In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the tongue is believed to be connected to the organs of the body through meridians, or energy pathways. TCM practitioners therefore treat it as a “mirror” of one’s health.
That’s why one of the first things you might end up doing at a TCM consult is saying “Ahh”.
Use this guide to figure out what your tongue reveals about your health.
A map to your health
The tongue is divided into regions associated with different internal organs. The location of a change in colour or texture, for example, could indicate a problem in or around the corresponding organ.
Colour: In the pink of health
Pink: A normal, healthy tongue.
Pale: Indicates qi or blood deficiency or a deficiency in yang energy. You might appear pallid, tire easily, feel breathless or easily experience cold limbs.
Purple: Indicates qi stagnation and blood stasis. You might experience sharp and persistent localized pains or find palpable masses beneath the skin of the abdominal region.
Red: Indicates excess heat in the body or a yin deficiency. You might feel feverish, restless and experience constipation. You may also have a dry throat and rapid pulse. You may have a preference for cold drinks
Deep Red (Crimson): Indicates intense internal heat or fire syndrome due to a yin deficiency. You may also have a fever, constipation, dry mouth, a strong and rapid pulse, and experience night sweats.
Coating (appearance): Your digestive health
The moss covering your tongue lends clues to your digestive health.
Thin coating: A thin white coating is normal.
Thick coating: Indicates excess dampness in the body.
Greasy coating: Suggests a build-up of dampness and phlegm, which blocks yang-qi circulation.
No coating: Indicates that the stomach qi is deficient and/or damaged
Coating (colour): The state of yang
The colour of the tongue’s coating is linked to the state of the yang organs, and the stomach in particular.
White: While a thin white coat is normal, a powder-like coat indicates external pathogenic cold. Without treatment, it can progress to a yellow colour. A snow-like coat, meanwhile, indicates exhaustion of the spleen yang with damp-cold in the middle jiao (spleen and stomach).
Yellow coat: A slightly yellow coat indicates wind-heat. The more intense the yellow, the more severe the heat. Be aware that the colour may be affected by coffee, tea or smoking.
Dirty yellow coat: Indicates damp-heat in the stomach and intestines.
White and yellow coat: Indicates both heat and cold, or cold turning to heat. A coat that is half white and half yellow longitudinally, indicates heat in the liver and gallbladder.
Grey-black coat: A grey-black coat occurs when an illness is advanced or prolonged. A dry coat suggests excess heat internally while a moist coat suggests cold and damp stagnation. When the coat is completely black, it indicates that the cold or heat has become extreme. In combination with a pale tongue, it this could mean excessive cold due to a yang deficiency.
Tips before you say aah!
This simplified guide to tongue examination is for reference only. For a proper diagnosis, always consult an accredited TCM physician.
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You may know your body well, but do you know how it could be classified in TCM?