It is always fun to watch a new patient’s expression change when I ask them to stick out their tongue. In Chinese Medicine, tongue and pulse diagnosis are a couple of techniques used to assess a person’s inherent constitution of their body, influence of external factors and the overall state of their current health.
The tongue is highly vascular and is richly supplied by both the nervous and circulatory system. It is nourished by saliva secreted by salivary glands and controlled by our autonomic nervous system. It contains water, electrolytes, mucus, and enzymes. It serves many functions and the appearance is influenced by physiological changes in the body. We can see how our whole body is functioning and detect imbalances in different organ systems by observing changes in our tongue’s appearance.
What does the tongue have to tell us?
First we are getting a general view of your health, and if sick the extent of the illness in the body. We look at the shape, the color, and the coating of the tongue.
Shape – Reflects the quality of the circulation of the Qi and Blood.
Color – Represents the condition of the blood, yin, and fluids as well as the yang and Qi.
Coating – Denotes the strength of externally contracted illnesses and differentiates whether it is excessive or deficient in nature.
A ‘normal’ tongue fits in the mouth, is soft and moist with a pale red tongue body and should have a very thin clear coating, exhibiting proper enzymatic content and salivary secretions. To illustrate diagnosis, I will give some simple examples of health imbalances. A tongue that is swollen or has toothmarks on the edges indicates an impairment in the body’s processing of fluids or a lack of energy behind the movement of fluids. A purplish tongues denotes stagnation in the body that may be leading to pain or emotional frustrations. A thick yellow tongue coating shows us that their is an impairment in the digestive system with a build up of internal heat and dampness that can manifest as anger, stomach upset or alcohol toxicity. Check out your tongue the morning after a night out for drinks or when you have a bout with the stomach bug, you will see what I am mean!
We then look at specific areas of the tongue that correspond to specific organ systems and their meridians in the body.
The front and tip of the tongue reflect the nature of the Heart and Lung. A scarlet red tip may indicate restlessness in the Heart meridian manifesting as insomnia, anxiety or generalized mental agitation.
The middle of the tongue shows up how our Spleen and Stomach are functioning together to support our digestive system. A red, raised center may indicate Stomach heat with the symptoms of heartburn, indigestion or excessive appetite.
The back of the tongue gives us information about our Kidney and Urinary Bladder organs and their meridians. A thicker white coat indicates an impairment in fluids, possibly urinary disorders.
Next time you are in, just ask for more information about your tongue diagnosis! In the meantime, take a moment to look at yours and watch the changes.