Sexual Dysfunction and low sex drive are common factors in today’s fast-paced world. Furthermore the “fast chemical & wi-fi age” has major implications on our hormonal and sexual health. In this article we will take a look at how the liver sits at the centre of this dilemma, and how it has an interconnection with other major players, namely the brain, some key hormonal centres, the sexual organs, and even our emotions. This article aims to highlight this interconnection from a Traditional Chinese Medicine’s perspective, and help you to understand the liver as the ultimate “chemical brain” of the body.
The 'Chemical Brain': The Liver’s Functions in the body
- Conversion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates into energy & breakdown of nutrients
- Creating bile to break down fats, and also eliminate fat-soluble toxins, and excess substances like hormones
- Removing harmful chemicals, bacterias and whatever is “too much”
- Metabolising medications , drugs, stimulants, alcohol etc
- Storing vitamins & minerals like iron
- Storing extra energy from glucose –namely glycogen to supply fuel to the muscles & brain
- Maintain fluid & electrolyte balance
- Create blood serum proteins that act as hormone carriers, like in the case of sex hormones
- Filtering blood, regulating blood clotting, storing extra blood for quick release
- Involved in manufacturing & regulating sex hormones: testorone, progesterone and estrogen, and getting rid of excess hormones
The liver is responsible for hundreds of biochemical functions which affect the body, including hormone regulation. Thus looking after your liver is key in achieving hormonal balance, and overall health. Let’s see why and how liver function and hormonal balance are intimately related, and why a healthy liver function underpins hormonal health.
Liver stress can be reduced by not overeating and over drinking alcohol. Also by eliminating processed foods, additives, preservatives and high fat foods, and drinking enough water to facilitate elimination of toxins. It is also important to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides, and herbicides. The liver requires the right nutrients to do all of this through good nutrition (and / or supplementation, when necessary). Health problems arise if these nutritional needs are not adequately and consistently met. The liver becomes overburdened because of insufficient nutrients as in the case of following a poor diet. Wastes & toxins build up and the excess re-routes into the body.
Tell-tale signs that your liver may be overburdened:
- Are you carrying excess weight from overeating / hormonal problems?
- Do you drink and or smoke / take drugs?
- Are you exposed to chemicals (for instance, inhaling car fumes while sitting in traffic, or sleeping a newly painted room)?
- Are you on synthetic hormones like the contraceptive Pill, or HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) or fertility drugs (to fall pregnant), or any other medication?
- Have you been diagnosed with gallstones?
- Have you been diagnosed with a liver disease?
- Do you suffer from mood swings, and or depression?
- Do you battle to remember things or to concentrate?
- Do you have any forms of sexual dysfunction / low libido (sex drive)?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, it is important to take actions to improve your liver health.
UNDERSTANDING THE LIVER-BRAIN CONNECTION & SEXUAL HEALTH
The Electromagnetic Pathway of the Liver Meridian
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), meridians are electro-magnetic pathways that run vertically up and down the body. Our body’s vital life force, derived from our nutritional intake, oxygen, etc, runs along these energy pathways and feeds our various organ systems, as well as muscles and other tissues. When these pathways become blocked through toxins, the vital life force is impeded and health conditions and disease may follow over time if not corrected.
PATHWAY OF THE LIVER MERIDIAN PASSING THROUGH THE GENITAL AREA AND FRONTAL LOBE OF THE BRAIN
The liver meridian runs from the big toe up the inside of the legs, into the sexual organs, through the liver, lungs, thyroid and throat, into the frontal lobe of the brain where we find some important hormonal and neural centres that have a lot to do with hormonal processes like puberty, libido, and sexual function. There is the pituitary gland (the master hormonal gland), the hypothalamus (which switches on puberty for instance), and the pineal gland (responsible for regulating our sleep patterns and circadian bio-rhythms).
Liver’s Role in Hormonal Balance
Hormone Metabolism –Focus on Estrogen
The liver plays a principal role in how the body uses and breaks down hormones. This includes hormones produced by the body as well as estrogenic toxins, known as xeno-estrogens stemming from various sources such as medications (the Pill, HRT, fertility drugs), chemical foods (as in junk foods containing junk fats & sugars), food packaging (such as clingwrap, tinned foods with plastic layer inside, etc), water supplies, synthetic chemical beauty products, the air we breathe, etc. The liver acts as a “hormone processor”, manufacturing and regulating hormone levels, and directing various hormones to perform their proper function in other parts of the body.
When there are too many hormones, either produced by the body or through having hormonal therapy, the liver may not cope, causing hormonal imbalance. The main concern for women’s health is the liver’s role in regulating the sex hormones, primarily estrogens. New insights by researchers identify 3 main pathways in which the liver breaks down estrogen, and only one way is safe.
We need to provide the liver with the correct nutrients in the diet in order to break down estrogen safely. Otherwise it can re-enter the blood stream and cause tissue damage.
Sex Hormone-Binding Globulins (SHBG) & Excess Estrogen
The liver produces special proteins (binding globulins) that help to escort the sex hormone molecules throughout the body as well as to regulate levels if they are too high. Proteins that bind to sex hormones, SHBG, are stimulated by estrogen in the blood stream. When there is too much estrogen, as in the case of being on synthetic hormones, or carrying a high fat mass, (since fat cells produce estrogen), then sex drive drops because this excess of estrogen limits testosterone activity.
Another consequence of this is a loss of muscle, which is biologically active tissue, meaning that a woman is likely to find herself locked into a vicious cycle of fat gain, high estrogen, less sexual interest, and mental zest. It is interesting that in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), that the liver meridian relates to muscle tissue.
Liver Bile for eliminating excess Estrogens
Bile is a complex liquid compound secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. The gallbladder meridian in TCM is the partner of the liver meridian, and actually penetrates the ovaries, having to do with estrogen and progesterone balance.
Life as we knew it has changed forever with our technological innovations, bringing our higher exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) to unprecidented levels. We take for granted the possible effects of everyday devices such as cellphones on our meridians. For example, the gallbladder meridian runs down the outer sides of body from the lateral lobes of the brain. Here we may think of migraines. We may not otherwise be aware that speaking on our phones over the longterm may have a detrimental effect on other organs along this particular electromagnetic pathway. One of them being the ovaries...
As an organ, the gallbladder stores bile originally produced by the liver. Bile is required for emulsifying fat in the diet, and absorbing fat molecules and fat soluble nutrients. Bile flows from the gallbladder through the bile ducts to the small intestine for digestion of fats, and also the colon to aid elimination of wastes including excess estrogens.
If there is a problem with bile production, colon function will be less optimal, and so estrogen will be re-absorbed back into the bloodstream, creating estrogen dominance and with this, low sex drive as explained above relating to SHBG. Methionine, found in an over the counter dietary supplement, called SAMe, has been shown to improve bile flow, thereby helping in ridding the body of excess estrogen levels. See article The Liver-Colon Connection & Estrogen detox
-Inge Dougans, Reflexology : the 5 elements and their 12 meridians -a unique approach,(2005)