Digestive Process – The Tongue

One-third of the world’s population uses traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It’s a system that has several branches; the two most well-known are herbalism and acupuncture. What attracts many people to TCM is the all-encompassing approach to wellness and healing.  So, diagnosing a digestive process involves a smorgasbord of variables including examining tongue.

However, the first place a TCM practitioner will begin is by looking at the tongue. The tongue in TCM represents the internal condition of the body. Also, the digestive process starts in the mouth. A practitioner will observe the color, coating, shape, and size looking for clues. For example, a red, dry, and thin tongue may be a sign of heartburn and constipation; the recommendation would be to avoid spicy food.

In TCM, medical conditions are related to a specific organ, the stomach and spleen are the organs for digestion. The stomach is like a cooking pot where heat (digestive fire) is needed to digest food. The spleen includes the pancreas; it’s referred to as the spleen system. Bloating, diarrhea, poor appetite, undigested food, and fatigue can be symptoms of issues with the spleen system. Also, digestion problems can show up in the condition of the nails, hair, and skin.

Deficient and excess in digestive process – tongue

In TCM, health issues, such as digestion, will either be deficient or in excess. Regarding digestion, your digestive fire can be not high enough (deficient) or it can be too high (excessive). Both can cause a digestive problem. For example, heartburn, always being hungry, or constipation may indicate too much heat. Keep in mind that the time of year, a person’s constitution, and other factors also come into play in a diagnosis.

Symptoms of deficient digestive fire may include:

  • Little or no appetite
  • Sluggish digestion
  • Nausea
  • Only able to eat small amounts of food
  • Craving for sweets
  • Bloating, feeling of fullness
  • Feeling heavy with low energy
  • Sensitive stomach
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms of excessive digestive fire may include:

  • Always hungry
  • Able to eat large amounts of food without gaining weight
  • Heartburn and acid reflux
  • Sleeping difficulties, restlessness
  • Constipation
  • Bad breath
  • Craving salty foods
  • A preference for hot foods
  • Eyes that are red
  • Headaches centered on the temples or forehead

Improve Digestion the TCM Way

TCM practitioners also advocate many of the ideas that most medical experts would suggest to improve digestion. For example, eating healthy and having a balanced diet is good medicine.

Here are a few general suggestions based on TCM that are good for digestions.

  • Eat larger meals early in the day.
  • Eat sitting and don’t eat while standing.
  • Avoid distractions such as TV, working while eating. Also, don’t eat in the car.
  • Chew food thoroughly.
  • Eat organic foods and foods in season.
  • Exercise, try a TCM exercise like Qigong or Tai Chi.
  • Reduce stress.

People with deficient digestion energy would also include these recommendations that increase digestive fire:

  • Eat only cooked foods, which means no salads or raw vegetables.
  • Consume soups and stews be sure they have been cooked for more than 35 minutes.
  • Add sweet potatoes, winter squash, oats, and quinoa to your diet.
  • Avoid cold beverages and foods.
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Drink ginger tea.
  • Use warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, fennel as a seasoning.
  • Limit the amount of sugar and sweet foods.

People with too much digestive energy would also include these suggestions:

  • Eat vegetables and salads. Add green vegetables like cucumbers, dark green leafy vegetables, etc.
  • Eat cooling fruits such as watermelons, apples, and citrus.
  • Use cooling herbs and spices like peppermint and cilantro.
  • Eat fish.
  • Drink water regularly.
  • Avoid spicy foods.
  • Limit the amount of red wine and alcoholic beverages.

Traditional Chinese Medicine like conventional medicine suggests the same basic concepts of eating whole foods, fresh vegetables, and fruits, avoiding junk food, exercise, and reducing stress to improve digestion.

However, TCM is a complex system that also takes into consideration other factors that can affect digestion. A TCM practitioner is experienced in unraveling the symptoms, identifying the underlying cause, and prescribing the best remedy for digestion issues.


Carr, Melissa, Dr. Digestion According to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Retrieved from http://naturallysavvy.com/care/digestion-according-to-traditional-chinese-medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Symptoms of Poor Digestion. Retrieved from https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2015/02/26/traditional-chinese-medicine-symptoms-poor-digestion.

West, Melissa, Dr. Improve Digestion with Qi Gong (May 25, 2016). Retrieved from https://www.melissawest.com/improve-digestion-with-qi-gong/.

Carr, Melissa, Dr., Digestion According to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Web.

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