As a practitioner, one of the most important things I look at is a person’s tongue. It is a routine part of my intake and is quite revealing if you know what you are looking for.
Tongue diagnosis comes from Ayurvedic medicine, a sophisticated and powerful mind-body health system that is roughly 5000 years old. Ayurveda (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge) is unique in that it transcends the mere treatment of disease and is a system that allows you to stay healthy through careful observation of body and mind.
Without getting too deep into the details, the premise of Ayurveda is that we are all composed of varying proportions of natural elements – air, earth, fire, water and ether (the space for the first four elements to manifest).
These elements make up the 3 primary constitutional types known as ‘dosha’s’. Vata (air and ether), Kapha (earth and water) and Pitta (fire and water) all come with their own set of physical, mental and emotional predispositions.
Diagnosing Your Tongue
Now that you have a little background, let’s hop into the tongue diagnosis. Look at your tongue and observe the shape, colour, texture and markings. All of these will give you insight into what is happening inside the body.
- The Vata tongue will tend to be thinner, smaller, and a bit rough and dry.
- Pitta tongue will be a bit redder in color, medium in size, and slightly dry.
- Kapha tongue will be larger, full, possibly light pink, and a bit wet.
Look at the map of the tongue and see if you notice any unusual markings, growths, cracks or mucous in any areas on your own tongue. Each of these is telling us what is happening inside the body. Here are some common things you might notice:
Typically at the rear or centre of the tongue. This indicates that there is intestinal malabsorption and possibly leaky gut. Basically, the intestinal tissue has been damaged by something and cannot perform its protective and absorptive functions.
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You might find that you have allergies or food sensitivities if your tongue looks like this. If this is you, I would recommend doing a food allergy test and have yourself evaluated for intestinal infections such as Candida, bacteria, viruses, etc. Identifying and removing food allergens and harmful pathogens is a great first step in repairing the damage
The tongue will naturally have a film on it – this is normal. Depending on your constitution, the mucous will vary between thin and clear to yellow or white. If you notice a thick, greasy white or yellow coating this can indicate there is in fact, mucous build-up and toxins in the bowels. If it is at the rear of the tongue, this is the colon. If it is in the middle, it is the small intestine.
You might find that you have a lot of gas and bloating as well as a tendency toward constipation or diarrhea. A diet that is predominantly wheat, meat, dairy, and sugar greatly contribute to this mucous build-up. Removing or reducing these food items can go a long way in helping.
A good bowel cleansing program that includes psyllium, ground flax seeds or ground chia will add much-needed fibre to sweep the bowel clean. In cases of constipation a mild laxative like Turkish rhubarb or cascara sagrada will get things moving. Be sure to include plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits in the diet as well as these are low-mucous foods and contain healthy fibre.
Teeth Impressions on the Sides of the Tongue
I see this quite commonly in practice. It is usually a sign that you are not digesting and absorbing minerals properly. If you have teeth imprints and cracks it is likely malabsorption stemming from the intestine. If you only have teeth imprints, it could be a case of low stomach acid (digestive fire).
You might find that you experience gas and bloating higher up the GI tract (under the ribcage) as well as acid reflux. In these cases, we want to ensure that we increase the digestive fire. Swedish bitters taken a few minutes before meals are fantastic for stimulating digestion. Together with a betaine hydrochloride supplement (essentially stomach acid) this can slowly start to bring our stomach acid levels back up and improve your absorption from the top down.
I often recommend taking some trace minerals along with this to replenish minerals that may be depleted.
There are many other tongue observations that can be made but they fall a little outside the scope of this article. Keeping the tongue clean goes a long way in keeping the organs healthy.
Tongue scraping once or twice a day is a great way to do this. Tongue scrapers are readily available at most drug stores. Extend your tongue out and insert the scraper to the rear; gently pull forward in a ‘stroking motion’. This is a great way to start the day as it stimulates all the internal organs, fires up digestion and removes bacteria and toxins from the tongue.
Through daily observation and becoming familiar with the map, you will be able to identify any changes that take place over time.
This is a useful preventative tool as you will be able to avoid potentially serious health issues by making diet and lifestyle changes in-step with tongue changes. It is also useful because you will be able to monitor any progress you have made.
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