Following our last article on the principles of tongue diagnosis in Oriental medicine, we will expand this topic by looking at simple ways to improve our diet according to Chinese dietary guidelines.
The tongue represents a reflection of the general condition of our internal organs. The condition of our tongue gives us a good idea of the health of our digestive system. It is a useful tool for learning what can be improved in the way we eat
Looking in clear daylight, a normal tongue should be pink with a fine white moist coating on the surface. The presence of heat in the body will make the tongue body redder than normal, in the other extreme, cold retention in the body will make the tongue paler, or whiter than normal. If the body is not processing fluid as it should, the fluid accumulation will, in Chinese medical terms, turns into ”dampness”, represented by a thicker white coating on the surface of the tongue. The worse the fluid accumulation or dampness is, and the worse the coating will become, which sometimes ends up looking like cottage cheese. In the other extreme, long term heat accumulation in the body will dry up the fluids in the body, which will be reflected by cracks appearing on the surface of the tongue
These disruptions are in the majority of cases caused by a deficiency in our diet. If we reduce the amount of food causing these pathological changes, the tongue will soon improve and our general health will be restored. From the ancient times, diet has been an integral form of Oriental medicine, and many Chinese herbal remedies include foods and spices we commonly use in the kitchen. Like Chinese herbal medicine, individual food items are categorized according to their flavour and their energetic actions on the body.
Each individual flavour affects our health in a specific way, hence the importance of having a balanced diet. The sweet flavour (beef, carrot, potatoes, and most fruits) is moistening and warming. It relaxes the muscle .It stimulates the digestion, and it helps relieve pain in the body. The sour flavour (apricots, lemon, grapefruit, avocados, blackberries) is astringent. It dries excess fluids. It is indicated for conditions like diarrhea, night sweating, and excess urination. The bitter flavour (coffee, asparagus, vinegar, lettuce, and broccoli) drains and clears dampness; it is good for fluid retention mixed with heat resulting in inflammation as in gout, acne, rheumatoid arthritis. The spicy or pungent flavour (pepper, cinnamon, cumin, purple cabbage, mint, mustard) is warming, it activates the Qi, and it increases our metabolism. The salty flavour (barley, clams, crab, duck, fish, garlic, ham, millet, pork), has the function of softening hard masses. The salty taste purges and opens the bowels, and acts as a diuretic on the body.
.As an example .someone who drinks too much alcohol (warming), and who eats an excess of take away foods will have an excess amount of heat, and dampness in his body. His tongue which probably be redder on the side (liver), with a yellow coating due to the accumulation of damp heat. He will probably be the type of men who gets red eyes, loses his temper easily, and who complains of headaches and insomnia, due to the excess heat from the liver rising up to his head (the liver channel has a connection to the top of the head and the eyes). In contrast, a woman who has a diet based on eating salads and raw vegetables, and who drinks a lot of water while have an excess of cold accumulation inside her body, and her tongue will be paler than it should. She will be complaining of fatigue, constipation, and her menstrual cycle will be slower than normal due to the cold retention in her lower abdomen.
In the first case, the male to will be advised to limit his consumption of alcohol and fast food, and to include cold and refreshing food from the wood (liver) element which includes tomato, rhubarb pineapple, and pears cucumber, and mango, watermelon to relieve the heat and, calm the liver. As a consequence, not only his headaches and insomnia will cease .but his mood will improve. In the second case, the young woman will be advised to add sweet and pungent and salty foods to her diet such as leek, pumpkin, and paprika, seafood, or garlic. She will get more energy (sweet flavour), her period will be more regular (pungent flavour), and her bowel movement more regular (salty flavour)
So how is the state of your tongue? You can take control of your health by looking at it, in a good light, every morning. Is it too red (heat), or too pale (cold). Do you have an excess white coating (dampness) or yellow coating (damp heat) on its surface? Start changing your diet slightly for a week and see if your tongue colour changes. Do you feel any better? We will conclude this topic next month by looking at the energetic actions of the foods on the specific organs.
Olivier Lejus MHSc,BHSc. is a registered acupuncturist practising in Sydney.