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Your tongue speaks for your health

“Stick out your tongue!” This is what a traditional chinese medicine (= TCM) pratictioner will say to you as soon as you are checked. But don’t worry, he is not making fun of you.

Your tongue does more than just taste food and articulate words, and that was well known since ancient times. Back then doctors had to practice the “tongue diagnosis” to check the overall patients’ health, when x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans did not exist.

But even now it is a very usefull diagnostic tool, because once this check is done and other aspects of the patient’s status are evaluated, the TCM practitioner may recommend treatment with such therapies as acupuncture, herbal medicine, diet and/or massage.

Why the tongue exam assess the overall health

In TCM, it’s thought that different areas of the tongue reflect connections in the body, both to the meridians and the 5 major internal organs (liver, lung, spleen, heart, and kidney). Therefore, it is very useful and important for confirming or not a diagnosis. It can show also strong visual signs of a person’s overall energetic balance or imbalance.

What to look for

There are mainly 4 features in a tongue that should be examined:

Color: An healthy tongue looks pink and vital. Of course the natural tongue color can vary individually, but taken in conjunction with other information, it is still a very good indicator of what is happening inside your body. Changes in tongue color are said to be te sign of a chronic illness.

Shape: Normal tongue shape is neither too thick nor too thin and the body is smooth with no cracks. This feature tells the amount of the fluids and moisture running through the whole body.

Changes in its shape may include a swollen or puffy tongue, presence of cracks and curling at the sides of the tongue.

Coating: Normally your coating is thin and white/yellowish, but if you are getting sick, you may see a thicker coating developing. The consistency of the tongue’s coating also indicates the state of the fluids and heat in the body (more or less dry tongue).

As the coating is the feature that changes more rapidly, it provides an indication of acute illness in process.

Cracks: When ulcers, wounds or open areas appear on the body tongue areas usually indicate an imbalance problem (deficiency) in that organ and/or meridian. For instance, horizontal cracks are commonly associated with Yin deficiency.

Some tips and key point

  • Remember that some disorders don’t show up in the tongue, and that’s why the TCM pratictioner evaluates the patients’ health considering more diagnostic tools.
  • The tongue should be examined for no longer than 15 seconds at a time, otherwise the extending position may cause changes in its shape and color.
  • Color can be changed by food and beverages, smoke or lack of personal hygiene. Please brush your tongue and avoid oral intakes such as coffee, green tea, beet, or artificially colored candies before your assessment.
  • Patient’s age, gender and weight can influence the tongue look. For instance, overweight patients can show a larger and lighter color tongue and infants tend to have white thick coating that is easily removed, or commonly peeled tongues.
  • The season of the year can affect the look of your tongue. Infact it should be normal during spring, but it may tend to be more dry during summer or more damp in the winter.
  • The time of the day could also be an influencing factor. The coating of the tongue usually becomes thinner as the day progresses, while the color becomes more red and shiny.

I bet now you are very curious to look at your tongue in front of the mirror and check your health. So…which tongue are you?

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