Liver Yin deficiency

Woman with Insomnia
Photo by Megan te Boekhorst on Unsplash
  • Discover Liver Yin deficiency symptoms – many women get them
  • The causes of Liver Yin deficiency
  • How to understand Liver Yin deficiency
  • What to do including diet for Liver Yin deficiency

Liver Yin deficiency comes as a cruel extra twist when we grow old, as we deplete our body’s supplies of what are called Kidney Yin and Kidney Yang.

By then of course, we’ve developed wisdom, so it doesn’t matter, though it can be a hard exchange.

This syndrome is one of a number of syndromes recognised in Chinese medicine relating to the Liver. The Liver, as in Western medicine, is of major importance in Chinese medicine but it has additional, very different roles.

Read more about the Liver functions here.

In Chinese medicine the Liver is an Energy Organ, or zang, that deals with making sure that Qi – energy – moves smoothly; not just in your body, but in your emotions. You may think the liver has little to do with your emotions, but even in the West we recognise what is meant by someone who is described as liverish.

‘Liverish’ includes physical symptoms but also mental and emotional symptoms that often accompany them.

If you can imagine someone who has been liverish for a long time, with either loss of blood or a history of considerable and excessive exertion you might begin to approach what the Chinese mean by this syndrome.

The actual symptoms you can read about below: they aren’t that uncommon and many people get them to a small extent from time to time.

They become stronger as you grow older, and can lead to other Liver syndromes, such as Liver Qi Stagnation or Liver Yang.

It share some signs common to all Yin deficient syndromes.


What are Liver Yin Deficiency Symptoms?

Liver Yin deficiency symptoms are rather like those of Liver Blood deficiency. This makes little difference if you’re new to all this, but it does matter if you’re the acupuncturist treating it.

You may not have all of the following symptoms – just some of them, some of the time.

Note – don’t confuse these Liver Yin Deficiency with the symptoms of fever or infection, a mistake doctors sometimes make, the result being that they prescribe antibiotics, which eventually make your condition worse.

people doing office works: overwork often causes liver yin deficiency
Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi

So what are the symptoms?

By the way, you may wonder how to make sense of them! Or how to remember them!

Even acupuncturists seldom remember them all, or even attempt to remember them all.

That’s because they know what the Liver does (in Chinese medicine), also the functions of Blood and Yin, so putting them together they can work out the symptoms of Liver Yin deficiency. (Hence why you go to someone who has trained in all this, rather than trying to self-diagnose.)

But beside each symptom I’ve included a brief explanation of why Liver Yin deficiency leads to the symptom. Even that requires a bit of prior knowledge, but give it a try – there are lots of links to pages explaining more!

Mental spheres of Liver Yin deficiency

  • Impatience: a frequent sign of Liver Qi stagnation, which either causes or can be a result of Liver Yin deficiency.
  • Restlessness, but you weaken quickly: as with impatience, above, this is partly from Liver Qi stagnation but with the addition of yin deficiency.
  • Insomnia (often after waking around 3am): several ways to undertand this. From the Chinese ‘clock’, at 0300h the Liver hands over to the Lungs. If your Liver was deficient there’s no yin to hand over so your Shen-Mind can’t stay down and rises up to consciousness. Also, 0300h is 12  hours away from the onset of the Water element (for more about which read our page on the 5 Elements), which controls yin, so at this time, if Liver Yin and Lung yin aren’t solid, there’s no back-up from the Kidneys. Of course, there are many other reasons for insomnia, such as those listed under ‘night sweats’ below.
  • Speech: quiet but talkative, though you easily run out of ‘puff’. Yin deficiency leads to what seems like yang excess, but because there is this underlying weakness, the speech is quiet, and cannot keep going for long.
  • Your mood: agitated, anxious, depressed, passive, excitable. ‘Grumpy!’ and ‘Out of Sorts!’ You needs reassurance. This comes from a mixture of Qi stagnation and Yin deficiency.
  • Appearance: you may get slightly flushed cheeks, commonly in the afternoon or evening. If so, this shows signs of your deficiency of Yin allowing (Yang) ‘empty‘ heat to develop.


Physical symptoms of Liver Yin deficiency

white and brown boat on gray sand during daytime: dryness is a symptom of liver yin deficiency
Photo by Dave Photoz
  • Dry eyes, mouth and throat: dryness here is a symptom of yin deficiency.
  • Nails are dry and without lustre: your Liver ‘rules’ your nails, so if yin deficient you’ll probably be Blood deficient too, often leading to Liver Blood deficiency and poor, under-nourished nails.
  • Constipation with dry stools: if your peristaltic bowel movements don’t move – because of Liver Qi stagnation – you’ll get constipation which in due course leads to drying out of your stools as moisture is leached out of them, but also because yin deficiency leads to dryness hence your body’s need for that moisture.
  • Urine is dark and may be scanty: yin deficiency leads to drying out, which concentrates fluids, making urine darker.
  • Night sweats: another typical sign of yin deficiency. Night sweats are potentially very draining as your yin can’t control your yang, causing heat which your body tries to reduce by perspiring, thereby losing even more fluids and yin. (Of course night sweats caused by injudicious diet (eg alcohol and spicy and hot food the previous evening) or from a fever (say from a bug, as in an invasion of Wind-Cold) are quite different and have little to do with Liver Yin deficiency night sweats!).
  • Aversion to Heat: you dislike Heat because you lack Yin to combat it.
  • Thirst and prefers cool drinks, but not too much at a time: this symptoms comes mainly from yin deficiency, a symptom of which, mentioned above, is dryness. But if you drink too much or it’s too cold, the fluid overwhelms your yang energy, which is also diminished when you are yin deficient, although because there is more yin deficiency than yang deficiency so yang predominates, you feel thirsty.


Other sensations in Liver Yin deficiency

heat in the palms is a symptom of liver yin deficiency

  • Heat sensations in palms and soles: a symptom of yin deficiency.
  • Dull inter-costal pain: this comes from where the Liver channel runs through your chest.
  • Low grade fever worse later in the day or evening: a typical symptom of yin deficiency.
  • Fatigue: when yin is deficient, ie your reserves are low, you tire easily.
  • Shallow Breathing, dyspnoea, sighing, taking deep breaths: your Liver when healthy enables things to flow smoothly so when it gets ‘blocked’ you get chest movement restrictions (although of course there are many other causes for dyspnoea); sighing is very often an indication of qi stagnation; Kidney deficiency, especially Kidney yin deficiency, means that when your Lungs send Qi down on out-breath, the Qi isn’t ‘grasped’ or anchored so you feel as if you can’t achieve a satisfying deep breath, hence your sighs.
  • Pain relieved by cool air or cool applications: pain from Qi stagnation, better from cool conditions because of yin deficiency.
  • Pain also better for pressure or firm touch: deficient-type pain is usually better from firm pressure, although in very yin deficient people with strong pain from qi stagnation, they might initially resist firm pressure. If so, just gently touch them until they get used to you, then slowly increase the pressure and find the level at which they can accept it, then slowly massage the pain. Usually they’ll be grateful. (I did say – ‘usually’!)


Tongue and Pulse symptoms of Liver Yin deficiency

  • Your tongue: red with little or no coating (if any, it is white or sometimes a little yellow). Your tongue body may have fissures. Redness comes from yin deficiency though would be less marked in major Blood deficiency. The more yellow the coating, the more likely there is internal Heat. This Heat could come from Liver Qi stagnation.
  • Your pulse: wiry and fine, or wiry, fine, and rapid (technical terms of interest to acupuncturists). Wiry pulses are typical of Liver Qi stagnation: fineness comes from Blood deficiency because there isn’t enough blood to thicken it; rapidity from yin deficiency.


much study goes into Chinese medicine to recognise liver yin deficiency
There’s a lot of learning behind Chinese medicine!

As perhaps you now realise from those explanations, your acupuncturist doesn’t have to try to remember the list of symptoms I’ve given – I certainly wouldn’t, anyhow! But knowing how your Liver functions, your Lungs function, your Blood functions, your yin and yang function, by listening to your symptoms, examining your tongue, taking your pulse and feeling how and where you have pain, he can put together a diagnosis of Liver Yin deficiency.

How do you get this – what’s its Aetiology?

The usual causes of Liver Yin Deficiency are:

  • Excessive exercise or physical exertion (what’s excessive for one person may be normal for another)
  •  Long-term Liver Blood deficiency eg from heavy menses
  • succession of high fevers that have drained your Yin reserves
  • Big emotional problems, including sadness or grieving can also drain Liver Yin, firstly by causing Liver Qi stagnation, then perhaps by causing Liver Fire which drains Liver Yin
  • In women (more than in men, it seems), overworking
  • In women, childbirth can be a cause, more so if it was very draining, took too long, or you had many tiring pregnancies close together
  • Jing and Kidney deficiency’ leading to Liver Yin deficiency.
  • I think long hours straining your eyes at a computer screen (or any other kind of screen, including reading under the bedclothes to avoid detection when a child) can predispose you to Liver Blood deficiency, which can in time lead on to Liver Yin deficiency.


Jing and Kidney deficiency can arise from a number of different reasons including

  • chronic illness


old age can lead to liver yin deficiency

  • old age,
  • overwork,
  • hereditary causes,
  • long-standing or extreme fear, and
  • excess sexual activity. 
  • In other words, overuse of available resources.


Of course, there are other causes. Any large emotional trauma can affect any or all of the organ energies (eg Heart, Lungs, Liver, Kidney etc). Such trauma will dissipate their patency. Which symptoms this leads to depends on underlying susceptibilities.

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Technically, what your acupuncturist will do is nourish your Kidney Yin or your Kidney Yang, your Liver Yin and Liver Blood. There are acupuncture treatments for this, and a whole raft of other ways that your acupuncturist will probably suggest.

Other Ways?

Like what? Well, you could start by studying the many thousands of texts written over at least 2000 years by Chinese medicine scholars, doctors and mystics, most of whom sooner or later became obsessed with the matter.

As you will, too, when you grow a little older, if not already.

Few of us like to grow old (at least physically) and Kidney deficiency comes with growing old.

Kidney deficiency leads to Liver Yin deficiency.

person inserting acupuncture needles
Acupuncture – Photo by Katherine Hanlon

Of course, Chinese Medicine including Acupuncture has solutions, partial if nothing else, as you would expect.

Some of them you can do yourself and for others you need treatment.

The things you do yourself must become part of your daily pattern.

They aren’t things which you do once and that’s it.

Liver Yin deficiency Diet ie food for Liver yin deficiency

To support what your acupuncturist is doing to improve your Liver Blood, Kidney Yin and Kidney yang, you’ll need to eat more regularly and sensibly, chewing well and avoiding foods that worsen you.

So, for a start,

  • no junk food
woman wearing white pantie holding chocolate tray: avoid chocolate and junk instant gratification foods!
No! No chocolate! Photo by Thought Catalog
  • no food containing caffeine or similar stimulants, no artifical sweeteners, no phosphoric acid or the like as in many coke-like drinks, no chocolate …
  • cut out instant gratification foods such as very sugary or sweet, and also …
  • stop snacks made of potatoes or corn or similar that are highly salted or spiced, contain little fibre but unfortunately taste delicious and are fattening and addictive.
  • cut out very Hot foods – you’ll have to read that page to see what we mean: too much to put here.
  • never eat when tired, or just before bed or when working or rushing or driving or snatched, on the go.
  • Always make time for eating, preferably with compatible friends, enjoying laughter.



  • eat food containing natural fibre, such as in green vegetables and roots (with potatoes, eat the skin) and CHEW well
  • protein twice a week, such as oily fish (lightly cooked, so as not to destroy the omega-3 oils)
  • read our page on Blood-building foods but realise that too much red meat is heating, exhausting your yin deficiency status
  • then read our page on nutrition for more background
  • learn to cook! You’ll learn to appreciate how much food contributes to health and sanity.


Liver Yin deficiency Herbs

stinging nettle for liver yin deficiency
Photo by Paul Morley

Please remember that herbs have stronger energetic functions than foods.

They incline your metabolism to behave in a different way but usually, taken in herbal tincture form, they lack the nourishment needed to support the change in metabolism, which is why you need food.

It’s like putting seeds in water in the sun but without any earth! They’ll grow fast but soon shrivel up and die, because they need the ongoing support that comes from earth to nourish their growth and fill them out. For you, that earth is the food you eat – see above. Giving yourself stimulants without nutrition is similar to that seed in water but without earth.

So – here are some herbs you could add

First a warning: many herbs need cautions. Some physical conditions may get further off balance if you overdo it.

So read the directions and cautions on the label if you buy it in decoction or powder or tablet form. Also please read my disclaimer!

  • stinging nettle: great for Liver and Blood and Liver Yin deficiency. Juice it for maximum advantage. Also cook as a vegetable. (Remember, if it’s fresh, it may sting, but lightly cooking it destroys the sting poison.)
  • chicory root: also feeds  Liver and Blood, hence aids Liver Yin. Many coffee substitutes contain chicory root, alternatively buy it as a tincture and take 2 – 5 mls at 1:2 strength in 30% ethanol, or juice it. If freshly juiced, take 10 – 15 mls three times a day.
  • shu di huang – prepared or cooked rehmannia root. This is the classic Chinese herb for Liver and Blood, hence yin. But unless prepared properly, it’s rather poisonous and certainly indigestible on its own. Read the instructions carefully and avoid it if  you have poor digestion, qi stagnation or much phlegm or mucus. 10-30gms in decoction. Too much of this and you’ll start getting signs of yin excess, abdominal bloating and loose stools and phlegm and mucus.


green vegetables on brown wicker basket
A selection of vegetables and herbs, most of which benefit liver yin deficiency. Photo by v2osk
  • aflalfa – lucerne. Great for Liver and Blood. Take is as food, or buy it in powder, tablet or tincture – and read the instructions! Also aids digestion. Suggestion: buy the seeds and sprout them for a daily supply. They grow easily and fit in with other salad foods.

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