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June 29, 2024

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Advice about the organ of taste: Don’t hold your tongue, inspect it

The “Book of Proverbs” in the Bible says: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue” — a reference to how the spoken word can do good or evil.

In traditional Chinese medicine, however, the tongue often speaks to health.

Compiled more than 2,300 years ago, the “Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon,” the earliest book about the theory and principles of traditional Chinese medicine, states that the tongue reflects the general health of an individual and has a very close relationship with internal organs like the heart, lungs, stomach and kidneys.

For instance, the “Canon” says in Chapter 5 of its first volume: “The heart rules the tongue.”

In its second volume, the book states that the qi (vital life energy) of the heart passes through the tongue. When the qi (yin and yang) of the heart is in harmony, then the tongue can recognize the five flavors.

So, traditional Chinese medicine doctors believe that the tongue is the expression of the heart and that pathological changes can manifest themselves on the tongue.

Traditional tongue diagnosis involves an inspection of the appearance of the tongue, including its size, color, vitality, shape, moisture and coating.

First of all, the color of the tongue can tell you a lot about your health.

The normal tongue is pale red and slightly moist. Abnormal colors include paleness, dark red or crimson, purple and bluish.

A pale tongue indicates blood, or yang, deficiency. A red tongue is closely related to fire-heat and the yin deficiency. A crimson tongue indicates an intense heat pattern.

A bluish tongue that resembles blue veins near the surface of the skin indicates blood stagnation due to yin cold obstructing yang qi.

A coating on the tongue is caused by the ascension of stomach qi, according to traditional Chinese medicine.

A thick coating that blankets the underlying tongue surface often indicates turbid dampness, phlegm, food retention or heat.

If the tongue coating is yellow, it often indicates heat, while a darker yellow color signifies a more intense heat.

A gray tongue coating is usually caused by pathogenic heat, internal yin cold or a build-up of phlegm dampness. And if the tongue is black, that is a sign of either excessive yin cold or extreme heat in the interior.

The tongue shape also matters.

Do you sometimes accidentally bite your tongue when you are eating or speaking? According to traditional Chinese medicine, this is very likely caused by the arrival of the yin qi.

The “Canon” says in Chapter 28 of its second volume: “When minor yin qi arrives, then one bites his tongue. When minor yang qi arrives, then one bites his cheeks. When yang brilliance qi arrive, then one bites his lips.”

In plain language, if you accidently bite your tongue while eating or speaking, it probably means that your tongue is larger and thicker than normal, often indicating internal retention of water dampness or ascension of phlegm dampness and toxic heat.

Another sign of an enlarged tongue is a tooth-marked tongue, also called a “scalloped tongue,” meaning a tongue with dental indentations on its margins.

The swollen tongue shape usually indicates accumulation of fluids in one’s body, often caused by deficient qi or yang, and signifies a deficiency of the spleen.

On the other hand, a tongue that is thinner and smaller than normal often indicates deficiency of qi, and blood or fire hyperactivity due to yin deficiency.

If you find fissures in varying depths and shapes on your tongue, that can signal heat damaging yin, blood deficiency or internal dampness due to a spleen deficiency.

Under some circumstances, people may tell you to “hold your tongue,” but traditional Chinese medicine practitioners would instead advise you to open your mouth and inspect your tongue from time to time to help assess your general health.


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