Which Tongue Are You?
One of the most common questions my patients ask is “why do you look at my tongue?” They want to know what I’m looking for and what their tongue is showing me.
Acupuncturists use a number of methods to assess your health, one of which is tongue diagnosis. Acupuncture is part of Chinese medicine - a system of diagnosis and treatment than evolved thousands of years ago without the help of MRI’s, X-rays, or lab tests. Ancient Chinese physicians therefore used observation for diagnosis and discern what the body is trying to communicate.
Today, acupuncturists are trained in the ancient art of tongue and pulse diagnosis and use these tools in order to best determine your treatment plan.
When I look at the tongue I’m looking at its length, size (e.g. swollen or not), shape (e.g. cracked or not), color, and any details about the coat on top of it. Each one of these things tells me something different and relates to a complex web of interactions within ancient Chinese medical theory
From a Chinese medicine perspective, the ‘ideal’ tongue is pale red/pink with a thin white coating, and a rounded, “normal” shape. When we aren’t in the best of health, changes to the color, coating, and shape give clues to what’s wrong:
Redness in the tongue body indicates heat or inflammation, and the location of the redness tells me where the ‘heat’ is present in your body. When you are catching a cold, you can often see redness on the tip of the tongue, indicating some heat entering into the lung. Or if you are feeling very anxious, or having some insomnia, redness on the tip can show up as well, indicating heat in the heart.
Pale pink to white tongue body usually indicates some type of deficiency or weakness, which may present with you feeling extremely tired.
A swollen tongue, either puffy or with toothmarks, indicates there is difficulty with fluid metabolism. You may notice that you’ve had too much dairy or processed foods lately, are retaining fluids, or your stomach may feel bloated and uncomfortable.
Cracks on the tongue coating can indicate that your nourishing fluids are burned out, just like the earth cracks when it becomes dry. You may feel hot at night, or notice dryness in your skin or eyes.
A thick tongue coating can indicate dampness in the system. Dampness can be likened to sludge, and often times may indicates issues with digestion.
From a Western viewpoint, the tongue tells me how a person is digesting, how their lymphatic system functions, the quality of blood circulating in the body, the presence of yeast or other growths in the body, and any longstanding or constitutional conditions. If there’s a problem with any one of those things, I also get a general idea as to which organ is most affected and the prognosis for resolving it.
Check out your tongue in the mirror and notice how it changes. Your tongue gives you important clues about your health, so don’t be shy when I ask you to stick your tongue out at me!