I know your mom taught you that it wasn’t polite to stick your tongue out at people, especially not to esteemed individuals such as healthcare professionals. I’m here to tell you that you can righteously loll your tongue out as an emblem of your current health. Why?
Practitioners of East Asian Medicine (acupuncturists) use a variety of diagnostic tools to deduce the root of your health concerns. The two of the most popular are looking at your tongue and feeling the pulse from the radial arteries on each wrist, as both represent all the organ systems in the body. I’ll discuss the pulse and other diagnostic tools in later posts. Today is dedicated to the tongue.
You may not realize this, but your tongue changes quickly throughout your daily life. Some changes are temporary, like if you ate too much pizza last night, your tongue will have a much thicker coating for a few days. Some changes last longer. For instance, a few weeks of acid reflux can show up as a crack or a coating-less section in the center of your tongue. Your tongue might even show things that have been troubling you since birth with deep cracks or persistent color patches.
Your tongue provides a visual map of all the organ systems in your body. The heart, lungs, liver, gallbladder, stomach, spleen, kidneys, and bladder all make a daily appearance on your tongue.
So what do we look for on your tongue? At first glance, we assess both the surface of your tongue and the tongue muscle itself. On the surface we look at how much coating is hanging out on top. We call this tongue fur. The fur is what most of us in the United States like to scrape or brush off in the morning. If you have an acupuncture appointment, please resist the urge to brush your tongue. The coating gives us tons of information about your GI health and overall water metabolism. The fur is consider an extension of your stomach’s vitality. A normal fur is a thin, white, slightly moist coat. A dry coat shows that the digestive system is dry and a dry GI tract will not process food properly. A coating that is too thick tells us that water metabolism is off. It could be that the whole body is holding onto water or there is excess water in a specific part of the digestive system. In this situation, combining the tongue reading with other diagnostic tools, like the pulse will help identify where the water is hanging out.
The color of the coating is very important too. Colors range from white, pale yellow, yellow, yellow-green, burnt-brown, grey, to black. The color of the tongue fur helps us know if we are dealing with cold, heat or toxicity in the body. The temperatures that I’m referring to are subjective, but basically cold causes everything to constrict and slow down. Ie-a sluggish metabolism could come from cold. Heat causes things to speed up. In severe situations, heat can cause bleeding and injury to the organ that the heat is holed up in. Toxicity is exactly what it sounds like.
When we look at the body or muscle of the tongue, we are looking for its overall shape and color. A normal tongue indicates that your body is rocking out in a copacetic bliss. A normal tongue is pale pink with a firm body. Again the color of the tongue body can range drastically from navy blue (I have actually seen this in person) to crimson. The shape of the tongue can have indentations from teeth on the sides of the tongue, called scalloping. Tongues can be puffy with scalloping or without scalloping. The tongue muscle can look flabby or look very tense. The tongue can be very narrow and pointy, or much wider than the teeth.
When we combine the color and shape of the tongue body with the quality, color and quantity of tongue fur, we get a pretty clear picture of how the organ systems are holding up. Cracks, crevices, patches of fur-less areas, or areas with much thicker fur will appear in the region(s) associated with specific organs. These tell us that something is going on in the associated organ. It also helps your acupuncturist to figure out some of those vague feelings that something ‘just isn’t right’ in your body. Many of those vague symptoms have specific patterns and treatment protocols in East Asian medicine .
I encourage you to start looking at your tongue daily and notice any changes that occur. Remember the tongue can change drastically and quickly. Please do not worry about anything you see in the mirror. This post is meant to inform you about a different perspective in health care and does not have adequate information for self diagnosis. East Asian Medicine practitioners/acupuncturists spend three to four years studying to be able to put the tongue, symptoms, and pulse picture together to diagnosis a patient. If anything you see on your tongue concerns you, consider getting a consultation with an acupuncturist. Otherwise, enjoy sticking your tongue out at yourself and above all, have fun! Cheers!