Is your tongue trying to tell you something?
Hear its health message by looking in the mirror.
By Caroline Robertson ND
Sarah stuck out her tongue. “Mmm,” Ayurvedic doctor Rama Prasad responded, “There’s stiffness in the right hip, bloat, lower back pain, cold feet and depression.” Sarah’s jaw dropped wider. Without saying a word, Rama had read her state with astonishing accuracy.
“The tongue doesn’t lie,” explains Rama, who has been examining tongues for decades, finding they clearly convey one’s health and habits. Sarah was sceptical at first, knowing nothing about Ayurvedic Medicine, but she adhered to Rama’s advise after his observations. “Following the dietary, lifestyle and herbal advice for a fortnight my symptoms improved and I also noticed changes on my tongue,” Sarah says.
When an orthodox doctor probes the tongue they’re looking for obvious problems with the mouth or tonsils. But when you stick your tongue out at a Chinese or Ayurvedic doctor you show a lot more than simply the state of your throat. “Your tongue speaks volumes about your mind-body state,” Dr. Prasad explains, “It’s a holographic map of every aspect of you. Once you learn to identify the markers its very easy to read.” Chinese doctor Charles Chow agrees, “A tongue reading is much simpler than pulse diagnosis. The patient can also see where the problem is and monitor changes themselves.” It’s widely acknowledged that tongue diagnosis is more objective that pulse diagnosis and, though pulse diagnosis take decades to master, basic Tongue diagnosis can be taught in a weekend.
Setting tongues wagging
Tongue analysis is an ancient diagnostic skill recorded in traditional health sciences worldwide. In Ayurveda it’s known as Jihvaa Pareeksha, in Japanese - Zetsu Shin and Chinese call it She Zhen. The tongue's colours, contours and coating all reflect our general health and specific problem areas. In conjunction with conventional diagnostic tests, tongue analysis can give us a clear picture of the condition of organs and systems, often revealing the cause of a condition presenting as a confusing collection of symptoms. Bian Que (471-221BC), one of the pioneers of Chinese tongue diagnosis said he could see the patient’s insides from the tongue, identifying past and present patterns as well as predicting future conditions.
Chris, a chronic fatigue patient of Dr. Rama Prasad found tongue diagnosis directed his recovery route. “Before Rama identified my spleen weakness I was trying everything without much improvement. I’m 80% better now that I know the allergens to avoid and ways to strengthen the spleen.”
Modern medical science is now taking notice of tongue signs. After a landmark study in China revealing significant tongue changes in 12,000 cancer patients, US researchers led by Dr. Robert Schoen, director of Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, is recording computerised images of patient’s tongues to note any correlation between cancer and tongue signs. Dr Schoen explains the rationale behind this, "The tongue is one of the first parts of the gastro-intestinal tract that's visible." The tongue is also known as the “sprout of the heart” as it is directly connected to the cardio-vascular system. Hence, eighteenth Century doctors would routinely inspect the tongue in fever patients to monitor how the heart was holding up.
According to ancient Indian and Chinese medicine all the body’s meridians connect to the tongue just as they connect to the feet, hands and ears. Because of its proximity, digestive disorders are particularly obvious from tongue analysis. The tongue clearly indicates the body’s internal digestive enzymes, assimilation, inflammation, stagnation and hydration. The “shag pile carpet” adorning the tongue after fasting is digestive toxins exiting the body. “Periodic purification, a pure diet and daily use of a tongue scraper helps to clear digestive toxins accumulated on the tongue,” suggests Dr. Rama Prasad.
Keeping it clean
“While thou livest keep a good tongue in thy head,” advised William Shakespeare. Nobody wants a furry tongue and bad breath. Removing the superficial layer of plaque and bacteria settled on the tongue reduces the risk of bad breath, tooth decay, gum disease, throat infections and heart disease according to modern research. It won’t, however, alter the appearance of deep pathological tongue signs.
Ancient Egyptians, Romans and Indians all practiced regular tongue scraping to remove toxins and prevent disease. Using a tongue scraper has been shown to be more effective than a toothbrush or mouthwash and it doesn’t make one gag or dry the mouth as alcoholic mouth rinses can. Research shows that up to 75% of vsc’s are removed by a tongue scraper whereas only 45% reduction is achieved by brushing the tongue with a tooth brush. Previously halitosis was attributed more to tooth decay or stomach problems but current studies show that up to 86% of all bad breath is caused by harmful tongue bacteria that isn’t removed by brushing, flossing, or gargling alone. This foul smelling odor is produced by toxic volatile sulphur compounds (vsc’s) which the Journal of the American Dental Association (Sept., 2000) advises one removes with a tongue scraper.
A healthy tongue
Before assessing your tongue it helps to know what a healthy tongue looks like. Likened to a little kitten’s tongue, it is uniformly pink, similar to a skinned chicken. It is oval in shape, neither too thick nor too thin and has an even width. When sticking out it’s naturally straight rather than veering to one side. The tongue of a healthy person will remain still and strong, not quivering, flaccid or stiff. A healthy tongue has a thin transparent or white coating. It displays all taste buds and is free from red or glassy patches, deep cuts and denuded patches. It is neither too dry nor too wet and it doesn’t emit a bad odour or taste. The veins on the underside of the tongue will not be distended. If your tongue looks like a map of the world don’t worry. Dr. Prasad explains its significance, “Some people have genetic geographic tongues which indicate certain hereditary signs that are not necessarily negative.”
Just say aahh…
The traditional Tibetan greeting of sticking your tongue out evolved because they understood how to analyse a person through their tongue. They also kept their tongue firmly in cheek to hide their deeper secrets! Decipher your tongue talk by analysing its alignment, colour, surface and shape. Remember that coffee, tea, drugs, cigarettes or food colour can affect the colour of the tongue. It’s best to look at the tongue in natural light or halogen lighting and in the morning before eating or drinking. Incandescent light makes the fur look yellowish and fluorescent light makes the tongue look bluish or purple when it's not. Poke your tongue out in a relaxed rather than a forceful way so you don’t distort its shape. Pop your tongue back in every ten seconds to stop it from dehydrating or changing colour. Decipher your tongue’s messages by correlating signs with the tongue map.
Veers to one side when sticking out- Tension on that side of the body or weakness on the other side.
Pale- Anaemia, low blood pressure, coldness or poor circulation and general depletion.
Yellow- Excess bile in liver or gall bladder.
Blue- Heart problems or blood stagnation (also present in healthy pregnant women).
Very red- Inflammation, acidity, heat or high blood pressure.
Thick white coating- Toxins in the respective organs/systems, which may include Candida albicans and mucus.
Thick yellow coating- Chronic heat, congested liver or gall bladder. This may also be related to food colourings, drugs or smoking.
Cracks- Connective tissue in this area is weak and undernourished and hence tight.
Red patches- Inflammation or acidity in this area.
Denuded patches- Depleted energy in this area.
Raised areas- Vascular congestion in this area causing probable pain.
Indents around edges – Malabsorption of nutrients often seen in malnourished people with digestive disorders.
Thick tongue – Fluid retention or lymphatic congestion.
Thin tongue – Dehydration, depletion and fatigue.
Pointed Tip – Muscle tension and inflexibility.
Rounded tip - a flexible yet firm physical and mental condition.
Pointed tip - a rigid physical condition.
Very wide tip - flaccid muscles.
Forked Tip – Indecisive and rapidly changeable moods.
Stiff – Mental and physical tension.
Trembling – Debilitated nervous system and internal gas.
Rigid tongue – High mental and physical stress.
Flaccid tongue – Low energy and poor circulation.
These are evident through changes in the related organ’s zone.
Anger – Liver region
Grief – Lung region
Worry – Spleen region
Fear – Kidney region
Depression – White coating over colon region or black discoloration on the tip.
Tongue town map
Note any areas displaying a different colour, texture or thickness.
(See attached picture)
3. Barbara Kirschbaum, Atlas of Chinese Tongue Diagnosis, Eastland Press, 2000.
4. Giovanni Maciocia, Tongue Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine, Eastland Press, 1995
Ayurvedic doctor Rama Prasad practices and teaches tongue diagnosis at Ayurveda Elements, Sydney and Melbourne www.ayurvedaelements.com, (02) 9904 7754
Chinese doctor Charles Chow consults patients at Ginseng Chinese Medicine Centre, Chatswood, (02) 9419 7131
Caroline Robertson is a naturopath, homoeopath and Ayurvedic consultant based in Sydney.
She is also the director of www.ayurvedahealthresorts.com.
Ten aspects of tongue diagnosis
Criteria Aspect of life Healthy sign Unhealthy signs
01. Alignment Balance in life Centrally aligned Left/right aligned
02. Colour Immunity, energy Pinkish red Gray, red, white
03. Edges Peripheral, Absorption Same as tongue body Thin, eroded, dented
04. Fur Undigested matter Very little Gray, yellow, white
05. Marks Current imbalances Absent Cuts, ulcers, glassy
06. Movement Low energy, control Still Shaky, shivering
07. Shape Life, philosophy Oval Wider/narrow, long/short
08. Surface Energy supply Even Uneven, wrinkled
09. Texture Vitality, robustness Visible buds Dry, burnt, milky
10. Thickness Accumulation Translucent Thin/thick, hot & swollen
 12,448 cases of the clinical observation of cancer patients' tongues, Journal of Oncology (Chinese) 1987;7(3).
 Tongue-Cleaning Methods: A Comparative Clinical Trial Employing a Toothbrush and a Tongue Scraper Vinícius Pedrazzi, Sandra Sato, Maria da Glória Chiarello de Mattos, Elza Helena Guimarães Lara, and Heitor Panzeri University of São Paulo J Periodontol 2004;75(7):1009-1012]