.Following our last article on the principles of tongue diagnosis in Oriental medicine, we will expand this topic by looking at simple ways to improve our diet according to Chinese dietary guidelines.
The tongue reflects the general condition of our internal organs. The condition of our tongue gives us a good idea of the health of our digestive system. It is a useful tool for learning what can be improved in the way we eat.
Looking in clear daylight, a normal tongue should be pink with a fine white moist coating on the surface. The presence of heat in the body will make the tongue body redder than normal, while, at the other extreme, cold retention in the body will make the tongue paler or whiter than normal.
If the body is not processing fluid as it should, the fluid accumulation will, in Chinese medical terms, turn into "dampness", represented by a thicker white coating on the surface of the tongue. The worse the fluid accumulation or dampness, the heavier the coating will become so that it sometimes ends up looking like cottage cheese. At the other extreme, long term heat accumulation in the body will dry up fluids and that will be reflected by cracks appearing on the tongue's surface.
In most cases, these disruptions are caused by a deficiency in our diet. If we reduce the amount of food causing these pathological changes, the tongue will soon improve and our general health will be restored.
From ancient times, diet has been an integral form of Oriental medicine, and many Chinese herbal remedies include foods and spices we commonly use in the kitchen. Like Chinese herbal medicine, individual food items are categorised according to their flavour and their energetic actions on the body.
Each individual flavour affects our health in a specific way, hence the importance of having a balanced diet. The sweet flavour (beef, carrot, potatoes and most fruits) is moistening and warming. It relaxes the muscles, stimulates digestion and helps relieve pain in the body. The sour flavour (apricots, lemon, grapefruit, avocados, blackberries) is astringent. As it dries excess fluids, it is indicated for conditions like diarrhoea, night sweating, and excess urination. The bitter flavour (coffee, asparagus, vinegar, lettuce and broccoli) drains and clears dampness. It is good for fluid retention mixed with heat resulting in inflammation as in gout, acne or rheumatoid arthritis. The spicy or pungent flavour (pepper, cinnamon, cumin, purple cabbage, mint, mustard) is warming, activates the Qi, and increases our metabolism. The salty flavour (barley, clams, crab, duck, fish, garlic, ham, millet, pork) has the function of softening hard masses. The salty taste purges and opens the bowels and acts as a diuretic on the body.
As an example, someone who drinks too much alcohol (warming), and who eats too much take away food will have excessive heat and dampness in his body. His tongue will probably be redder on the side (liver), with a yellow coating due to the accumulation of damp heat. He will probably be the type of man who gets red eyes, loses his temper easily and complains of headaches and insomnia. This is due to the excess heat from the liver rising up to his head (the liver channel has a connection to the top of the head and the eyes).
In contrast, a woman who has a diet based on salads and raw vegetables and who drinks a lot of water will have an excess of cold inside her body, and her tongue will be paler than it should be. She will be complaining of fatigue and constipation, and her menstrual cycle will be slower than normal due to the cold retention in her lower abdomen.
In the first case, the patient will be advised to limit his consumption of alcohol and fast food, and to include cold and refreshing food from the wood (liver) element in his diet. Such foods as tomato, rhubarb, pineapple, pears, cucumber, mango and watermelon relieve the heat and calm the liver. As a consequence, not only will his headaches and insomnia cease but his mood will also improve.
In the second case, the young woman will be advised to add sweet and pungent and salty foods such as leek, pumpkin, paprika, seafood, or garlic. She will get more energy (from the sweet flavour), her period will be more regular (from the pungent flavour), and her bowel movement more regular (from the salty flavour).
So how is the state of your tongue? You can take control of your health by looking at it in a good light every morning. Is it too red (heat), or too pale (cold)? Do you have an excessive white coating (dampness) or yellow coating (damp heat) on its surface? Start changing your diet slightly for a week and see if your tongue colour changes. Do you feel any better? We will conclude this topic next month by looking at the energetic actions of the foods on the specific organs.
Olivier Lejus MHSc.BHsc. is a registered acupuncturist practising in Sydney.
Read Olivier's first column on this topic - Tongue Talk - http://novamagazine.com.au/article_archive/2015/2015-03-tongue-talk.html
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