Essential Takeaways:
  • Liver Qi Stagnation (LQS) is one of the most common pattern diagnoses in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
  • The Liver organ system is in charge of detoxing the body, moving and directing Qi (energy), regulating mood and hormones, and is in charge of clear directed focus and decision making.
  • Symptoms of LQS include many menstrual and hormone related symptoms like PMS, irritability, breast tenderness, headaches, irregular cycles and flow, spotting, painful periods, mood swings, depression, and ovulation pain.

If you have ever seen an acupuncturist, or dabbled in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), you have likely heard the term Liver Qi Stagnation (LQS). It’s one of the most common patterns of imbalance seen and Elix’s Cycle Balance formulas address it. So let’s learn about what LQS is and easily actionable tips to deal with it.

What is Qi?

Before getting into LQS it's best to learn what Qi is. It’s an energetic force that can take on a lot of different forms depending on where it is. Qi is the vital energetic force that sustains life. When we talk about Qi as it relates to the body it’s referencing the actual energetic energy our body makes that keeps us alive (think kinda like ATP) or it’s referencing the power of the physiological function of an organ system.

What is an Organ System?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the body is a dynamic energy system, with each organ network operating together in concert; each system is more than its physical function, and has its ‘personality’. These each have an influence over specific emotions, activities, tissues, and environmental factors. When we talk about the Liver, or any other organ in TCM, we are not necessarily talking about the health of the organ itself (although there can be some crossover). In TCM all physical, mental, and emotional functions are attributed to one of twelve organ systems.

The TCM Liver Organ Network

The Liver is in charge of detoxing the body, moving and directing Qi (energy), regulating mood and hormones, and is incharge of clear directed focus and decision making. It’s often described as the ‘General’ who is in charge of ensuring that the energy ‘freeways’ (meridians) that carry “Qi” in the body are moving smoothly. The Liver meridian runs through the reproductive organs, one reason it has a special influence on the menstrual cycle.

What is Liver Qi Stagnation?

As mentioned, the Liver is incharge of free movement.  When there is LQS the flow of Qi becomes stuck, similar to a physiological ‘traffic jam’. Since all organ systems work together, LQS in one part of the body can affect the functioning of all other organ networks.

Symptoms of Liver Qi Stagnation

With the Liver having such a roll in keeping things flowing smoothly, including hormones, it’s involved in a lot of symptoms related to hormone imbalance and the menstrual cycle like:

PMS, irritability, breast tenderness, headaches, irregular cycles and flow, spotting, painful periods, mood swings, depression, and ovulation symptoms. 

Symptoms of a Liver organ system imbalance can include: 

  • Feelings of indecision, restlessness, or being stuck

  • Inability to make clear decisions or have a clear vision for the future

  • Impatience, irritability, anger, mood swings, emotional rigidity, depression

  • Tight or raised shoulders 

  • Headaches

  • Increased menstrual symptoms 

  • Feeling of rib distension or oppression in the chest 

  • Digestive issues

  • Bitter taste in mouth

  • Increase in muscle and joint soreness, 

  • Emotionally aggravated by the wind 

  • Circulation issues - cold hands and feet

What Causes Liver Qi Stagnation?

For most people, the presence of LQS is simply a result of being a human in the modern world. We are expected to operate at a pace that is not conducive to happy healthy livers. Ideally we should be living, resting and eating in accordance with the seasons and getting plenty of regular movement. Unfortunately, most of us are encouraged to push ourselves, spend a large amount of time in front of screens, and don’t get adequate rest, nourishment, and movement.

Stress and Liver Qi Stagnation

Any type of stress (physical, environmental, emotional/mental) encourages more LQS. So anything that stresses our body like - chronic emotional or physical stress, exposure to environmental toxins, overconsumption of alcohol or other substances, unbalanced movement, and poor diet can engender more traffic jams in the body. The more traffic jams the more symptoms arise.

How Can I Reduce Liver Qi Stagnation?

While we live in a world that makes it impossible to avoid all stressors, it’s all about finding ways to help you respond to stress with more resilience and strength. You might not be able to quit your job to go live with the seasons, but there are many small changes you can make to help prevent as much LQS as possible. Experiment and play around with different ways to respond to stress to find the best way for you. Some ideas include:

  • Journaling 

  • Exercise 

  • Art: drawing, painting, coloring, creating   

  • Meditation

  • Breathing exercises 

  • Dancing 

  • Singing 

  • Talking it out with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor 

  • Qi Gong or Tai Chi 

  • Getting acupuncture 

  • Reading 

  • Engaging in any activity that brings you joy  

Liver Qi Stagnation Lifestyle Tips

Here are a few lifestyle tips according to Elix’s Six Holistic Wellness Pillars that will help keep your Liver Qi moving smoothly, so your energy highways stay flowing so your body can get all the energy and nutrients it needs.


Connect with nature - start your day off with going outside for a few minutes.


Recovery is more than sleep, set aside 5 minutes a day to do something that you love like reading, creative pursuits, meditating, skincare routine, whatever sparks your joy.

Stress Response

Kick your parasympathetic nervous system (the rest, digest, and calm part) by taking one minute to do deep belly breathing - inhale through the nose and exhale longer aiming for 6 or less breaths a minute.


Take one minute movement breaks throughout your day - do whatever feels best for you in the moment - dancing, jumping jacks, body weight exercises, walking in place, walking up and down stairs, just get moving.


Have one more serving of fibrous dark leafy green vegetables which help clear any excess hormones - dandelion greens and other dark leafy greens, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli.


Ditch any products you use that list “fragrance” in the ingredient list, many times this means there are phthalates in the product that affect hormones negatively. Only use natural fragrances that come from sources like essential oils.

Herbs for Liver Qi Stagnation

Since one of the most common reasons for PMS and hormonal imbalance stems from LQS, many of the herbs in your customized Cycle Balance formula are used to prevent Liver Qi Stagnation, like: 

Herbs for Stress

If you find yourself wanting extra support for stress then Elix’s Daily Harmony formula is perfect for you. It is based on a 1,000 year old formula, a well researched formula (Free and Easy Wanderer) that has long been used to help support everyday stress, mood, energy, sleep, and digestion issues

We’ve added adaptogens like reishi and astragalus to strengthen the stress supporting ability of the formula. Adaptogens are substances known to help strengthen your body’s stress response, helping you stay calm and collected when stressful events occur. We can’t avoid stressors, but we can learn how to respond to stress more favorably.

How to Deal With Stress

While stress is inevitable there are many things that you can do to minimize its effect on your health. Lifestyle plays a large role, but herbal formulas are a great way to help you handle stress with more resilience and grace. Cycle Balance and Daily Harmony are a great herbal formula pair to help you stay grounded no matter what stressors life sends your way!

Get your stress resilience formulas here.









This article was reviewed by Dr. Liem Le.

Dr. Liem Le is a Doctor of Chinese Medicine, Functional Medicine Practitioner, and Nutritionist Integrative Medicine Department at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. He is a part of the teaching staff for the Masters program for the Functional Medicine and Human Nutrition program at University of Western States. Dr. Le is currently working on his fellowship in Integrative Medicine with the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine via a scholarship from the White House to complete the initiative.

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