Can Your Tongue Tell Your Health?

Remember your last doctor’s visit? Chances are your doctor asked you to stick out your tongue. In conventional medicine, this is common practice that allows the doctor to do a quick evaluation of your tongue and throat. Doctors usually look at the tongue for an indication of nutritional deficiencies or more signs of more serious ailments.

The tongue is an important indicator of overall health in other forms of medical practice too. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), practitioners place emphasis on the tongue for diagnostic evaluations, believing the tongue to be able to reflect diseases in the body.

How TCM Practitioners Look At The Tongue

In TCM, the tongue is a very indicative organ and is seen as a map for the entire internal body. The surface of tongue is divided into five element zones — wood, fire, earth, metal, and water — that corresponds to a person’s internal organs.

  • The Tip
    Fire Element – corresponds to the Heart & Small Intestine network
  • Behind The Tip
    Metal Element – corresponds to the Respiratory & Immunity network
  • The Sides
    Wood Element – corresponds to the Liver & Gall Bladder network
  • The Centre
    Earth Element – corresponds to the Stomach, Spleen & Pancreas network
  • The Back
    Water Element – corresponds to the Kidney, Bladder, Large Intestine & Endocrine network

Because the tongue contains water, electrolytes, mucous and enzymes; the tongue’s appearance is believed to change according to physical changes in the body.

Tongue Colour
  • Darkening
    A deviation from the normal pink to a darker red or purple is indicative of increasing heat in the body. From TCM’s perspective, this could mean inflammation, infection, hyperactivity of an organ network or blood stasis. By observing the darkening colour of the different element zones on the tongue, the TCM practitioner is able to deduce which organs may be hyperactive or obstructed.
  • Lightening
    A deviation from the normal pink to pale or paper white is indicative of what is known as “cold symptoms”. This can mean anaemia, infection or low energy and can give information as to the function of the corresponding organ network.
Tongue Coating
  • Thick Coat
    Indicative of imbalance in the digestive system and decreased immune system function.
  • Yellow Coat
    Indicative of a pathogenic infection or inflammation in the body.
  • Peeling Coat
    Indicative of damage or weakening of certain systems of the body.
  • Dark Spotting
    Indicative of blood stasis and compromised circulation in the body.

Regardless of which practice a person ascribes to, both conventional medicine and TCM agree that a healthy tongue shares these four common characteristics:

  • Pink or Light Red in colour.
  • Smooth in texture with raised papillae / bumps.
  • Proportionate in size.
  • Thin, clear white coating.

Anything out of the normal range of these characteristics generally indicate that there is something wrong with the person’s overall health.

The external appearance of the tongue is a little known indicator of one’s internal health. A combination of different features can reveal a range of different conditions and disorders, ranging from harmless to very serious. It is therefore helpful to occasionally pay attention to the condition of your tongue for signs of ailments and consult a medical practitioner, whether conventional or TCM, should you suspect there’s something wrong.