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  • Writer's pictureChristopher George

What Your Tongue Says About Your Health According to Traditional Chinese Medicine

Have you ever watched someone laugh with a wide open mouth and saw a disturbing tongue pulsing back at you? You know the type - yellow, a bit fuzzy with a bright red tip.

I am sure every dental hygienist in the world can attest to the link between a patient’s tongue appearance and the health of their teeth at the very least! For thousands of years, practitioners and healers used only physical examination and the patient’s testimony to diagnose and treat the patient.

You heard that right! Patients were heard and seen in the good ‘ol days!

The Chinese and other ancient cultures didn’t have lab tests, PET scans, and MRI’s on which to rely. They depended solely on the patient’s body to tell the story.

The physical exam included facial assessments, checking one’s pulse, and tongue diagnosis. These exams often led to herbal, nutritional, and lifestyle prescriptions. The Chinese recognized the fact that energy precedes chemistry, or chemistry as they knew it. They also saw health as a balance with nature, and in order to maintain balance and overall health, proactive measures were best.

That seems like a far cry from today’s awkwardly long weight in a clinic room where we feel compelled to whisper until the nurse or doctor knocks on the door, and from there, we struggle to remember all the symptoms that lead us to making the appointment. From there, we are given a prescription for a man-made chemical with side effects, a slap on the butt, and off we go!

Actually, if you get a slap on the butt, that really isn’t normal now nor in ancient times.

Truly, we skip over the patient’s story on how and why their system malfunctioned. We gloss over the outward signs of dis-ease, and we neglect to recognize the dance between us and nature. Eastern medicine proactively treated patients. For example, when the winter was unusually warm, they knew that atypical temperature negatively affected the human system in the coming seasons.

Considering the lost art of the dynamic ancient medicine in our Western culture, we at Apogee Wellness thought to spend a little time empowering and educating our readers on this wisdom starting with the tongue diagnosis. With this at-home knowledge, you may bring balance back to your system as well as your family’s.

Four Main Aspects of Tongue Diagnosis

Traditional Chinese Medicine views the tongue with four observational aspects in mind:

  1. Color of the tongue

  2. Shape of the tongue

  3. Tongue coating

  4. Moisture content of the tongue

The tongue, for instance, may appear pale, red, deep red, purple, or even blue. The observer uses the color that strays from the healthy light red or pink color as a clue that points to the patient’s imbalances.

The tongue color resides behind the coating of the tongue, which further sounds the alarms for TCM practitioners. While a thin pale coating is considered normal, anything other than that points to an issue.

The shape of the tongue such as teeth marks along the side, thickness, and length will tell the practitioner much about element imbalances, deficiencies, and the blood of the patient. While the moisture will also tell more of the internal story.

Tongue-Organ Correlation

Much like other parts of the body such as the feet, face, and eyes, the different parts of the tongue correlate to specific organs.

Tip - Heart

Sides - Gallbladder and Liver

Front-Middle - Lungs and Colon

Middle - Pancreas, Spleen, and Stomach

Back-Middle - Large and small intestine

Back - Kidneys and Adrenals

Depending on where the crack, discoloration, or coating appears will direct the practitioner to the organ experiencing imbalance and possibly dysfunction.

Meaning Behind the Observations

I do believe that if I were ever in an escape room, I would want at least one TCM practitioner on my team. The clues, observations, and unconventional thinking required of Traditional Chinese Medicine leaves one amazed at the artistry and profoundly baffled at the obvious clues we ignore.


The first identifying factor, tongue-body color, points towards the blood health, nutritive Qi, aka life force energy, and yin organs. The five notable colors of a tongue and the corresponding issues include the following:

Pale: A pale tongue points towards a yang deficiency when slightly wet or a blood deficiency when slightly dry. Pale sides of the tongue further indicate a blood deficiency. Whereas, slightly orange-colored sides relate to severe liver blood deficiency.

Red: A red tongue often relates to heat or the fire element in the system. With a red tongue, the practitioner would deduce the following upon further investigation:

Deep Red: Unfortunately, this does not indicate that you’re a passionate darling! A deep red tongue would indicate that you have too much heat in your body, which may even indicate that you run a little too hot. For example, people may describe you more as an overly passionate firecracker!

Purple: Purple indicates that blood does not flow freely in all areas of your body, aka blood stasis. When the sides of your tongue appear purple, that points practitioners to the condition of the liver.

Blue: Blue means that you’re dead and somehow still able to see your tongue. Just kidding! A blue-ish tongue indicates too much cold energy and hence blood stasis within the body. I would love to point out the obvious, but I will save the morbid jokes for my family.


I know what you must be thinking; I already worry about the desired shape of my body, and now, I have to start thinking about the shape of my tongue?!? Do not worry, my friends! The attention paid to the shape of your tongue will not be in vain!

The tongue shape further defines the state of the blood as well as nutritive qi.

Thin: If you have the 1990’s grunge tongue, as I like to think of it, you may have a blood and/or a yin deficiency. It just needs a flannel shirt and a Nirvana CD to complete the picture.

Swollen or Partially Swollen: While our culture today embraces body positivity, a swollen tongue actually indicates that one may have too much dampness, phlegm, and/or heat within the body. We encourage you to increase your bitter foods and decrease your dairy, eggs, gluten, and sugar intake. Often at Apogee Wellness, we find patients with yeast and/or mold overgrowth house a swollen tongue.

Stiff or Flaccid: Don’t worry, I won’t make you too uncomfortable with this description! A stiff tongue points towards too much interior wind energy as well as blood stasis, while a flaccid tongue loosely points towards a deficiency in bodily fluids.

Long or Short: Have you ever seen someone with a crazy long tongue? While it makes for a great addition to group party pictures, it does indicate too much heat in one’s body. A short tongue shows a practitioner that one may suffer from severe yang or yin deficiency.

Cracked or Tooth-Marked: A cracked tongue indicates too much heat and/or a yin deficiency. A tooth-marked tongue indicates a spleen qi deficiency.

Quivering or Deviated: A quivering tongue also points to a spleen qi deficiency much like the tooth-marked tongue. A deviated tongue indicates too much wind, which should be easy to remember given that it appears like the wind blew it to one side or the other.

Tongue Coating

The tongue coating illuminates the condition of the yang organs such as the gallbladder, small intestines, and stomach. Yang refers to one’s masculine side, embodies action, the daytime, and warmth.

Thick Coating (White, Yellow, Grey, or Black): The coating indicates pathogenic overgrowth, aka a toxic terrain, within the body. The thickness of the coating indicates the severity of the overgrowth.

No Coating: Someone with a stomach and/or a kidney yin deficiency with no heat will likely have a bare tongue.

White or Yellow Coating: A snow-capped mouth muscle identifies a cold pattern occurring within the body whereas a yellow coating shows that the body experiences too much heat.

Grey or Black Coating: I don’t know about you, but I would certainly be consulting Dr. Google if I stuck my tongue out only to find a grey or black-coated tongue! We will save you the trouble by telling you that this coating relates to extreme cold if wet and extreme heat if dry.

Moisture Content

The moisture content of the tongue gives the practitioner an idea of the patient’s bodily fluids. An overly wet tongue further points towards a yang deficiency, and too dry of a tongue indicates a heat or yin deficiency.

We at Apogee Wellness fully appreciate ancient medicine and its pioneering techniques. The simple yet complex nature of TCM and its approach to whole-person wellness fully aligns with our mission.

We listen to our patients’ history and observe their bodies in ancient and revolutionary ways to restore balance to the bodily system. When wellness occurs on a body, mind, and soul level as the Chinese practiced, you’ve reached your apogee!

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