, resulting in increased sensitivity to pain. While in an overwhelmed state, minor symptoms like headaches and back pain can become major problems.


Often people say “but I don’t feel stressed”, however this is usually an inability to connect to how we are really feeling. Irritability, depression, tempers, impatience, crying, feeling overwhelmed – these are all indicators that you are under stress and you are responding to it emotionally.

5 Ways You Can Start to Manage Stress:


Eating slowly and mindfully is very important, and allows your digestive system to work efficiently. This means chewing every bite thoroughly and eating sitting down, without being distracted by reading or TV. Sit at your table, light a candle, and eat quietly. Then,go back to the television! Caffeine, alcohol and sugar create extra stress in the body without providing any nutrition. If you are very stressed, cut back on caffeine; enjoy organic green tea and herbal teas through the day instead of coffee and pop.  Avoid chips, chocolate bars, pastries and donuts. Keep healthy snacks like seasonal fruit and raw nuts and seeds at your desk to munch on. Vitamins may be helpful to aid your body in healing from stress. Naturopathic Doctor’s are the vitamin experts, and are trained in pharmacology, nutrition and botanical medicine to ensure your supplements are not causing interactions.


Getting enough quality sleep every night is very important for allowing your body to heal from excessive stress. Set a regular bedtime and stick to it – within one hour – even on the weekends. Do not exercise vigorously for 2 hours before bedtime. Turn off the TV an hour before bedtime, and create a relaxing bedtime ritual so that your body knows it is time for sleep. Take a bath, have a cup of Valerian or Passionflower tea, read, stretch, or write in a journal about your day. Meditation or visualization CD’s are also great nighttime rituals and can help you maximize your down time.


Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress. This does not need to be exhausting; a 30 minute walk every day can make a huge difference. Exercising with a friend or partner is the most successful way to go. Start a lunch-time walk at the office with a group of co-workers. Enlist your kids or partner in an after dinner walk every day. Not only will you feel more relaxed and sleep better, but you will enjoy valuable social or family time also. If you can, join the local YMCA or gym and take regular exercise classes as well. Pilates is fantastic for people who need an active body-based gentle strengthening. Yoga is great for people who like stretching and deep breathing exercise.

Replacing bad habits for good

We all know that smoking, drinking too much, drinking too much caffeine, snacking in front of the TV, not exercising, and not eating breakfast are all bad habits that we should probably do something about, but it can seem insurmountable to change. Make a commitment to yourself to do something positive and healthy in order to improve your health and well being. Decide to change just one bad habit at first. Take small steps, don’t try to do it all at once, and don’t go it alone. A Naturopathic Doctor can offer effective assistance in quitting smoking, reducing caffeine intake, or improving your diet for example.

Self care and emotional care

Often when we are feeling burned out by stress in our lives we are putting out more energy than we are taking in. This may come in the form of work or family demands, or worrying about money, the future, or relationship problems. The first thing to be dropped from a busy schedule is almost always you. Most of us do not prioritize any time for ourselves in a day – when was the last time you took an hour just for you? Remind yourself that you are worth caring for and deserve to be healthy. Take 30 minutes every day that is just for you – not for your partner, your children, your friend or your boss. Do something you enjoy that brings you happiness, like as a dance class, a massage, a walk on the beach, a bath with candles, time at the gym, a meditation CD, creative writing, tea and conversation with a close friend – anything that brings you joy. What makes you joyful?

Your heart and spirit require joyfulness to be healthy; if you find your life is lacking this crucial element, it may be time to take a hard look at where you are and what you want. And. Or, it may be time to see a Naturopathic Doctor and start using acupressure, botanical medicine, homeopathy, lifestyle counseling, and nutrition to improve your mental, physical and emotional wellness and better manage the inevitable stresses of modern life.



A City Rose – Urban and Modern Fertility Care

You have a little plot of dirt, a garden. Maybe its a barrel above ground on your balcony, or maybe its a carved out border in your backyard. It bakes in summer heat, and freezes in winter. Acid rain and snow are its primary nourishment. Some years you transplant hydroponic Impatiens, adding some pre-packaged chemically enhanced  soil. Other years you just let the wild clovers and violets grow. One year you planted wildflower seeds and now an occasional Cosmo and Echinacea blossom will sprout up, summers gifts. This year, you want to grow a Rose. And not just any rose, You want to grow one from the seeds you saved from your Mothers garden. You have tried, a few times, carefully planting 2 or 3 of the seeds you have saved. Watching and waiting, watering, only one little shoot grew once, then shriveled and died. What will you do? You can buy a nursery-perfect blossom and transplant it, and hope it grows and thrives.  Or, you can redeem the quality of the soil,  find the right balance of elements for your location, and carefully nurture your roses into life.

This is, of course, a thinly veiled metaphor for modern fertility. The overheating effects of alcohol and nicotine and cold harsh winds of stress are our basic elements. Our reproductive system is the highly chemically influenced plot of earth, exposed to the acid rains of caffeine, sugar and pesticides.  But gardens can be restored, and so can our vital human bodies. In fact, some women have an inherently fruitful composition, and with just a little consideration and TLC, natures natural abundance takes root easily. Other women have more work to do.

As a fertility Naturoopathic Doctor in downtown Toronto, I see many women in their late 30’s and early 40’s preparing for their first baby. Whether a woman is mid-IVF, mid-insemination or doing it the old fashioned way, there is always work that can be done to improve the chances of conception.

After 20+ years of stress, drugs, alcohol, and junk food, the reproductive “soil” always can benefit from some rejuvenation.  There are some general principals, and some individual components to this. Generally,  Vitamins B5 and B6 are important for hormonal health. These should be taken as *at least* 100mg each daily with food, or up to 500mg B5, 250mg B6 for up to 3 months. CoQ10 is a fat soluble antioxidant that works at the cellular mitochondrial level, increasing each cells energy bank. CoQ10 can protect and rejuvenate ovarian cells at 100mg daily, with food. Nutritionally, everyone can benefit from adding 3 servings of organic brown rice per week, and eating 1 head of steamed broccoli or cauliflower and 1 head of steamed kale each week, minimum. Finally, fresh berries are powerhouses of antioxidant value – have about 1/4 cup 4 times per week. Also, drink 2 liters of water daily. Measure it, drink it. Cervical fluid cannot be fluid if you are chronically dehydrated.

Now, I wouldn’t be a naturopath if I didn’t also do some food eliminations! Caffeine in the form of black tea and coffee are natural enemies to fertility. Anyone with PMS can tell you it activates crampy reactive uterine muscles and promotes tender, swollen breasts – evidence of its actions on the female reproductive system. However, the small amount of caffeine in  green tea is overcome by the enormous benefit of  ECGC. Therefore, I reccomend 2 cups of organic green tea daily, *especially* in the week prior to ovulation. Small amounts of chocolate are also ok, as there have been many studies on the stress reducing chemical components of chocolate! Try to get organic higher cacao content chocolate with lower amounts of sugar for maximal benefit. Other foods that need to be eliminated are food dyes (anything artificially red, blue, green etc) and pre-packaged pre-made foods – whether boxed, frozen or bagged. Bathing your newly optimized internal soil in chemicals and preservatives will only re-establish a barren hospitality; feeding yourself fresh fruits, whole grains, organic meats and vegetarian proteins will produce a rich compost for your inner loam.

The secrets to an inner green thumb are also about recreating a fertile mindset. How do you perceive your uterus? Your ovaries? When you look within, what do you see? I encourage you to actually picture your uterus as flower almost in full bloom. Layers of rich red petals, folding tightly around a secret center. Find a metaphor or image that works for you, dependent on where you are in your own evolution of creation. Create rich, fertile soil.  Sprouting a tiny seedling. Water, sun and nurture the seedling in your rich nutrient-filled inner earth. And enjoy the fullness of  your Rose (Jenny, Aiden or Simon)  in bloom.


As Fertile as the Day is Long

Fertility is a crossroads of mysticism, science, religion, psychology and medicine. I come to this practice with more than dollars in my eyes.  With two infertile stepmothers and an adopted brother 25 years my junior, (in)fertility been in my life for many years. Plus, lets be honest – I’m a 37 year old nulliparous woman. Why do you think I am so passionate about knowing the ins and outs of how to get pregnant! (My time will come when I will be sitting in the patient chair.)

My approach to fertility is twofold. First and Foremost, the monthly cycle must be optimized. Good quality blood, clear fertile fluid, effective ovulation, and strong luteal phases all provide a premium conception opportunity. Chinese medicine is brilliant at working with each of these phases. Eastern medicine has a way of understanding the body’s intersections of physical/mental/emotional/hormonal health in harmonized, century old patterns. Phrases like Liver Qi Stagnation and Heart Fire sound so much easier to embrace than a luteal phase defect. So, using nutrition, acupuncture and chinese herbs we set out to smooth and tonify the monthly cycle to set the stage for conception.

The second half of the work is the mysterious part. It is helping women access that intangible quality of uterine receptivity. It is finding the balance between living the daily life of a healthy adult and becoming a vessel for an unborn possibility. The mystery of fertility comes in symbols and half thoughts and an inherent feeling. It lies tangled in childhood preconceptions of womanhood, success, career, family, and production. It is in the crux between your sexuality and personality. Alot of my work is helping you find yourself. To find your own balance and your own mystery, is to unlock your own secret (fertile) chamber.

There are many tools that can be used to dissolve obstacles encountered along the way. For example, herbs for PCOS, supplements for endometriosis, homeopathy for anxiety, counseling for stress reduction, massage therapy for relaxation. This is where the individualized nature of Naturopathic Medicine comes into play. Few women will receive the same treatment, as few women will have exactly the same picture. As a ND, I also  promote the scientific basis of fertility – doing bloodwork and  ultrasounds to rule in and out hormonal imbalances, uterine dysfunction and sperm motility issues are integral to understanding difficult conception. If we know what the mechanisms are, it unravels the mystery that much more.

I have a special passion for fertility medicine. It speaks to the alchemist and doctor and midwife in me. It gives me hope for my own potential to conceive, and inspires me. I am grateful for the women who have taught me their secrets and trusted me with their mysteries. We are all fertile in our hearts and minds, every one of us.