4 Things Your Tongue Can Tell You About Your Health, According To TCM
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the tongue is a helpful tool for diagnosis1, as it's an external organ that's thought to have visual health indicators. According to the ancient healing philosophy, the shape, quality, texture, coating, and color of the tongue can provide clues about somebody's health and well-being. While tongue reading has not been fully embraced by Western medicine, a few peer-reviewed studies support its efficacy in some cases.
Here's a beginner's guide to interpreting the messages your tongue could be sending you. Consider tongue reading another way to check in with yourself, but don't use it to replace a doctor's visit or override any diagnoses from medical professionals.
What a normal tongue looks like.
A normal tongue coat is thin with a moist, light white coating, thinnest at its edges and thicker in the center but thickest at the base of the tongue.
Take a look at your tongue in the mirror and see if it fits this description. Really notice the details: Is it puffy or thin? Is it reddish, purplish, or pinkish? Are there deep cracks, small cracks, or no cracks at all? Is there a coating on it? Is the coating white or yellow? Try to scrape off the coating; does it go away or stay in place? According to TCM, all of this means something.
Common tongue signs and what they say about you.
Here are a few things your tongue reading can tell you about yourself. Again, if you suspect something is off, talk to your doctor or seek out a licensed, qualified Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner for another opinion.
Trembling tongue: Your energy levels could be off.
In some cases, a quivering or trembling tongue body can indicate a chronic condition2 that has drained the body's energy and caused some level of fatigue and tiredness. When the tongue has a puffy body with ridges on the side, it indicates that the body is so tired that the muscle of the tongue doesn't have adequate energy to hold itself in place, so it's super relaxed in the mouth, taking the shape of the teeth. A quivering tongue can also be a symptom of stress3, or a side effect of medication.
Greasy coating on tongue: Your diet could be causing problems.
The coating on the tongue indicates the body's level of hydration. When the body isn't hydrated, the tongue immediately looks and feels dry. Other signs of dehydration4 include diarrhea and constipation, upset stomach, headache, insomnia, vivid dreams, hot flashes, dry skin, thirst, heartburn, or hunger.
In TCM, a thick yellow coating right in the center of the tongue also means your body is dehydrated and can't properly digest your food. You may have some of the following symptoms: body heat, sweating, body odor, yellow urine, or constipation.
If your tongue has a thick, greasy coating, on the other hand, it is an indicator that your body has lots of dampness and fluid. It could be a sign you are consuming too many greasy foods that aren't right for you.
An uneven coating indicates an issue with hydration in your stomach and liver. You may suffer from symptoms such as heartburn, stomach pain, interrupted sleep, vivid dreams, or dry skin.
Discolored tongue: You could have problems with blood flow.
If a tongue is really red, it could indicate that your body is holding onto excess heat. If a tongue is pale, it indicates that the body might not have enough heat to fuel proper digestion, energy, and blood flow. This may lead to a lack of energy, shortness of breath, or sluggish bowel movement.
If a tongue is purplish or darkish, it signals a lack of proper blood circulation and could indicate disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, according to a study in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicines.5
Dry or damp tongue: Could mean a variety of things.
Some diseases or illnesses leave a permanent effect on the tongue. If a tongue is a darker red or crimson color it can indicate internal injury, for example. In the elderly, energy and blood deficiencies are more common, so the tongue may present with dryness and cracks. Overweight people may have more damp and/or phlegm6, and, therefore, their tongues may be larger and lighter in color. Thinner people tend more towards redder tongues.
The bottom line.
Your tongue can give you hints about what your body needs in any given moment, be it more water or rest. But while the tongue is an important diagnostic tool in TCM, it should not replace a doctor's visit. If your tongue reading signals a problem that tracks with how your body feels, be sure to consult a medical professional.
Mona Dan, LAc, is a leading acupuncturist, specializing in Traditional Oriental Medicine and using healing treatments and tools to help reignite inner vitality and vibrancy. She studied Chinese Medicine at Emperors College of Oriental Medicine and went on to receive her master's in Traditional Oriental Medicine. She is experienced in nutrition, women's health, pain relief and overall stress reduction.
Dan is experienced in nutrition, women's health, pain relief and overall stress reduction. She has experienced the best healing treatments worldwide ranging from acupuncture, Ayurveda, massage therapy, Reiki and other modalities, in America and also through her travels in the heart of Russia, to the opulent cultures of India, through the Turkish Baths and hamams of Turkey.