Tongue Diagnosis and Analysis

Beginning Tongue Diagnosis and Analysis. . .

What does your tongue say about your health?

I once attended a Tongue Diagnosis seminar at Bastyr University given my a wonderful author, Giovanni Maciocia. I had read his book several years before that and had been looking at tongues (both human and animal) for years, but it seemed that there was SO much to know and try to understand that it seemed overwhelming.

Tongue Diagnosis Tongue Diagnosis and Analysis

Tongue Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine

It’s common to see thick tongues, purplish tongues, tongues with teeth marks in them and tongues with cracks in various places. I also have noted tongues with coats both white and yellow, sticky and thin. But what do they mean?

Tongue Stagnated Chi 300x225 Tongue Diagnosis and Analysis

Tongue Diagnosis: Thick– Stagnated Chi

I’m going to take the next couple of months and try to explain some of this in my usual learning technique of “see one, do one, teach one” in an effort to really absorb the seminar. So here we go:

Before examining the tongue for diagnosis, make sure the patient has not eaten pickles, cayenne pepper, curry and other hot things. They will temporarily turn the tongue red. It takes a few hours for the tongue to get its normal coat back after the person has scraped it as well. And smoking turns the coat yellow.

Ask what medications the patient is on because they affect tongue diagnosis.

  • Antibiotics make the tongue peel within 2-3 days and this peeling is not replaced until2-3 weeks after the antibiotics are stopped.
  • Asthma medications (bronchodilators) causes the tip of the tongue to redden.
  • Diuretics cause the coating to disappear (yin deficiency). Years of diuretics causes the tongue to peel.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) causes the tongue to have red points and makes the body of the tongue thinner. Years of taking these drugs cause the tongue to peel.
  • Anticancer drugs can cause the tongue to develop a thick brown to black dry coating.
  • Steroids causes the tongue to become red and swollen.

A normal tongue is pink in color, medium thickness, no cracks, ulcers, no teeth marks and with a light white moist coat (with root) on it. It has a look of aliveness and is supple (not stiff). There is no movement (quivering, trembling, side-to-side motion, curling or shifting to one side.) A healthy tongue looks like a piece of freshly killed meat.

In general the tongue is divided into three regions called burners.

  • The first third of the tongue (tip of the tongue) indicates what is happening in the heart and lungs. The sides of the tip represent the chest/breasts.
  • The middle third of the tongue is related to the stomach and spleen.
  • The back third of the tongue is related to the bladder, kidneys, small and large intestines.
  • The liver and gall bladder areas are on the sides of the tongue.
  • The chest/breasts areas is just behind the tip of the tongue but on the edge.

Tongue diagnosis and analysis should be performed systematically. Dr. Maciocia says that the color is the most important, then shape and coating come next. Moisture and vitality (called Shen) are also important.

Shen can also be seen in the eyes, the walk and the way the patient communicates (talks/barks/vocalizes) and is an important indicator on the ability to recover from imbalances.

Tongue Diagnosis: Color of the Tongue:

  • Progression of Color: When a body shows dis-ease the tongue color (underneath the coating) turns from pink to pale, to red and then to purple.
  • Purple tongues mean blood stasis.
  • Red dots on the tongue are called points and they have a meaning wherever they are. In Asian and African people these red dots can look brown.

Tongue Diagnosis: Coating of the Tongue: (Coating is related to Stomach function.)

  • A white coat corresponds to cold in the area of the body correlating to the tongue.
  • A yellow coat is related to heat.
  • A coating can be with “root” which means the coating cannot be scraped off and it looks like grass growing from the soil.
  • A coating without root looks like it has been sprinkled on and can be scraped off.
  • The thicker the coat, the more progressed the disease.
  • Lack of a coat means that the digestion is not working correctly.
  • The coating is slightly thicker on the back of the tongue.

When you look too far back you will see the circumvallate papillae. These have no significance in a tongue reading and beginner tongue readers often get alarmed when they see them (especially if they don’t know basic medical anatomy.)

Tongue Diagnosis: Shape of the Tongue:

  • Thin tongues mean deficiency.
  • Swollen tongues can mean lack of harmony in getting fluids processed  and can involve the spleen, stomach, kidneys and heart. It can also be from to much alcohol or increased toxic buildup.
  • Swollen edges can mean weak spleen.
  • Swollen sides can mean liver challenges.
  • Swollen tip can mean heart problems.
  • Swelling between the tip and middle of tongue and mean lung problems, phlegm, chest or breast problems. Ulcers here can mean cancer of the breasts.
  • Localized swellings involve the corresponding organ.

Tongue Diagnosis: Tongue Cracks:

  • The deeper the crack the longer the dis-ease, imbalance or stronger the genetic weakness or tendency.
  • Transverse cracks or cracks on the sides has to do with spleen challenges.
  • Center cracks mean stomach/digestion problems.
  • If the Center crack goes to the tip of the tongue it also involves the heart.
  • Transverse cracks behind the tip indicate lung weakness.
  • Teeth marks (I see this often) mean spleen deficiency.

Tongue Diagnosis: When the very tip of the tongue is red this means that there is a major emotional cause of whatever the rest of the tongue indicates as dis-ease.

I didn’t know enough about Chinese medicine (or the language!) to be able to decipher how to treat the body once you figure out what is wrong with it. It seems there are hundreds of formulas and combinations of formulas and “exceptions” to rules and I couldn’t really understand what he was even saying at times. I guess I have my job cut out for me going through my herb books and figuring out which are heating, cooling, yin/yang herbs and finding the American names for the Chinese herbs. I’ve ordered formulas from herb companies before only to receive something I’d already had on my shelf! On second thought. . .it’s just easier to muscle test and ask the body what it really wants.

Overall, it’s all about finding what areas are stagnated, which need to be nourished, which are getting too much circulation or too little circulation, too much energy or too little, and how to balance out the body so that everything is in harmony. There are many ways to do this.

Helpful Links and References for Tongue Diagnosis and  Analysis: