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What Your Tongue Says About You.

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

From a Chinese medicine (TCM) perspective, the tongue is a window into your health. Observing colour, coating, size, shape and other qualities reveals a lot of information to an acupuncturist about the organs and systems of the body, corresponding to physical and emotional symptoms.

An examination of outward signs and symptoms exhibited by the body is routinely used to diagnose disorders and diseases. Traditional forms of medicine are no different in this respect. For traditional Chinese medicine, this includes tongue diagnosis. This observation provides vital clues in the diagnostic process.

Modern Western medicine also recognises that the tongue can mirror the relative health or disease in the body. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency and hypothyroidism can both be indicated by a swollen tongue. Recent research suggests that the use of tongue diagnosis did not become widespread in western medicine until the 19th century. In-patient notes from London teaching hospitals show that during the 19th and early 20th centuries, doctors carried out a brief examination of the tongue on a routine basis.

So, what are the basic principles of tongue diagnosis within Chinese medicine, and what can it reveal to the practitioner?

Tongue diagnosis is an effective diagnostic technique both on its own and in combination with the other techniques available to an acupuncturist. It is very effective at showing the progress of a disease or imbalance over the span of a course of treatment. Minor changes will also show during a single treatment session. It will also show the depth and nature of the imbalance.

Each of the major organs of the body has a corresponding region or area on the tongue. For example, the middle of the tongue corresponds to the stomach and spleen, and the tip of the tongue, to the heart and lung. The characteristics of the tongue that practitioners take note of are the coating, the colour, and the shape. A healthy tongue will routinely be pale red in colour, not too fat or thin, have a thin white coat, no cracks, and be slightly moist.

Some simple examples of how the tongue can indicate particular conditions are:

  • Deficiency will be indicated by a pale tongue,

  • Heat will be indicated by a red colour or red spots, and or a thick coating over the tongue surface.

  • Deficiency in yin will reveal a red, usually thin tongue with little to no coating and cracks. Other symptoms can manifest as irritability, night sweats, insomnia, hot flashes due to menopause, joint/muscle

  • Deficiency in yang, pale tongue that can appear puffy or enlarged, usually with a thick and white coating. Often someone that is yang deficient feels cold easily, has chronic knee and/or back pain, low spirits, low mood, low libido and feeling exhausted.

This is just an overview of how an acupuncturist uses the tongue as a diagnostic tool, we take into consideration many other factors such as pulse diagnosis and thorough consultation regarding health and lifestyle.

There is a misconception that acupuncture is based entirely on qi, yin & yang etc. While these concepts are part of traditional Chinese medicine there is so much more involved. A well-trained acupuncturist also views illness from a western medical perspective. Our extensive training involves biomedical approaches to the major disease categories, in order to understand treatments and outcomes and refer our patients when appropriate. This training enables us to practice acupuncture safely, competently and appropriately. Gathering relevant health and lifestyle information allow an acupuncturist to formulate an effective treatment plan specific to your needs.

Get in touch if you have any questions or concerns about how acupuncture could help you. I work from a number of London clinics based in Bethnal Green, Canary Wharf, East Dulwich and Shoreditch.

I look forward to hearing from you.


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