Looking at a patient's tongue is often used in Eastern Medicine as a diagnostic tool to get a picture of the internal state of the body. In Chinese Medicine, there are terms used such as heat, cold, dry, damp, excess, and deficient that describe different symptomatic patterns that affect the body. For instance, damp heat in the bladder would equate to a UTI. Cold in the uterus could lead to menstrual and fertility issues.
The combination of pathologies in the organ systems are plentiful and can also have degrees of severity. The tongue can change over time to show internal conditions improving, and can clue us in on which systems may soon show symptoms if they become imbalanced.
There are several factors Chinese Medical practitioners look for while looking at the tongue:
A very red tongue can signify heat/inflammatory conditions in the body. A very pale tongue can show blood deficiency. A light pink tongue with a thin white coating is the ideal picture of a healthy tongue.
A thin white coat is normal and signifies that digestion is working properly. A thick white coat can point to excess cold and damp (fluid/mucous) in the body. A dry, yellow coat on the tongue can point to heat and inflammation in the stomach.
A swollen, thick tongue signifies an excess of dampness in the body. A thin tongue can show a deficiency of blood and fluids that keep the body moist and supple.
4. Tongue Features
Here you look for patches, spots, teeth marks, and cracks. Teeth marks on the sides of the tongue indicate that the tongue is swollen and that the Spleen is sluggish and not aiding in proper digestion and providing energy to the body. A long crack down the middle points to stomach/digestive issues.
5. Tongue Moisture
A normal tongue should be moist, but not sopping wet with excess saliva, nor should it be too dry.
The tongue is also divided up into areas which correspond to the different organs in the body. The heart is represented by the tip of the tongue. If the tip of the tongue is red, this indicates a pattern of heat in the heart which can manifest as anxiety and other emotional issues. The lung area is right behind the heart area, the spleen and stomach region are in the middle of the tongue, the liver and gallbladder to the sides, and the kidney and bladder in the back center, at the root of the tongue.
Some people are born with certain unusual tongue features that are normal to them and do not indicate internal pathology (such as a geographic tongue).
On occasion, patients feel embarrassed about showing their tongue during a treatment, or make sure to scrape it thoroughly before coming in. It's nothing to be concerned with and seeing the natural state of the tongue can help us better help you! Be proud of the uniqueness of your tongue!
What is your assessment? Tell us your tongue diagnosis patterns in the comments below.
Diseases, pathogens, and syndromes have slightly different names in the Chinese Medical tradition. For instance, inflammatory type conditions are referred to as heat conditions in Chinese Medicine. These may include anything from red, hot skin rashes to inflammatory bowel disorders and everything in between.
Dampness is another pathology in Chinese medicine. It describes any excess accumulation of water and mucous in the body. As it thickens or begins to dry up, it progresses to a more serious form of dampness called phlegm. Normally we think of phlegm and mucous as only residing in the sinuses/throat/and chest during colds and allergies, however dampness and phlegm can be found anywhere in the body. To be blunt, it equates to 'systemic snot'.
Our bodies need to have appropriate fluids and moisture to function well, but dampness is excess gunk that our body doesn't need or isn't eliminating properly.
Examples of damp conditions include edema, sinus/nasal congestion, productive cough, fatigue, brain fog and worry, feeling sluggish and heavy,diarrhea/loose stools, extra weight/excess fat, pus, cysts, and even some types of tumors. Any kind of sticky, gooey substance that we don't want extra amounts of in the body!
What causes dampness? Living in a wet or humid region can cause your body to show damp symptoms, but often it starts from within from poor diet and stress.
Sadly, dairy foods such as ice cream and cheese are very damp in nature and can contribute to excess dampness in the body if not eaten in moderation. However, there are foods you can add to your diet to counteract and eliminate excess dampness from your body through urination. In addition, regular acupuncture treatment and certain herbal formulas can also speed up the process to eliminating dampness.
Click HERE to view an interesting Infographic about Dampness and what you can do to reduce its effects on you!
Sarah is the owner of Life Balance Acupuncture in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.