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Five Elements Nutrition

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 122 - April 2006

The ancient Chinese lived closely in tune with the natural world and their medical system reflects this.

The Cycles of Nature

According to the Chinese Five Elements theory, each season has a corresponding element (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water), relating to specific organs of the body and patterns of emotional, mental and physical symptoms.

These patterns are in constant flux, flowing one to the other in a never ending cycle just like the seasons. However, due to blocks in the flow of energy, one state may become more dominant than another in a person, causing disease. For the nutrition practitioner, basic knowledge of the characteristics and symptom patterns of the Five Elements can provide a valuable perspective when taking the case.

The Season for New Growth

Spring is when the energy of the Wood element and the corresponding organ, the liver, is at its peak. The Chinese interpreted the energy of Wood when perfectly balanced, as a tree with its trunk firmly rooted downwards into the earth and with flexible branches reaching up to the sky. Translated into the human body, healthy Wood energy is associated with feeling emotionally and physically balanced.

On the other hand, imbalanced liver energy can show up emotionally and mentally in a person as depression, an inability to express anger or the opposite extreme which is persistent irritation and frustration and a short fuse. Stagnant liver energy leads to a feeling of being stuck. Sometimes there may appear to be a lot of 'doing' but the person may be going around in circles not actually getting out of their own rut.

Physical ailments associated with imbalanced liver energy may be stress, stiffness and inflexibility in the joints or spine, shoulder and neck tension, constipation, piles, intestinal gas and bloating, eye problems, weak or ridged nails, vertigo, PMS, swellings such as boils and headaches.

Liver Function

The liver has many vital biochemical functions. It is the largest organ in the body weighing around 3lb and is found under the diaphragm on the right hand side of the body. The liver produces bile for fat digestion which is stored in the gall bladder. The liver also plays an important role in blood sugar balance, storing sugar as glycogen which is converted into glucose and released into the blood when needed. The liver contains immune cells too, called Kupffer cells, which act as a filter for bacteria, viruses and antigens, preventing them from causing allergic reactions.

Perhaps most importantly, the liver is constantly detoxifying potentially harmful chemicals. Modern day living means exposure to toxins in what we eat and drink, in medical drugs, cosmetics, household cleaning products and furniture, pollution and environmental poisons and toxins generated daily inside our bodies by metabolic processes.

Supportive Liver Foods and Drinks
• Hot water with lemon juice (an excellent drink to take on waking or before meals as it is a digestive stimulant and decongestant). Dandelion tea, chamomile tea;
• All fruit and vegetables, whole or juiced and ideally organic. Especially beneficial are broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, artichokes, radishes, carrots, sweet potatoes, beetroot, asparagus, parsley, fennel, celery;
• Sprouted seeds and beans e.g. alfalfa, radish, lentils, mung beans. To sprout seeds place a tablespoon into a glass jar, add pure water and cover the jar with a thin, stretchy piece of cloth (clean, old tights are perfect for this!), secured with a rubber band. Replace the water each day and after a few days curly green shoots will appear and the sprouts will be ready to eat. Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower and sesame), peas, beans and lentils are very beneficial in their unsprouted forms too;
• Millet, brown rice, oat porridge;
• Bio live yoghurt;
• Cold pressed, unheated oils e.g. flaxseed oil, olive oil.

The Liver Flush Drink

Half pint of organic apple juice
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
1 clove garlic
1" fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Blend all the ingredients together, then drink slowly. If you do not have a blender, grate the ginger and garlic, and shake all the ingredients together to mix.

Take the flush two hours away from food (early in the morning is best). The flush is taken for six days at a time, wait three weeks and then repeat. Alternatively it can be taken three times a week for three weeks. Working according to the Five Elements theory, the best time to embark on a liver flush is during the spring when the energy of the liver is at its peak. It shouldn't be done in the cold winter months.

Disclaimer: if you have a medical condition always check with your healthcare practitioner before embarking on a liver flush.

Further reading

Traditional Acupuncture, The Law of the Five Elements. Dianne M. Connelly PhD.


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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther DN Med BANT NTCC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has been in clinical practice ever since.  She has seen hundreds of clients at her practices in London SW15 and online. She has written for Positive Health, FamiliesGreen FarmHealth Matters, The Health Times and contributed to articles for the Daily TelegraphThe Times Literary  supplement,  Pregnancy & Birth, Marie Claire, has been featured in the Daily ExpressDaily Mirror and on local radio.

She is registered with professional bodies BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and CNHC.

Penny now specializes in nutrition for women in their 40s and beyond, particularly around peri and post menopause. Her approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She studied many complementary therapies before training as a nutritionist which provides a broad foundation of knowledge. She is dedicated to personal and professional development and frequently attends lectures and seminars to keep up to date with the latest scientific nutrition research. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;

Please note that nutritional advice is not a substitute for medical advice and treatment or visiting your GP or Health Professional.

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