In the following decades and centuries, visual examination and palpation of the limbs, the pulse and the stomach was turned into a fine art. Even now, these techniques remain the foundation of Oriental medicine diagnosis.
Today I will focus on tongue diagnosis, since it is probably the easiest to grasp.
As long as the light is adequate, by looking at our own tongue in a mirror, we can all easily detect basic patterns of dysfunction in our own body.
It is a very useful technique, which allows us to make changes in our lifestyle to improve our health, but also to detect early warning signs of serious medical conditions, such as hypertension and heart disease.
According to Chinese medical scholars, the tongue’s body and coating accurately reflects the health of the internal organs.
In tongue diagnosis, each section of the tongue is representative of a specific organ. The tip of the tongue is associated with the heart, the area behind it with the lungs, the sides with the liver and gallbladder, the middle with the spleen and the stomach, while the back of the tongue is a reflection of the state of the kidney organ.
For diagnosis one should be looking at both the tongue body and its coating. Looking in a mirror with a good light, a normal tongue should be pink in colour with a very small coating, while a pale tongue will indicate cold condition, or an iron deficiency. In contrast, a tongue bright red in colour is clear evidence that the body is generating an excess amount of heat. This can be caused by a poor diet, the onset of fever, or hypertension.
If the blood supply is being restricted, for example, when a woman is suffering from menstrual cramps, the tongue will have a distinct purplish colour. If this discoloration is only manifested in a specific organ, the discoloration will only be evident in the area representative of that organ. For example, a red tip of the tongue (heart) is often seen in patients suffering from a condition called “heart fire” with symptoms such as anxiety or chronic insomnia.
The tongue coating is a reflection of the digestive system.
Somebody with a good digestion will have a thin white coating. If the tongue coating is white, but thick, with a constituency similar to cottage cheese, it is an indication that there is excess fluid in the body causing dampness and phlegm. It is a condition often seen in patients suffering from a respiratory infection with nasal congestion, and a productive cough with clear mucus.
When there is the onset of fever, the additional heat will cause both the mucus and the tongue coating to turn yellow. When the heat turns chronic, the tongue will develop deep cracks on its body, similar to the surface of the Australian soil after a heavy drought.
In cases of excess fluid retention, the tongue will gradually swell up and press against the teeth, thus creating little ridges on its sides. Brushing off the unsightly coating with a toothbrush will only cause it to quickly sprout back. A more effective approach is to make gradual changes to your diet.
In Oriental medicine, some foods are cooling by nature, while others have a warming action on the body. Foods can also be diuretic, or fluid generating.
If you have excess cold condition reflected by a pale tongue, I would recommend limiting your intake of raw foods, including salads and vegetables such as spinach, tomatoes, sprouts and cucumber, as well as dairy products. These should be replaced with warming foods like sweet potatoes, onions, leek, lamb, beef, or chicken. You should also avoid refrigerated drinks, and increase your consumption of spices, like ginger, cardamom, clove, rosemary, or turmeric.
In contrast, if your tongue is bright red, you are probably suffering from a heat condition. In that case, your diet should include cooling foods such as cucumber, celery, lettuce, radish, tomato, broccoli, zucchini and apples and you should limit your intake of spices, coffee, chocolate, alcohol and red meat, especially lamb.
If you have an excess amount of fluid, (thick white coating, or swollen tongue with scalloped edges), or a tendency to put on weight, all your foods should be eaten cooked and warm. Dairy products should be avoided, as well as fatty meat like pork and duck, beer, salt, bananas, or vinegar.
In addition, you could include some of the foods recommended for the cold condition.
Don’t expect a miracle change straight away, but following these simple recommendations will definitely make a difference in your wellbeing.
So, isn’t it time you got a bit closer to your tongue?
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com