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Acupuncture Today – August, 2014, Vol. 15, Issue 08

Inside Liver Failure, Cirrhosis and Cancer

By I Chun Peng, Doctor of Chinese Medicine

Editor's Note: This article was translated into English by Tina Chen L.Ac, Kevin Liao, L.Ac. and edited by Joe Wollen, L.Ac. and Acupuncture Today

"The Liver is like a general who is valiant and resourceful." - (Chapter 8-Ling Lan Mi Dian, Su Wen)

The Liver belongs to Wood in Five Element Theory and is in charge of Dispersing and Expanding (as a General may "move" troops) which means all the processing and detoxifying of harmful substances such as medications and chemicals require the efforts of the Liver. The Liver eliminates all unnecessary and harmful drugs and particles, while at the same time increasing the absorption of the essential and beneficial medications the body needs. This entire process helps the body generate energy. Overall, the strength of a person is closely related to the health of their Liver.

Due to our modern lifestyles of using chemicals and Western medication, the Liver is being poisoned. This results in the inability of the Liver to process and eliminate toxins because of this, most acute Liver failure cases are the result of medication overdose. In such cases, the Liver cannot handle such a heavy load of chemicals and/or toxins.

The SGPO, SGPT can then suddenly jump to 2,000-3,000 indicating this acute poisoning. Many times you will find patients dying suddenly in the hospital after being admitted for just a few days, most cases like this are due to drug overdose. However, in TCM we have many ways of being able to treat Acute Liver Failure and actually curing the patient. When treating Acute Liver Failure in TCM with herbal medicine keep in mind the following:

  1. Dispersing herbs should be administered to help spread the Liver Qi so to enhance its ability to detoxify.
  2. Using sour or astringent herbs will achieve the opposite effect as the Liver will trap the toxins (Sour restrains the Liver). These toxins are then sent to the Heart, causing it to suddenly stop beating. This is what is called "acute toxins invading the Heart" in TCM. This is the reason for acute Liver failure.

Liver Cancer and Liver Cirrhosis

The nutrients absorbed by the intestines go to the Liver and are then distributed to all other vital organs. These nutrients are used to grow and maintain the body constitution and all of its physiological functions. When all the vital organs are working properly all toxins, inappropriate food, chemicals and drugs are eliminated in the stomach through vomiting or defecation.

With injections it is possible to bypass this entire process of detoxification. If chemicals or medications are injected they go directly into the body and the Liver bares the entire burden to detoxify. This normally does not cause issues if the Liver is strong and has the ability to handle the amount of detoxification. However, if the Liver is too weak, or if there are too many medications/toxins they will reside in the Liver and turn into cirrhosis and even cancer. It is well known that toxic food can cause vomiting and diarrhea, just as common colds will cause the same due to various reasons. Vomiting and diarrhea are natural reactions of the body trying to purge out the harmful foreign substances. Vomiting and diarrhea are not always due to inflammation and infection of the digestive system.

However, many patients with diarrhea and vomiting are administered anti-inflammatory drugs, injections, or other medications to stop the purging process of the body. This causes the elimination of toxins from the body to become impossible. Since one route of elimination has been inhibited, the body then tries to vomit the toxins out. Once again, patients are given more drugs and injections again to stop the nausea/vomiting. The body now has no way to eliminate toxins and they become trapped in the body.

The Heart, Fire in element, is damaged with all the anti-inflammatory (cold drugs) and other medications that have been given and becomes unable to pump enough blood throughout the body and to the organs. As the Heart Qi weakens, it is unable to send the Zong Qi from the Xu Li point (3 cun below the nipple, the point of the big collateral of the Stomach) to the Lung. As a result, the abdomen becomes bloated and swollen, this then becomes what is known as Liver Cancer or Liver cirrhosis. Finally, if the toxins begin to affect the kidneys, patients will also exhibit water retention or toxic uremia.

Therefore, when one experiences diarrhea, you should not stop it until all the toxins are purged out. If the diarrhea is stopped too early, the qi will become rebellious and it will turn into vomiting. Vomiting is also an important defensive mechanism to eliminate toxins, if these two passages are blocked (vomiting and diarrhea) it will cause stomach distension. The Kidney and Heart will also be heavily damaged by the misuse of anti-inflammatory (cold) drugs causing lower limb edema.

This is the truth behind why so many patients were diagnosed liver cancer and liver cirrhosis from stomach distension and lower limb edema. In TCM, we can see the true cause is that the Stomach Qi cannot flow smoothly and why can't the Stomach Qi flow smoothly? It's because it cannot perform proper transformation and descending functions due to the toxins in the medications injuring the Heart. Due to the injury to the Heart, the Stomach does not receive enough blood and nutrients to carry out its functions.

Finally all the toxin accumulation in the Liver will urge the defensive mechanism of the body to find a way for the toxins to be purged out. Skin rash or itchiness is the expression of how the Liver is trying to detoxify itself. Patients are usually given anti inflammatory or steroid creams to mask these symptoms also. When the skin irritation disappears, patients feel they are "cured." However, this only means the toxins are being forced back deeper into the body. But, so long as the patient doesn't see the rash or feel the itching, they feel great.

All of the medications that are given to stop diarrhea, vomiting and rash block the ways the body is trying to detoxify and expel the toxins. As a result, toxins are forced deeper inside the body for the Liver to detoxify. The Liver however, is dealing with too many toxins, which was why it was trying to purge it out through the rash, diarrhea or vomiting, all these toxins now accumulate into Liver.

The patient will not die yet because there is another route for the toxins to be purged, through the kidneys. The kidney is the final passage that helps the Liver to eliminate this accumulation of toxins. Once the toxins enter the liver, it can only be eliminated through urination or through skin. One can no longer purge out the toxins through vomiting and defecation. So, in order to treat liver cancer, one must strengthen the passage for the toxins to be passed and strengthen the body's own ability to detoxify by restoring normal heart and kidney functions. The treatment focus should not be on killing the cancerous cells.

The key to treating Liver diseases is not to determine which toxins or what problems the Liver has (Hepatitis A, B, C, cirrhosis, cancer, etc). The Liver is an organ that is not afraid of the toxins. If the heart and kidney are functioning normally, the toxins, even cancerous tumors can be eliminated. The toxins can be purged out through urination allowing the Liver to function normally again. Which means restoring and increasing the kidney function is absolutely crucial in treating Liver diseases.

Medical care offered today mainly aims to eliminate toxins or tumors in the Liver with strong anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and bacterial medications that are too cold in nature and damage the heart and kidneys. As a result, the Liver has no outlet to eliminate the toxins. Finally, patients die from kidney failure or anuria and not from liver cirrhosis tumors/cancer.

Finally we have the issues of biopsies. If you think about what happens when you prick or squeeze any pus-filled cyst, nodule or mass on the skin it causes inflammation to worsen. The infected area then begins to swell and the toxins that were in the nodule spread throughout the surrounding tissue. What does one think will happen to the Liver if the same is done to tumors or cancer that grow on it? As long as the body is in marginal health it will do all it can to contain the cancer cells from spreading.

However, when biopsies or surgeries are done that cause the aforementioned inflammation and swelling, cancer cells will leak into the lymphatic and circulatory system allowing the cancer to spread. These cancerous cells will even spread to a different part of the body. So long as the body contains the cancer, if the tumor or cancer is not cut open the cells cannot spread. It is when the body is overburdened by toxins of medications, or traumatic procedures of biopsies or surgeries are done, that it can no longer contain the cancer.

Liver Cancer and Liver Cirrhosis

When the Stomach Qi cannot flow smoothly, it will affect the Spleen channel also. Spleen is in charge of the muscles and the limbs. When the Spleen and Stomach Qi can not flow and transform, the muscle will atrophy and the abdomen will distend.

When Stomach Qi does not flow smoothly it adversely affects its Yin Channel pair, the Spleen. In TCM we know the Spleen is in charge of the muscles and the limbs, therefore, when the transformation function of Spleen and Stomach Qi is compromised the muscles atrophy and the abdomen distends. Damaged Spleen and Stomach cause the fatigue and inability to absorb and distribute the nutrients. Finally due to overuse of cooling medications, the heart and kidney are damaged and this leaves the body with no way to purge the toxins out.

However, many may think abdominal distension is due to Liver Qi stagnation, but that is only one potential reason. In my experience, I feel the real cause is damaged Spleen and Stomach no longer allowing the body to process all the damp heat, cold damp, wind cold, blood stasis, allowing them to accumulate inside. Abdominal distension happens because the Spleen and Stomach cannot process and transform the water and grain (food) Qi. It is not merely a Liver problem.

Edema of the lower body is a sign of Hand and Foot Shaoyin deficiency (Heart and Kidney). We have to remember that Heart and Kidney yang are vital in transforming water. Especially the Kidney yang, in Kidney Yang deficiency the body is not able to transform the pathogenic Qi (wind, coldness, summer heat, dampness, dryness, fire) and therefore develops edema. All other symptoms such as; abdominal distension, swollen feet and jaundice are not caused by liver and gallbladder. It is my experience that this happens because of all the medications administered to lower the SGOP and SGPT levels causing damage to the Spleen, Stomach, Heart and Kidney.

If someone is diagnosed with a Liver tumor, there is no need to panic, if we take a breath and realize there is no immediate life threatening danger from Liver tumor. Liver cancer, cirrhosis and tumors can be very successfully treated with TCM. As long as the patient doesn't rush into using medication to detoxify the Liver with Western anti-biotics, anti-virals and medications to lower SGPT, SGOT (these are extremely toxic and cold in nature), the kidney and heart won't be damaged. One simply needs to strengthen the heart and the kidney to enhance the body's natural ability to detox and open up the passages for the toxins to exit.

Treatment for Liver Cancer and Liver Cirrhosis

When treating the Liver diseases, one must understand the symptoms of a diseased Liver, the channels and collaterals. One must also learn the relationship between the Liver and other vital organs. For example, when treating Liver diseases, one should know the Liver is connected to the Spleen. When the Spleen and Stomach are strong, the food intake is appropriate, and then there will be good absorption of nutrients.

Once the body has adequate nutrition, the body will be full of vitality and the toxins won't accumulate in the Liver as easily. Even if a tumor develops in the Liver, all the Toxins will be eliminated by the body itself over time. In the classical texts it explains this all to us:

"The dryness of yangming (Stomach channel) and its flow of Qi are closely related to the metal element (Lung and Large Intestine channels). From there you can observe the transformation of dampness in the taiyin (Spleen channel). Therefore when the Spleen Qi is overheated, the Stomach channel will become dry and the patient will feel thirsty. The Qi of Spleen and Stomach channels are in charge of nourishing the muscles. When the fluids are deficient in the yangming channel, the Qi of taiyin channel cannot reach in, therefore there will be decrease of sensation and atrophy in the muscles." - Su Wen- Wei Lun Pian

Liver is Wood as well as Wind and Wind dislikes and/or acts up with too much dryness (Metal element). This means that the Metal element can overact upon the Wood element.

"Kidney governs all the fluids and dislikes the dryness. There could be exterior evil Qi lingering long enough to damage the Kidney yin, or from exterior condition that turned into interior damage causing dryness... If the kidney fluids are sufficient, there will be calmness. If the kidney fluids are deficient, it will be agitated and turning into dryness..." - Wen Bing Tiao Bian-Qiu Zao Pian

Kidney is linked to the water element and it can nourish the Wood element.

"Internal damage of the seven emotions, invasion of the six evil Qi, inappropriate diet habits, deficiency caused by excessive intercourses will all harm the yin portion of the earth element (Spleen channel). When the organ in charge of transformation and transportation (Spleen) is damaged, it cannot process the food even though the Stomach can take it in. It will cause the abnormal rising of yang and descending of the yin causing the mixture of clear and turbid, Stomach distension from heaven and earth not communicating. When the passage of elimination is blocked, the stagnation will turn into heat. The residual heat will interact with dampness and cause more severe Stomach distention." - Dan Xi Xin Fa

"When the Liver is diseased; there will be pain that radiates from hypochondriac area of both sides toward the lower abdomen." - Su Wen-Zang Qi Fa Shi Lun

The classics tell us the main diseases of the Liver are; Liver Qi stagnation, blood stasis and Liver yin deficiency. Most of the pains with distention result from qi stagnation, with sharp pains indicating blood stasis and dull aching pains often being caused by blood deficiency. Not only will patients with Liver Cancer or Cirrhosis develop these pains, but many will also pass out asphalt-like dark-colored feces, indicating the blood stasis from the Liver, Spleen or Stomach.

If these asphalt-like black feces are not purged out, you will often find varicose veins or tumors on the Stomach through examination. It is because all the stagnated blood and toxic blood fill the Liver and Spleen. These patients also often have hard and distended abdomen, protruding veins, pain that radiates from the hypochondriac area toward the lower abdomen, dusky dark facial complexion, spider veins in the head, neck, chest, and arms like wave patterns, purplish-brown colored lips, thirst and wanting to drink but not able to urinate, black feces, purplish-red tongue with purple discolored spots and thin, choppy, or blood deficient pulse.

Liver cirrhosis and Liver cancer are the result from blood stasis accumulation. Therefore when the asphalt-like black feces are purged out, there is likely to be blood in the feces which indicates the body is eliminating the stagnated blood and toxins. Once the blood stasis is purged through the period of black feces, the prognosis for Liver cirrhosis and Liver cancer is actually very good.

In any medicine it is very important to do differential diagnosis when treating Liver diseases. Many patients are given the diagnosis of Liver cirrhosis or Liver cancer via Western medical examinations. However, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, we don't just look at the Liver. Traditional Chinese Medicine views the body as a whole and this is the key to restore the patient's health. To a certain extent, all the lengthy examinations and lab tests are completely pointless and do not restore the patient's health. When you truly understand the real science of Traditional Chinese Medicine, treating Liver diseases is as easy as treating common colds. Just as the symptoms and conditions of common colds change rapidly and constantly, so do all Liver diseases, Liver cirrhosis and Liver cancer.

It is because of these rapid and constant changes, when treating Liver diseases, the practitioner cannot be limited to the data from various exams. These exams are merely a small snapshot in time that is going on physiologically at the time of the exam. It does not account for the constant change and flux of disease, thus many critical points are not diagnosed at all, these miscellaneous items are then taken as the "gold standard", or "treatment guidelines." This results in many deaths and it happens from the attempt to normalize the "numbers" of the exams.


In TCM, the primary reasons for these Liver diseases, cancer and cirrhosis cause patient death not because of the cancer itself, but from the inappropriate and aggressive measures and drugs taken to "normalize" the "numbers" within the medical standards.

As TCM practitioners we know the causes of common cold can be differentiated into wind, coldness, summer heat, dampness, heat (Fire). Not all of them should be treated with anti-inflammatory procedures for they are not inflamed. Modern medicine does the anti-inflammatory approach without understanding the internal balance and equilibrium of the organs and five elements. Many severe side effects and complications happen because of this and cause serious harm to the health of these patients.

The proper treatment for the Liver is to strengthen the Heart so it can supply the Spleen and Stomach enough blood to perform their transformation and transportation functions. Also, by strengthening the Kidney this allows the proper passage for the Toxins to be eliminated.

Translator Tina Chen is a licensed acupuncturist, also certified in TCM by the World Health Organization, with specialties in herbology, gynecology, and internal medicine.

I Chun Peng has more than three decades of clinical experience. He is a TCM cancer specialist in Taiwan. His book Yi Yao- The Key to Medicine - Unveiling the Secrets of Chinese Medicine (in Chinese only), is now in its 11th printing, bringing rich clinical experience to wake up modern medicine and contemporary practitioners. His lectures can be found on Youtube or Visit Dr. Peng’s blogs at and


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