Mood over matter. How Negative Emotions affects Liver Health
The Mental Health Foundation of Australia (2017) has vouched that emotions is a combination of what we think (psychological) and how we feel (biological). Whenever we experience pleasant or unpleasant emotions, our brain responds to it by releasing different chemicals and hormones. For example, dopamine is a chemical released when we feel happy or rewarded, which will induce motivation and improve cognitive performance.8 On the other hand, negative emotions come in when we undergo setbacks and conflicts. Stress hormones, like catecholamines, will be released causing an increase in heartbeat, blood pressure; and long term exposure is often linked to cardiovascular disorders.
Furthermore, a review study has also found that negative emotions (eg: depression, anxiety) leads to many negative health outcomes.2 These emotions affect health through alterations in the functioning of the central nervous system, immune, endocrine and cardiovascular system3 which involves all the important organs, including the liver.
Negative Emotions and Liver Health
Liver, the largest internal organ, acts as the manufacturing hub, processing plant and storehouse in our body. It carries over 500 vital functions such as4,11:
- Produce hormones, cholesterol and bile acid for body usage
- Cleanse and detoxify the body from harmful substances, eg: potential pathogens (parasites, bacteria, virus) in the blood; alcohol; medication
- Regulate energy obtained from absorbed nutrients – distribute the energy needed and storing the excess as backup fuel
- Storing the essential vitamins and minerals, eg: Vitamin A, D, E, K, iron
Liver serves a determinant role in our health, however, it is known as the “silent organ” due to limited nerve around, causing no apparent symptoms observed until the liver is severely degraded. Therefore, we must beware of all the possible harmful factors. Besides environmental and dietary factors, do you know that negative emotions will also harm your liver?
- According to the Traditional Chinese Medicine, most of our organs are connected to emotions, and anger will affect the liver, resulting in stagnation of liver ‘qi’ (vital energy)5. This energy imbalance results in liver impairment
- Most people tend to practice emotional overeating, or consume alcohol to soothe the troubled mind. All these unhealthy practices causes harm to the liver
- Stress has been identified in recent years as an important factor in the progression and outcome of several important liver pathologies (eg: viral hepatitis, cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma)6. Stress-induced dysregulation will also increase hepatic inflammation, ultimately leading to development of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)7
- More distressed and anxious individuals are slower in developing immune response. Thus, they could be at greater risk for more severe illness, like viral hepatitis3
Ways to Combat to Negativity
When confronted with negative emotions, do not bottle up! It is unavoidable to experience negative emotions in life. Accept such situations and find ways to release the unpleasant emotions. Here’s some way for you to overcome gloomy days:
- Exercise – this can induce the release of chemical called endorphins that helps to boost your mood
- Talk to close friend or family – speak out your mind and feelings to someone you trust helps relieve the negative emotions
- Writing/Drawing – if you don’t want to talk about it, you may choose to express your feelings through words or drawing
- Meditation/Yoga – release the uncomfortable feelings through this mind-relaxing activity
- Practice healthy lifestyle and take supplements to reduce the harm of these unpleasant feelings towards your body, especially liver
Experiencing bad days are a part of life. No matter how smoothly your life runs, or how strong your willpower is, the secret to thriving is learning how to move forward in spite of bad days. Instead of aiming to never have one or letting them send you into a “now I’ve blown it” tailspin, learn to accept them with open arms as challenges only make you grow.
- Mental Health Foundation of Australia (Better Health Channel). 2017. Negative Emotions. Retrieved on 16 March 2017.
- Gallo LC and Matthews KA. 2013. Understanding the Association Between Socioeconomic Status and Physical Health: Do Negative Emotions Play a Role? Psychological Bulletin. Vol 129 (1): pp. 10-51.
- Kiecolt-Glaser JK et al. 2002. Emotions, Morbidity, and Mortality: New Perspectives from Psychoneuroimmunology. Annual Review Psychology. Vol 53: pp. 83-107.
- Lapierre P & Alvarez F. 2007. The liver: an organ of the immune system? (Abstract only) Medicine Sciences. Vol 23 (11): pp. 985-990.
- Shen Nong. 2005. What Are The Seven Emotions? Retrieved on 16 March 2017.
- Vera CC et al. 2009. Psychological stress and liver disease status. World Journal of Gastroenterology. Vol 15 (24): pp. 2980-2986.
- Russ TC et al. 2015. Association Between Psychological Distress and Liver Disease Mortality: A Meta-analysis of Individual Study Participants. Gastroenterology. Vol 148: pp. 958-966.
- Ikemoto S et al. 2015. Basal ganglia circuit loops, dopamine and motivation: A review and enquiry. Behavioural Brain Research. Vol 290: pp. 17-31.
- Lundberg U. 2005. Stress hormones in health and illness: The roles of work and gender. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Vol 30: pp. 1017-1021.
- Tortora GJ, Derrickson B. 2009. Principle of Anatomy and Physiology. 12th ed. Volume 2. CA: John Wiley & Sons, (Asia) Pte Ltd.