Tongue diagnosis in Acupuncture

When you visit an Acupuncturist for the first time, you will go through a huge amount of questions involving diet, stress factors, lifestyle choices, past medical history, etc, but one of the most astonishing things you will be asked to do is….stick out your tongue!

I wish I could record the expressions of amazement and puzzlement on the faces of people when I ask them to do this! Im frequently asked “why”? And then “what does that tell you”?

The answer is everything! The tongue in Chinese Medicine is one of the most important diagnostic tools we use. It can tell us everything about your state of health and indeed what organs of the body may be out of balance and requiring attention.
The root of the tongue corresponds to the kidneys, the middle of the tongue relates to Spleen and Stomach (digestion), the tip of the tongue indicates the Heart and Lung organs, and the sides give an idea of the state of the Liver and Gallbladder.
Here are some of the things we look for :Claudine Ivers tongue

Colour. A normal / healthy tongue body has a pale red / pink colour with a slight coating.

Red Tongue: This indicates Heat either excess or deficiency depending on the coating or absence of coating. Heat can come from Stress or Emotional problems and can result in Insomnia, IBS, etc.

Purple body. This can indicate Blood stasis, which is often a factor in Dysmennorhoea or Endometriosis and can manifest in severe Pain. A Bluish Purple body may indicate retention of Cold especially in the Uterus leading to another manifestation of Dysmenhorrea or Endometriosis. Application of Heat both externally and internally would be appropriate here in your Acupuncture treatment wheras in the Purple tongue body, movement of Stagnation/ Stasis and reduction of Heat is more appropriate.

Red tip. The tip of the tongue corresponds to the Heart, and the area just behind this relates to the Lung area. A red tip with a normal coating otherwise may indicate anxiety, insomnia, palpitations etc. A red Lung area may show symptoms of cold or flu, and may indicate Asthma or cough.

Red sides of the tongue. The sides correspond to the Liver and Gallbladder area in Chinese Medicine. These organs are mostly the organs which become unbalanced when the body is experiencing stress giving rise to a condition called Liver Qi Stagnation in TCM terms. Sometimes there may also be engorged blood vessels under the tongue with this condition also.Symptoms of Liver Qi Stagnation are irritability, migraine, insomnia, IBS, belching, headaches, hypochondrial pain, dysmennhorea, agitation.

Teeth marks. Teeth marks along the side of the tongue indicate a condition called Spleen Qi Deficiency. Most people in our modern world suffer some form of Spleen Qi Deficiency without experiencing ill effects. In general the symptoms of Spleen Qi Deficiency are tiredness, lassitude, loose stool, bloating, sometimes nausea and vomiting.

Coating. A healthy tongue has a light white coating. If this coating is absent, the underlying tongue is usually red, which will be very evident. A red tongue with little or no coating indicates something called Yin deficiency or Deficiency Heat. Deficiency Heat or Yin Deficiency is a symptom in Menopausal women, and will result in Irritability, Night sweats, feeling agitated, Insomnia, restlessness, palpitations etc.This condition definitely requires attention to diet and lifestyle to improve quality of life. Chinese Herbs work very well here to improve symptoms and regulate the body.

Thick white coating. This is usually indicative of Damp retention in the interior, and will give rise to symptoms of Bloating, maybe loose stool, Sluggish digestion, feeling tired and lethargic.

Yellow Coating. This again is Damp retention but it has now combined with Heat. This will give rise to symptoms of Heat, sweating, Pains in muscles or joints, perhaps constipation, maybe Migraine, certainly irritability and agitation.

Tongue thickness. A thick flabby tongue which is also very wet indicates excessive Damp in the interior and possibly Yang deficiency, causing mostly Digestive issues and tiredness, with a general lack of motivation.
A short thin tongue indicates Blood and Qi deficiency which can have all sorts of implications for Menstrual symptoms like Amennhorea, constipation, short menstrual cycle, tiredness, insomnia, arthritic pain etc.

And we can see all of that in the space of less than a minute! There are other things we look for also, but the above are the most important,and mostly co-incide with the verbal history given by the patient.

So when an Acupuncturist asks you to stick out your tongue, its not rude if you do! Its essential for the conversation of diagnosis and treatment.

Spring into life with Traditional Chinese Medicine!


At last! The long-awaited change from the dark,  cold wet days of winter, to the brightness , warmth  and vibrancy of Spring has arrived! The days are getting longer, and nature is full of renewal and rebirth. Seeds sprout, flowers bloom, and the sap which has been hibernating in tree roots rushes up to bring forth new freshness and life.

There is a sense of optimism and renewed hope.

While winter was a time to conserve energy and reduce activity, spring is a time of regeneration, new beginnings, and a renewal of spirit.

In Chinese Medicine this means Yin is changing to Yang. Cold is changing to warmth (hopefully!) and sleepiness and lethargy change to a vibrant active energy!

It is also the ideal time for cleansing and rejuvenating your overall health and well-being.

Spring is represented by the wood element in Chinese Medicine, and is associated with the Liver and its complementary organ, the Gallbladder. At this time of year these two organs are usually the primary organs needing attention and springtime cleansing.

Some other associations with Spring are:

  • Element: Wood
  • Colour: Green
  • Nature: Yang
  • Organs: Liver, Gallbladder
  • Emotion: Anger

Spring corresponds to the “Wood” element in Chinese Medicine, which in turn is conceptually related to the liver and gallbladder organs. According to the philosophy of Chinese medicine, the liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi (energy) throughout the body. When the liver functions smoothly, physical and emotional activity throughout the body also runs smoothly. If however, Liver Qi does not flow smoothly and easily, you may experience feelings of Anger and Irritability and you may get symptoms like  PMT, Stress, IBS, and Headaches .

So, for optimum health this spring, move your Qi! Take the Chinese Herb Xiao Yao Wan (Free and Easy Wanderer) which helps to move stagnant Liver Qi and relieve symptoms.

Stretch – The liver controls the tendons. According to Chinese medicine, the liver stores blood during periods of rest and then releases it to the tendons in times of activity, maintaining tendon health and flexibility. Incorporate a morning stretch into your routine. Try yoga or tai qi.

Eye Exercises – The liver in Chinese Medicine has an affect on  the eyes. Although all the organs have some connection into some degree to the health of the eyes, the liver is connected to proper eye function.  So if you suffer dry gritty eyes, look to Liver health. Remember to take breaks when looking at a computer monitor for extended periods of time and do eye exercises.

Eat Green – Green is the color associated with the liver and  springtime. Eating young plants – fresh, leafy greens, sprouts, and immature cereal grasses – can improve the liver’s overall health function and aid in the movement of Qi.

Taste Sour – Foods and drinks with sour tastes are thought to stimulate  liver Qi. Put lemon slices in your drinking water, use vinegar and olive oil for your salad dressing. Garnish your sandwich with a slice of dill pickle. Apple cider vinegar can be very beneficial overall as a general tonic at this time of year.

Do more outdoor activities – Aerobic exercise helps liver Qi to flow more smoothly. If you have been feeling tired and irritable, find an outdoor activity to smooth out that liver Qi stagnation! Try walking for 20 minutes every day! Your dog and your Liver will be very grateful!

Enjoy milk thistle tea
Milk thistle helps protect liver cells from incoming toxins and encourages the liver to cleanse itself of damaging substances, such as alcohol, medications, pesticides, environmental toxins, and even heavy metals such as mercury.

Get Acupuncture treatments- Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help improve the overall health of your liver as well as treat stress, anger and frustration, which are often associated with liver qi disharmony.

Seasonal acupuncture treatments just four times a year can serve to tonify the inner organ systems and can correct minor problems before they become serious problems. Call me to see how acupuncture can help you stay healthy and vibrant this spring! 

So…go ahead! Put some Spring in your step with Chinese Medicine!

Home-made Bone broth helps Infertility

As practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, many of us are treating infertility patients. Some of us have treated only a few patients who are trying to conceive; some of us solely focus on the treatment of infertility.


As my practice has matured, it has become more and more focused on women’s health and infertility. And, although I always treat based on TCM pattern diagnosis—I also find it extremely important to incorporate lifestyle and dietary modifications into the treatment plan of my patients. One of the most important dietary additions that I feel should be incorporated into such treatment plans is the daily ingestion of homemade bone broth.

As students of our medicine, we know that the Kidney energy is strongly associated with infertility. We need an abundance of Kidney Qi, Yang and Yin to be able to reproduce. As well we know thatJing is the basis of Kidney Qi. If Jing is lacking, one will age faster, have a weaker constitution and their ability to reproduce will diminish.

So, as I was taught (and, I’m sure you were too) the main treatment principle for all infertility cases is the boost the Kidney energy. Whether the patient has in conjunction Heart Qi stagnation, Liver blood deficiency, Spleen Qi deficiency or a cold uterus—we also always need to focus on tonifying the Kidneys.

In addition to acupuncture and herbal medicine, I recommend that my infertility patients consume one cup of bone broth on a daily basis to boost Kidney Jing and therefore improve their ability to successfully reproduce.

Why bone broth?

As you may recall from anatomy class– the inside of bone contains bone marrow and according to TCM theory, bone marrow is produced from Kidney Jing. So, basically drinking a cup of bone broth daily is like drinking a cup of Kidney Jing.

When one cooks down the bones of an animal into a broth, the bone marrow and its nutrients—namely: fat and protein and some minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium—seep out into the broth making it a rich, nutrient dense, Jing-rich, fertility boosting concoction.

Clinically, I have seen a dramatic increase in the fertility of my patients who are compliant and drink a cup of bone broth daily. Depending on the case, I may also give them some raw Chinese herbs to add to their broth. I know we were all taught the importance of bone and bone broth in the treatment of Kidney deficiencies, however often times it’s difficult to implement such recommendations into our practice. I am here to urge you to do so. Drinking a cup of homemade bone broth will have a tremendous impact on the health and fertility of your patients.

Beware though: there will be many patients that will moan about cooking a homemade bone broth. However, it is important for you to urge them to do so. Before you ask them to take this task on, make sure you make a couple batches for yourself first. This way you will know the experience and be able to share with them how simple the whole process is. Personally, making homemade bone broth is one of my favorite things to do—in the business of life, it slows me down. It feels nourishing, therapeutic and really, really good for my Kidney Jing.

My favorite bone broth recipes come from the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Check out the book, it’s an amazing resource for those practitioners who focus on nutrition as part of their practice of TCM.

Lastly, there are four secrets to making good bone broth:

  1. Use the highest quality of bones you can find. Bones from grass fed animals is best.
  2. Add vinegar to the water to draw the minerals out of the bones into the broth.
  3. Roast and brown the bones in the oven before adding them to the stock.
  4. Be in the moment when you’re making it—and see the process as a therapy in and of itself.

Happy cooking!