In Chinese medicine an important sign in diagnosing a patient’s constitution and current state of health is through the tongue. Many people have been taught not to stick their tongue out, that it’s rude. That may be true in most cases, but in Chinese medicine if you stick your tongue out at yourself in the mirror every morning, you will learn much about your own health!
The following is a list of basic, obvious signs that one can assess on their own tongue, which can give you an idea of what your body needs or what you need to eliminate to create better balance. We’ll talk about the tongue coat, shape, color and map of organs.
Tongue Coating: This is the first indication you should notice on your tongue. The tongue coating represents the state of the digestive function in your body.
Thin coat: This is typically a ‘normal’ tongue coating.
Thick coat: Excess dampness or food stagnation. This is the body’s inability to move fluid in the body, which could mean you’re consuming too much dairy, sugar, processed or packaged foods. It could also point to candida or a respiratory issue.
No coat or dry coat: Excess of heat in the body or yin deficiency. We see this with many patients post chemo therapy or radiation therapy, menopausal syndrome and many others.
Geographic coat: This looks like patches of coating on the tongue, it’s not uniform. This can occur with several conditions, but it is typically an indication of the body has been worn down to a point of exhaustion. We see this in many patients with autoimmune diseases, post chemo and radiation therapy.
The color of the tongue coating is very important as well. In Chinese medicine, if it’s a white coat, it can be either ‘normal’ or if it’s thick and white it can indicate cold in the body, whereas a yellow coating indicates heat. A black, gray or pink coating can come from toxins in the body. This can come from long term medications, like antibiotics or post anesthesia. It is also apparent in smokers.
Tongue Body Color: This shows the state of blood circulation in the body.
Pale-Red or Pink: This is a ‘normal, healthy’ color.
Pale: This can indicate yang, blood, qi (chi) deficiency or cold in the body. If it’s pale, wet and swollen, this can indicate a digestive disharmony, where one may experience loose stools, cold extremities, fatigue and abdominal distention.
Red: This indicates heat in the body. If you see that you have a red tip, you may be experiencing sleepless nights, anxiety or infection.
Purple: This signifies stagnation of qi or blood in the body, like a damn in a river. It can be from excessive stress, clots, stroke and more.
Tongue Body Shape: This shows symptoms of deficiency or excess in the body, which determines the vitality of the physiological processes in the human body.
Full: This is considered a ‘healthy’ tongue.
Thin: Weakness of blood and fluids in the body. This could indicate fatigue, anemia, or dryness in the body.
Swollen: Overall chronic weakness in the body. If it so swollen there are tooth marks, you may exhibit digestive weaknesses.
Cracks: Yin deficiency or fluid weakness in the body. Typically this is seen in chronic illnesses. It also depends upon where the cracks are on the tongue map, which gives a more definitive diagnosis.
Deviated: This is often seen in imminent stroke, post stroke or bells palsy.
Tongue Map: The map specifies organs with certain locations on the tongue. The tip of the tongue is related to the Heart, while just beyond the tip signifies the Lungs. The sides of the tongue indicate the Liver and Gallbladder, while the middle of the tongue is the domain of the Stomach and Spleen, followed by the Intestines and finally at the root represents the Kidneys and Bladder.
We are just scratching the surface here, as an acupuncturist we’ll tie all of these indications together to diagnose a more clear picture of what is going on with the patient. It can’t hurt to stick your tongue out every day and just assess what you see and compare it to how you feel with this basic information.
When we listen to our body’s signals, whether it is looking at the tongue, assessing energy levels, sleep patterns or digestive wellness, we gain the power of knowledge to assist in our own healing path and can avoid unnecessary medical treatment most of the time. Become your own best doctor by listening to what your body is telling you!