If you have ever been to a Chinese Medicine Practitioner chances are they got you to stick your tongue out for examination at the end of their questioning. As uncomfortable (and honestly just plain weird) as this may seem it’s actually a really important and useful tool that Chinese Medicine Practitioners use to help our diagnosis and understand your condition better. According to the Chinese Medicine theory, the tongue shows a very detailed map of our internal organs and can give us some hints about the underlying issues that may be causing certain symptoms. The tongue is broken up into sections (similar to reflexology) and each little section correlates to an organ in your body. By studying these sections we can have a visual representation of where your body may need a little extra TLC. The tongue also tells us all sorts of interesting things about dehydration levels, stress levels and all the types of food you have been eating. There are many things we are looking for when we are intensively studying your tongue (a bit confronting the first time I know) but these are the top 3;
Colour: The colour of the tongue body is one of the simplest things to be able to assess. A light pink tongue body is what we are aiming for, this means the client has enough blood flow around your body and enough Qi (energy) to support it. A bright red tongue means the client may be exhibiting heat signs (hot flushes/constipation) and that their body does not have enough of the body’s cooling factor (Yin) . A pale tongue can indicate digestive/ malabsorption problems as well as anaemia. A purple tongue suggests signs of stagnation or blockage. Most commonly a purple tongue is seen in someone in chronic pain or someone who is highly stressed.
Coating: The coating should be a thin white coat that evenly covers the entire tongue. Changes in diet can express itself in changes in tongue coating. A thick, greasy, yellow tongue suggests internal heat. Heat is obtained from an overconsumption of greasy, oily or sweet foods and alcohol. A peeled coat can indicate a Yin deficiency or dryness. This often can present symptomatically as poor sleep, night sweats or lower back pain.
Shape: The shape is also very important. A healthy tongue is neither thick nor thin with a smooth even surface. A swollen tongue with visible teeth-marks suggest a problem with water retention and digestive issues. Most people who have a swollen tongue also present with bloating. Cracks can suggest a problem with the heart and may present with insomnia or anxiety. Curling at the sides represents Liver Qi stagnation and can be a sign of stress.
There are a few other factors to consider when discussing tongue health but I can’t give all my secrets away! So next time you are feeling not quite right or you’ve had a big weekend (with a few too many wines) check out your tongue and see how your body is coping. Most importantly remember the next time you visit your friendly, neighbourhood Chinese Medicine Practitioner try and be as honest as possible about your lifestyle choices. Whether it’s the 6 coffees you had yesterday to stay awake or staying up to midnight for the past week to catch up on G.O.T before the new season comes out (guilty), just be honest with your praccie because the tongue is a very, very effective lie detector.