In life you’re either one of two people: the kind who frequently looks at their tongue in the mirror, fascinated by what it can reveal about your health status or the person who quickly glides a scraper over it, removing all debris and evidence of food eaten. Perhaps you fall into neither category because you’ve never spent the time to get fully acquainted with your tongue and all the mysteries it holds.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the tongue is assessed as a microcosm of the body’s overall health and in determining a pattern diagnosis for treatment. Let’s compare Western and Eastern medicine and how the tongue can be a great indicator of your level of stress.
Swelling, spasms, tingling, and scallops along the edges of the tongue are all symptoms of “anxiety tongue” or “stress tongue."¹ The tongue is a pretty hefty muscle full of nerves and blood vessels. Even “holding your tongue” and not speaking your truth can lead to a build-up of anxiety that can cause these symptoms accompanied by other manifestations of stress. The best way to treat these symptoms is by focusing on the root cause through a combination of lifestyle changes such as exercise, psychotherapy, and possibly medication.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
The tongue is observed for its shape, body color, moisture and coating. In TCM, the tongue reflects the basic and underlying pattern of a disease. When factored in with other objective observations, disharmonies shown in the tongue help aid in diagnosis for the TCM practitioner.
If the edges of your tongue look like they’ve been crimped (reminiscent of the way your grandma perfects the edges of her homemade pies) this indicates a pattern in TCM known as Spleen Qi Deficiency. A tongue that is also pale in color and appears swollen is indicative of this same pattern.
When Qi—the energy that is vital to all life—is lacking, it manifests in the body in various ways. If your Spleen Qi is deficient, you may suffer from the following symptoms:
· Poor appetite
· Abdominal distension
· Loose stools
· Slight depression
· Tendency toward obesity
· Organ prolapse (in severe cases)
How does your Spleen Qi become depleted? By overthinking! In TCM, the Spleen is where the Intellect, or the Yi in Chinese, resides. It is responsible for “applied thinking, studying, memorizing, focusing, concentrating and generating ideas.”² After a full week of concentrating at work, you can bet your Spleen Qi tank is running on fumes.
The good news is, there are changes you can make to support your Spleen so it doesn’t have to work as hard. Let’s think of it as a Spleen-cation, minus the Piña Coladas:
· Eat cooked and warm food
· Avoid iced drinks
· Add warming herbs and spices to your food such as ginger and turmeric
· Engage in activities that get you out of your head and help ground you such as meditation and breathing techniques
· Get an adequate amount of sleep (at least 8 hours)
· Schedule regular acupuncture treatments to boost your Spleen Qi
· Consider taking Chinese herbs (as indicated and prescribed by your TCM practitioner)
Go check your tongue out in the mirror and stay tuned as we talk more about tales the tongue tells in future blog posts!
1. Montijo S. What is anxiety tongue and what are its signs? Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/anxiety/anxiety-tongue. Published July 21, 2022. Accessed April 26, 2023.
2. Maciocia G. In: The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text. Edinburgh: Elsevier; 2015:149.