Tongue diagnosis in Western medicine
In Western medicine, it’s not unusual for your family doctor to ask you to stick your tongue out. Mostly, it’s to get your tongue out of the way so that your doctor can look for inflammation in your mouth and the back of your throat. But you might find that your doctor is taking a little look at the condition of your tongue, too. A tongue that is dry or discoloured can be an indication of poor health. In fact, a skilled practitioner can use the tongue to detect conditions such as vitamin deficiencies, low-oestrogen levels in women or a compromised immune system.
Tongue diagnosis in traditional Chinese medicine
In Chinese medicine, tongue diagnosis has a much longer history and the tongue is seen to reveal more about your health and wellbeing than is currently accepted in Western medicine.
According to the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association, when healthy, an abundant supply of Qi (pronounced chee) or "life energy" flows through the body. If this flow becomes blocked or there’s an inadequate supply of Qi, then the body fails to maintain harmony, balance and order, and disease or illness follows.
There are now close to 4,000 registered Chinese Medicine practitioners in Australia, so most Australians have the opportunity to explore tongue diagnosis further if they choose. In the meantime, here’s an overview of the sorts of information that Chinese Medicine practitioners can glean when you stick your tongue out.
1. Tongue colour
A normal, healthy tongue is considered naturally pink or light red and abnormal colours suggest some sort of health issue or imbalance. A white or pale-coloured tongue, for example, is thought to indicate a deficiency of both blood and Qi.
Dark red, purple and blue tongues suggest poor blood circulation in the interior of the body. A traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner would be able to determine more about the causes of these conditions, based on a more informed assessment of tongue colour.
2. Tongue shape
A healthy tongue should fit nicely in the mouth, and be relatively smooth with normal bumps (papillae). In Chinese medicine, a swollen or enlarged tongue indicates water retention or blockage by phlegm and dampness.
Tooth marks around the edges of the tongue can suggest conditions of the spleen. A traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner will also look at the tongue for cracks and fissures or ‘hairy’ looking bumps or evidence of shrunken papillae, all of which may be an indication of a health imbalance.
3. Tongue coating
A healthy tongue is usually covered in a thin, white coating although early signs of illness may also show this type of coating. A traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner may see a white coating as evidence of phlegm build up in the body, a yellowish coating as evidence of fever or a newly arrived illness, a grey coating as a suggestion of digestive issues or dehydration and so on.
If you want to know more about how your digestion affects your health, check out this clip: What foods to avoid