The tongue is an amazing body part. It helps us speak, eat, keeps the mouth and lips moist and, by its condition, tells us our state of health. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), examining the tongue is one of the primary diagnostic tools. Yet in Western medicine it is largely ignored, with the physician using a depressor to hold it down to look past the tongue and at the throat.
The tongue offers TCM practitioners an unusual keyhole into which they can learn various things about the state of your organs, blood and interior body. It displays clues on its surface that reflect various things, such as relative degrees of blood movement, qi (energy) strength, dampness, heat, toxicity and so on.
These things manifest on the tongue precisely because the tongue first comes into contact with the food we eat, and this food changes our bodies on daily basis. The tongue, according to TCM theory, is also “the outlet of the heart.” As such the color of the tongue is related to the state of the blood. For example, a pale-colored tongue can indicate a basic blood deficiency or anemia.
When a TCM practitioner examines the tongue they are looking at such things as body color, texture, coating, cracks, lines, teeth marks and relative moisture or lack there of.
Following are examples of 10 different syndromes and the tongues they manifest, what they mean and what symptoms may be present.
Normal—A normal tongue is pink in color, is moist, has no deep cracks or lines and perhaps a thin white coat or no coating at all.
Blood Stasis—A person experiencing blood stasis may experience such symptoms as cold limbs, varicose veins, painful legs, headaches, chest pain and liver spots and their skin may lack its normal luster. Their tongue body color will be purple and may have black spots on it.
Blood Deficiency—A person experiencing blood deficiency may experience symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, palpitations, poor concentration and memory, insomnia and women’s health issues. Their tongue will be pale and have very little, if any, coating.
Qi Deficiency—A person who is experiencing qi deficiency may have such symptoms as fatigue, poor appetite, spontaneous sweating, shortness of breath, over-thinking or worrying. Their tongue body will be pale, have a few red dots on it, a thin white coating and have teeth marks on its edges.
Qi Stagnation—A person experiencing qi stagnation may be stressed, have a tendency to be depressed or upset, have a general unstable emotional state and experience premenstrual tension syndrome. Their tongue will have a thin white coating and its tip will be red.
Damp Retention—A person experiencing damp retention may have such symptoms as bloating, feeling of fullness in the chest, abdominal fullness and a feeling of being heavy or lethargic. Their tongue will be pink and swollen and the center will have a greasy white coating.
Heat—A person experiencing heat will feel hot, sweat easily, be thirsty, constipated, irritable, bad tempered and have skin problems. Their tongue body will be red and they will have a thin yellow coating on it.
Damp Heat—A person experiencing damp heat will usually have skin problems, urinary tract infections, clammy skin and be angry and uncomfortable. Their tongue will be red with a greasy yellow coating.
Yang Deficiency—A person with yang deficiency may easily feel cold, tend to need warming up, have a pale complexion, back pain, may panic easily, have low emotional feelings and possibly be impotence or infertile.
Yin Deficiency—A person experiencing a yin deficiency may have hot flashes, night sweats (as in menopause), insomnia, irritability, ringing in the ears and irregular menstruation. Their tongue will be red, have many cracks in it and have little or no coating at all.
Now that you have a basic idea of the ways in which various health issues manifest on your tongue, have a look at it. I examine mine in a mirror every morning to decide how my body is doing and what I should eat for breakfast and lunch.
My tongue tells me a lot about myself. What does yours say about your health?
—Dr. Mark Wiley