Tuesday, 24 February 2015


By Dianna Porter (Registered Chinese Medicine Practitioner)

The tongue has many important uses.  It is used for taste, helping in chewing and swallowing our food, forming sounds when we speak and as an aid in determining how much food to eat (for some).
But to a trained practitioner of Chinese medicine it has so much more to offer.
The tongue is a highly vascular muscle which contains taste receptor cells.  The tongue is richly supplied by the nervous and circulatory systems.  It is constantly “bathed” in saliva that is secreted by our salivary glands and is controlled by the autonomic nervous system.  Saliva contains water, enzymes, electrolytes and mucous – these can change the appearance of the tongue.  Observation of the tongue, from a Chinese medicine perspective, enables us to see subtle changes in body systems and functions.  When we ask you to stick out your tongue we are looking for these physiological changes in the body.
So how can that wiggly little muscle tell us so much?
Firstly we look at the tongue proper – this is the body of the tongue.  We check to see the size of the tongue in relation to the mouth.  Sometimes a tongue can look thick and swollen, or have teethmarks at the sides (scalloped edges), it may be too thin or it may tremble.
We may also look at the colour of the tongue to get an idea of one’s general health and vitality.  A healthy tongue should be pink/red.  If the tongue is too pale it can indicate blood deficiency in Chinese Medicine.  This may be a sign of anaemia or a weakened system.  If the tongue body has a mauve/purplish hue it may be a sign of blockage, congestion or pain.  If the tongue body is too red it may indicate a heat or inflammatory condition.  The tongue body should have signs of vitality, it should have moisture. 
The tongue in good health has a very thin white coat as an indication of proper enzymatic content and salivary secretions.  If the coat is too thick it signals an imbalance in the digestive function.  When the coat is peeled it is a sign of weakening in certain area.  A yellow tongue coat frequently means infection or inflammation.
Different regions of the tongue are represented by the function of different areas of the body ie. The tip of the tongue represents the emotions in Chinese medicine.  Therefore a red tongue tip can indicate anxiety, changes in mental state, insomnia. 
The sides of the tongue represent the liver function in Chinese medicine and changes can indicate toxicity levels in the body.
The middle of the tongue represents the area corresponding to digestive function and any changes or cracks here can be a sign of an imbalance in the digestion and absorption functions of the body. 
A complete tongue assessment can only be made, in person, by a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner.  The tongue diagnosis is used in conjunction with other diagnostic tools to give a complete picture of your health. 
Don’t eat any foods that may discolour your tongue before your assessment and don’t scrape your tongue beforehand.

So next time when we ask you to stick out your tongue, please do it with gusto and don’t close your eyes.  

1 comment:

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