Your eyes might be the window to your soul, but your tongue is the giveaway to your health. That said, we can’t remember the last time a GP examined inside our mouth before signing off a prescription. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, however, it’s the colour, texture and appearance of your tongue that will dictate their diagnosis.
Anyone who’s ever dabbled in acupuncture will know this. That’s because along with your pulses, your acupuncturist will assess your tongue way before they come at you with a needle. “The tongue has many relationships and connections in the body, both to the meridians and internal organs,” explains acupuncturist and TCM therapist Maeve O’Sullivan. “It presents strong visual indicators of a person’s overall harmony or disharmony and can change quite quickly when we are unwell. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a ‘normal’ tongue should be light red or pinkish with a think white coating—anything outside of this indicates imbalances.”
Want to know how to self-diagnose? Read on to discover our tongue risk assessment.
HEALTHY TONGUE HABITS
If you’ve ever taken your toothbrush off piste and onto your tongue to scrub away that gunk that’s gathered there overnight, you’ll know how fresh it can make your mouth feel. Instant hangover helper, right there.
But treating your tongue with respect shouldn’t be a one-off. In India for example, tongue scraping is as commonplace as your morning bowel movement and face washing session. Follow suit and start scraping twice a day (although if you can only manage once, morning is prime time before a morsel of food or drink has landed in your mouth). The coating of your tongue also becomes thinner as the day progresses while the colour naturally becomes more red and shiny, says O’Sullivan.
And you want to invest in a specifically designed tongue scraper too. Far more hygienic than using your brush bristles where bacteria can breed, these little metal U bends just need to be swept across your tongue from back to front between four or five times and voilà, it becomes a blank canvas for you to build on.
A healthy tongue also means you might be able to reconnect with your taste buds, improve your digestion and get rid of plaque that forms on your tongue but migrates to your teeth. So long, pricey hygienist appointments. So long, morning breath. So long, coffee mouth.
HOW TO SPEAK TONGUE
It looks: Swollen, pale with a few red spots and thin white coating and teeth marks around the edges
You’re probably suffering from: Qi deficiency
Say what? You’re lacking energy.
Other side effects: Tiredness, lack of appetite, sweating, short breath, anxiousness
Fix it: By swapping large, heavy meals for smaller amounts five times a day and choosing low-impact exercise like yoga over high-intensity training. Even housework could be a struggle.
It looks: Red at the tip with a slight coating of yellow
You’re probably suffering from: Too much heat in the body
Say what? Your energy gets trapped creating hot spots.
Other side effects: Thirsty, constipated, irritable, spot flare-ups, sweating and feeling hot
Fix it: Most heat in the body comes from the liver, so a gentle detox will help. Drink lukewarm water, not coffee or alcohol, and keep moving to get that energy flowing.
It looks: Podgy and swollen with a white greasy coating
You’re probably suffering from: Damp retention
Say what? There’s blockages in your digestive track.
Other side effects: Feeling heavy and lethargic, full across your chest and bloated
Fix it: You need to stimulate your gut with spices such as garlic, black pepper and cinnamon and eat regularly. Warming foods like soups, grains and vegetable stews are best.
It looks: A bit purple with black spots.
You’re probably suffering from: Blood stasis
Say what? Your blood flow is irregular.
Other side effects: Cold limbs, chest pains, pigmentation, dull skin, headaches and varicose veins
Fix it: Gentle exercise that include leg inversions where your legs are higher than your heart are great as they increase blood flow to the upper body and reduce any swelling. Yoga and Pilates, we’re looking at you.
It looks: Red at the end with a thin white coating
You’re probably suffering from: Qi stagnation
Say what? Qi means energy, and right now yours isn’t free-flowing.
Other side effects: Stressed, feeling depressed, unstable and with PMT style symptoms
Fix it: Active breathing and walking barefoot for 10 to 15 minutes daily improves energy flow and include foods like citrus, buckwheat, barley, chives and onions to soothe the liver.
It looks: Red all over with an obvious yellow carpet of gunk
You’re probably suffering from: Damp heat
Say what? Your organs are suffering from condensation.
Other side effects: Breakouts, clammy skin, angry and urinary tract infections
Fix it: Increase your fluids with water and herbal teas to flush out tissues, remove blockages and send liquid to the kidneys and avoid hot foods or damp forming dairy, sugar and wheat.
It looks: Pale and swollen, almost white
You’re probably suffering from: Yang deficiency
Say what? Yang is warming and energetic, so if it’s low, you’re probably feeling the cold.
Other side effects: Feeling cold, looking pale, back pain, feelings of panic, emotionally low and potential of fertility problems
Fix it: Boost your energy levels with high-impact sports and an iron-rich diet that’s warming and full of protein to enrich your blood. Cold, raw or frozen foods are a no-go.
It looks: Red and fiery with cracks and little or no coating of any colour
You’re probably suffering from: Yin deficiency
Say what? Yin is the cooling aspect of your body, so if your thermostat’s kaput, you’ll end up overheating.
Other side effects: Night sweats, insomnia, hot flushes, ringing in the ears, signs of an early menopause.
Fix it: Take time to relax as reducing your stress levels with relaxing treatments. Excessive yin activities like HIIT and Bikram and hanging out in saunas and steam rooms are a no.
It looks: Pale with little or no coating
You’re probably suffering from: Blood deficiency
Say what? Your blood is having a hard time carrying oxygen and nutrients round your body.
Other side effects: Dizziness, fatigue, lack of concentration, insomnia, forgetfulness
Fix it: Fresh fruit and veg combined with grains and high-protein foods like beans, eggs and meat will boost your blood flow, as will a helping of Chinese herbs and some meditation.
Want to know what else acupuncture can help with? Rubbish sleep.