TCM clinic: Treating too much copper in the liver

Friday, Nov 01, 2013

Q. I am a 32-year-old man diagnosed with liver cirrhosis in December last year. Doctors said I have Wilson disease, which results in too much copper in my liver, causing cirrhosis.

I was hospitalised for nearly one month and lost nearly 18kg due to a bacterial infection caused by the cirrhosis.

One of my friends recommended a reflexology master to me. I started to feel better after a few sessions of reflexology, but two months later, I was infected by bacteria again.

For more than a month, I have been having fever every evening and recovering in the morning. I would not feel hot, but the thermometer would reflect a high temperature. I feel very weak at night.

My doctor does not know what is the reason and I am taking a lot of antibiotics daily.

I was advised by the reflexology master not to eat chicken, eggs, beans and sour fruit because they will cause more bacteria to attack my organs. I am wondering how true that is. My protein level has always been very low and without all these types of high protein food, I do not know how to bring up the level.

My doctor told me to eat more beans so I am in a dilemma. Should I eat or not? Can you advise me?

A. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), liver cirrhosis is probably due to deficiencies in the spleen, liver and kidneys.

Good flow of enough blood and qi (energy) is needed for good health.

The spleen transforms nutrients from food into blood and qi. When the spleen is weak - due to tiredness, alcohol consumption, irregular meals and a poor diet comprising cold, oily and spicy food - it will transform the nutrients into phlegm and "dampness" instead. These slow down water metabolism and trigger cirrhosis accompanied by in a bloated abdomen, loose stool and weak arms and legs.

Accumulation of phlegm and "dampness" for a prolonged period creates "heat". "Heat" and "dampness" trigger cirrhosis accompanied by a hard, painful and bloated abdomen, constipation and yellow and scanty urine.

The liver harmonises emotions, regulates qi circulation and stores blood. When the liver is weak - due to insufficient blood or negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear, anger or depression - qi and blood circulation slows down.

Stagnation of qi in the liver and "dampness" trigger cirrhosis accompanied by a soft and bloated abdomen, swollen or painful ribs and an inability to clear the bowels completely.

When qi stagnates in the liver for a prolonged period, it creates "heat", which can further weaken the spleen and trigger cirrhosis accompanied by a hard and bloated abdomen, pain in the ribs and abdomen, and black stool.

The distribution of water relies on the warmth from yang in the kidneys. A balance of yang and yin, which is linked to coldness and moisture, in the body is needed for good health.

If yang in the kidneys is insufficient - due to genetic reasons, ageing, chronic diseases, overwork or excessive sexual activities - it is unable to warm up the spleen.

This further weakens the spleen and triggers cirrhosis accompanied by a bloated abdomen that worsens at night, scanty urination, and cold and swollen limbs.

When yin in the kidneys is insufficient, it can further weaken the liver and trigger cirrhosis accompanied by a hard and bloated abdomen, yellowish and scanty urine, and black stool.


Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture and cupping (placing heated cups on the skin to improve blood and qi flow) can help improve your condition by strengthening your organs and dispelling the pathogenic (disease-causing) factors.

Polyporus umbellatus, Indian bread, Chinese eaglewood, red tangerine peel, coix seed, largehead atractylodes rhizome, oriental waterplantain rhizome, costus root and medicinal changium root strengthen the spleen.

Dried ginger, cassia bark, morinda root and prepared common monkshood daughter root strengthen the spleen and yang in the kidneys.

Barbary wolfberry fruit, barbary wolfberry root-bark, processed rehmannia root and starwort root strengthen the kidneys.

Immature orange fruit, nutgrass galingale rhizome, Sichuan lovage rhizome, Chinese thorowax root and white peony root strengthen the liver and enhance qi circulation.

Rhubarb, areca peel, areca seed, pepperweed seed, glabrous greenbrier rhizome, zedoray rhizome, Chinese angelica, red peony root and red sage root enhance qi and blood circulation.

Virgate wormwood herb, officinal magnolia bark, dried tangerine peel, pharbitis seed, common anemarrhena rhizome, gold thread and baical skullcap root dispel "heat" and "dampness".

Patients with Wilson disease should have a diet low in copper and avoid liver, shellfish, mushrooms, nuts, chocolate and dried fruit.

Cirrhosis patients should eat high caloric, high protein and easily digested food. Avoid alcohol and animal fat. However, those with liver failure should avoid high protein food as the liver cannot process protein properly and waste products may build up to toxic levels.

Avoid negative emotions and overwork. Sufficient sleep is helpful. Light exercise, such as brisk walking, can enhance qi and blood circulation.

Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at YS Healthcare TCM Clinic at The Adelphi

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