Chinese medicine is an ancient medical system, with descriptions dating back to the birth of written language during the Shang Dynasty starting in 1766 BC. As such, it has a fertile history in treating many health conditions. Treatment in Chinese medicine involves discussion of an individual’s signs and symptoms, in addition to employment of adjunctive diagnostic methods that examine the tongue and pulse.
The Magical Tongue
How does the tongue offer clues to an individual’s state of health? Chinese medical experts liken the tongue to a map, with organ-specific sites located on both sides. The colour, texture, moisture content, presence of swelling, and quality of veins are all scrutinized, and help define this snapshot of basic health. Let’s look at the organs associated with the tongue’s surface.
The very tip of the tongue correlates to the Heart. Organs in Chinese medicine do not necessarily mirror the actions and functions commonly known in Western medicine:energetically, the Heart in this instance refers to stress and emotional output. If an individual has been under significant stress, or has experienced a period of emotional burnout or heartache, the tongue tip will often appear bright red or exhibit small heat spots (whitish spots amid the red, different from the rest of the tongue). Someone with a significant heart condition, such as a heart attack, will also have a red tongue tip.
The right and left sides of the tongue correspond to the Lung. If you have a lung condition like asthma or a chronic cough, this area may be redder, or darker, than surrounding areas. Emotionally, the Lung in Chinese medicine is associated with grief, which could be the cause of a darkened Lung area on the tongue.
The middle of the tongue (flanked on both sides by the Lungs, and the tip by the Heart) corresponds to the Spleen and Stomach. Although the Stomach has functions similar to our Western knowledge of the organ, the job of the Spleen is entirely different. By Western definition, the spleen manages the production of blood, while in Chinese medicine, it is thought to manage nutrient assimilation and play a vital role in overall health and vitality.
The underside of the tongue tells a story as well. In Chinese medicine, the veins visible under the tongue represent the state of blood flow in the body, in energetic terms. Dark, blackish, or turgid-looking veins may indicate blood stagnation, a Chinese medical condition where blood is not flowing evenly to all organs. This can result in conditions like severe PMS, and fibroids, for example.
Can the tongue be used as a sole diagnostic agent in determining an individual’s overall health? As is evident, the tongue can provide useful information from a Chinese medical perspective, but it provides a basic ?overview? of general health, rather than a clear-cut diagnosis. Thus, Chinese medicine combines analysis of the tongue and pulse, with information about signs, symptoms, and intake to determine a successful treatment plan for an individual.
Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.