The color of tongue
It is not the normal shape of an individual's tongue that is significant, but a change in the shape of the tongue.
Tongues come in many colours (some of which may sound surprising to you) depending on their state of health: pink, red, red-purple, blue-purple and blue.
This can range from a slightly paler colour than normal, to almost white. A pale tongue is lighter than the fresh pink of a normal tongue. Generally, a pale tongue indicates a Deficiency This might be a Deficiency of Qi, Yang or Blood.
This signifies Heat. The area of the redness indicates where the Heat is located in the body, and the depth of the redness shows how much Heat is present. The deeper the red, the more advanced the Heat condition. Additionally, the presence or absence of a tongue coating tells us if the Heat is due to a Full-Heat condition (Yang Excess), or an EmptyHeat condition (Yin Deficiency).
This is a stage further on from the red tongue. Purple indicates Stagnation of the Blood, usually resulting from Heat damage to the Blood.
This is a stage further on from a pale tongue. Purple indicates Stagnation of Blood, usually due to Cold from a Deficiency of something.
This is a tricky tongue to recognize. In an acute disease or a life-threatening emergency, the tongue may become blue due to a lack of oxygen, but in chronic illness the tongue may have a slight blue tinge. This indicates long-standing Cold in the body, which has damaged the Yang energy.
A tongue can be long or short, and thin or swollen. Specific areas may be indented or swollen.
Gauging the overall shape of the tongue, and noting features in specific areas, the colour diagnosis can be refined. A swollen tongue reveals Qi and Yang are blocked, as if by a dam.
A rolled appearance to the sides of a swollen tongue can show one of two things. Symptoms such as loose stools, tiredness and bloating reveal a Deficiency of Spleen Qi or Yang. If there are symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, anger or blurred vision, then Heat in the Liver is diagnosed
If the tongue is swollen with tooth marks along the sides, this clearly shows a Deficiency of Spleen Qi.
A thin tongue appears thinner than normal and even slightly shrunken. Thinness indicates a lack of proper Body Fluids; if the tongue is pale, Blood Deficiency is the problem; a red, thin tongue discloses Yin Deficiency. The tongue may also be dry.
SWELLING IN ONE AREA
Swelling in a particular part of the tongue indicates a problem with the organ related to that region. Swollen edges, for example, suggests a Deficiency in the Spleen, while a swollen tip can indicate a Heart problem. Swelling between the tip and central area suggests a Lung problem.
INDENTATION IN ONE AREA
A depression or indentation in a particular area shows a Deficiency in the related organ. A tooth-marked tongue, sometimes called a scalloped tongue, can be due to Spleen Deficiency. If it is abnormally stiff, it may suggest a Heart problem.
A long, narrow tongue can indicate Heat and is also often red in colour. This tongue shape is frequently associated with Heat in the Heart and traditional Chinese Medicine theory would suggest a constitutional tendency towards Heart disease.
The coating of the tongue gives an accurate report on the state of all the organs, but particularly the organs of digestion.
When observing the coating, we are looking at the colour, thickness, distribution and texture of the coat. However, the coating can be affected by consumption of certain foods, drinks or medicines, so should not be inspected shortly after taking any of these. The tongue coating may reflect the presence of a pathogen in the body, which will usually be seen as Phlegm or Dampness. A normal, healthy tongue should have a thin, white, and slightly moist coating. This is produced as a natural by-product of the digestive process.
COLOUR OF COATING
The colour of the coating reveals the nature of the problem (if any). A white coating indicates Cold, a yellow coating indicates Heat, and a dirty grey coating indicates Dampness or Food Stagnation.
THICKNESS OF COATING
The thickness of the coating lets us know how severe the problem is: the thicker the coat, the more Dampness or Phlegm is present.
DISTRIBUTION OF COATING
The distribution of the coating shows the location of the disharmony in the body.
ABSENCE OF COATING
An absence of coating, known as a stripped tongue, shows a lack of proper Body Fluids due to Yin Deficiency, and usually occurs on a red tongue. If there is no coating present on the entire tongue surface, it denotes a serious Yin Deficiency. More commonly, small patches of the tongue lack a coating, indicating a Yin Deficiency in the organ related to that area.
A dry coating means that either Heat, or a Deficiency of Qi or Yang, is present (differentiated by other symptoms). A wet coating, which may be greasy and sticky, proves a Dampness due to Cold.
Many types of alteration to the normal tongue surface are possible, and the significance of these is determined by their type and location.
The Chinese view of cracks on the tongue is related to the tongue as an expression of the moisture levels in the body. In the same way as the tongue swells if there is Excess Water (or Heat) present, a lack of Body Fluids may cause it to become cracked. Think of the way a dried-up river bed cracks after a drought.
Cracks are actual cuts in the tongue. (This should be distinguished from the rumpled appearance sometimes seen in a swollen tongue, resembling skin that has been in water for a long time) Cracks can be found with or without a tongue coating, and their significances are combined if both are present.
LOCATION OF CRACKS
The significance of cracks is determined by their depth and location. The deeper the cracks, the more severe or long-standing the condition. The location indicates the problem organ.
Spots on the tongue can be found in different locations and in various colours. The location determines the organ involved; the colour reveals the problem.
Red spots indicate Heat, purple spots indicate Stagnation of Blood, and pale spots indicate Stagnation of Qi. The size and number of spots, as well as the depth of their colour, tells us the severity of the disharmony.