Cathy’s Wealth of Health: Using the eyes to see the liver


Editor’s note: We’re reposting this column in anticipation of a new audio ‘Cathy’s Wealth of Health’ coming up Wednesday, ‘Let’s Talk About Eye Health.’

By Cathy McNease, Herbalist

Traditional Chinese Medicine has given us a way to physically view how healthy or unhealthy is our liver via the eyes. So much information is provided to me as a practitioner by simply observing my patient’s eyes. The tongue is used in Chinese Medicine for diagnosis. The sides of the tongue tell you about liver health…pale=blood deficiency; red=heat; purple=stagnation. If your eyes are still in good condition, but you observe one of these colors on your tongue, start now to remedy the imbalance in your liver and protect your precious sense of vision. One of the beauties of tongue reading is that it empowers us to prevent diseases before they strike.

Here are some of the most important messages seen in the eyes, followed by some simple remedies:

RED EYES show heat, inflammation, or irritation.

DRY EYES show lack of body fluids, deficiency of blood or too much heat.

ITCHY EYES show allergies, and the body’s difficulty in clearing allergens. Nettle leaf, Milk thistle seed and Burdock root, all available in capsules, may be of help.

WATERY EYES show inflammation. The extra tears are made in an attempt to soothe the irritation.

STICKY YELLOW DISCHARGE shows infection. A well strained tea made from Golden Seal, Coptis or Chamomile may provide relief as an eye wash.

BLURRY VISION may be a serious eye disease, so don’t ignore this. It may also tell you that your liver is not getting the proper nourishment of colorful fruits and vegetables that it needs, leading to blood deficiency.

PAIN IN OR AROUND EYES may also be a serious disease, so don’t delay in seeing a doctor if it persists. It may also signal stagnant energy or blood.

FLOATERS (FLOATING FLECKS/SQUIGGLES IN YOUR VISION) are usually due to a deficiency of blood, unless they appear all of a sudden; that could be a serious sign that needs medical attention immediately.

DULL, LIFELESS EYES show a serious mental-emotional disorder or severe stress. Guide this person to a professional for help.


For RED, DRY, INFLAMED, IRRITATED EYES reduce the amount of spicy foods consumed, especially raw garlic, coffee, alcohol and refined foods. These all heat up the liver and irritate the eyes. Peppermint, Chrysanthemum and Mulberry leaf tea would all be helpful internally. Apply a Peppermint tea bag to closed eyes for immediate relief. Another fabulous topical is to apply slices of cool cucumber for 10-15 minutes on closed eyelids. This has been a lifesaver for me in relieving eye pain from a cornea injury I sustained decades ago from my dog’s paw. The cucumber remedy is also great after too much time staring at a computer screen.

For DEFICIENCY DISORDERS (DRYNESS, FLOATERS, and BLURRY VISION) some of the best foods will be green, orange and red fruits and vegetables. Spinach and collard greens are particularly high in the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin which promote eye health. Carrots and sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, another anti-oxidant that is important for eye health. Berries, cherries, and purple grapes are also loaded with eye nutrients. The popular Chinese food herb, Lycii berries (Gou Ji berries) are a delicious liver/blood/eye tonic. You can add them to oatmeal, trail mix or simple eat a small handful daily.

For PAIN AND OTHER STAGNATION EYE PROBLEMS one of the very best foods is Bilberry. It is related to blueberry, which is a good second choice. Bilberry is available as a jam or a juice and is used to promote blood and oxygen flow into the eyes, as well as nourish and strengthen the blood vessels. During World War II it was observed that the British pilots had phenomenal night vision and an inquiry began as to why…it was the Bilberry jam that they ate daily on their English muffins! Bilberry has been shown to reduce risks of developing glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration. Increase your high fiber foods (beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables) whenever stagnant energy or blood is your challenge. And, remember, nothing will move the blood like MOVEMENT!

For DIMINISHED VISUAL ACUITY think about doing some eye exercises. In high school I was determined not to wear glasses to read the black board. So I began to use a Tibetan eye chart daily for this, which was basically an elaborate mandala. As I followed the edges of the design with my eyes, it exercised them in all directions: up/ down, left/right, and multiple diagonals. It repaired my vision significantly and I did not require glasses again until I was in my late 40’s. If your vision diminishes, consider a more nutrient dense diet to support the eyes, blood and liver.

Three of the most serious eye diseases affecting the aging population, all of which can eventually result in blindness, are glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts. Medical care is needed for all three; however, the progression of these diseases can be slowed down considerably with herbs and foods by nourishing the liver and improving circulation. You may also benefit from acupuncture treatments to further improve the blood flow into the eyes. My guiding principles in suggesting diet changes for these patients would be as follows:

GLAUCOMA-reduce stagnation and include foods high in beta-carotene, Vitamins C and E, and sulfur: garlic, onions, beans, spinach, celery, turnips, yellow and orange veggies, green leafy veggies, seaweed, apples, oranges and tomatoes.

MACULAR DEGENERATION-add to these bilberry, blueberry, kale and collards.

CATARACT patients will also benefit from all of the above foods, but additionally, need to be very careful with toxins in the environment, smoking and sugar in the diet. Diabetics are at a much higher risk of developing cataracts.

Similason has a line of natural eye drops from Switzerland that I have found useful. They are available at drugstores and natural foods stores, with drops for various different eye problems. They are gentle but effective. For more food, herb and supplement suggestions for eye diseases refer to the following informative resources:

~Natural Eye Care – An Encyclopedia: Complementary Treatments for Improving and Saving Your Eyes by Marc Grossman, OD, LAc. & Glen Swartwout, OD (ISBN 0-87983-704-7)

~Healing Your Eyes with Chinese Medicine by Andy Rosenfarb, LAc.

Cathy McNease is a nationally certified herbalist with a Diplomate in Chinese Herbology from the NCCAOM, a B.S. in Biology and Psychology from Western Michigan University and two Master Herbalist certificates from Emerson College of Herbology in Canada and East-West Course of Herbology in Santa Cruz.