We have all heard of the term “lilly livered”, sometimes spelt “lily livered.” You may remember it from Shakespeare’s play Macbeth or when someone used the term to describe a person who becomes frightened easily.

The ancient Greeks would sacrifice an animal before they went into battle with the enemy, and if the animal’s liver was red it was a good sign; however, if the animal’s liver was pale it was considered a bad omen.

The term Lilly livered is colloquially used to describe someone who –

  • Has no courage
  • Cannot fight back when attacked
  • Spooks easily
  • Has “no balls”

Metaphorically speaking the liver is “the site of anger” – in other words it stores anger – thus the term “liverish” is often used to describe a grumpy disgruntled person. I must admit that there is some truth in this because many of my patients feel more cheerful and positive when they improve their liver function.

If a person becomes very frightened or fearful, the body releases large amounts of the hormone adrenalin to prepare the body physiologically for a good fight. Adrenaline causes the blood vessels to constrict, which causes blood to be pushed out of the liver into the systemic circulation so that more blood is available to the heart and muscles. This is obviously needed if you have a good fight on your hands! When blood is taken from the liver during this adrenalin reaction, the liver becomes pale – thus the term “lilly livered” can be used physiologically to describe a frightened person.

It is interesting to think about the emotional state of those with a fatty liver, as in this common condition the liver becomes pale because it is infiltrated with fat. The fat reduces the blood spaces in the liver and because fat is a pale white to yellowish color, this gives the appearance of a “lilly liver”.

Courage and mood is not only influenced by your state of mind; your resistance to stress and what you feel you can cope with, has a lot to do with your physical health. This curious phrase “lilly livered”, gives us food for thought and the possibility that the foods we eat may influence our ability to cope with stress.

So by taking a powerful liver tonic and eating plenty of liver cleansing foods – such as fresh raw fruits and vegetables, fresh green leafy herbs, fresh raw juices and seeds and nuts, will help us to feel physically and mentally prepared for stress and challenging situations.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.