Salvador Cefalu, M.S., L.Ac.
In Part 2 of this series we covered the topic of Wind with its many manifestations and psychological correlations. Wind is also associated with other pathological factors including Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold, which will be introduced in this finale of our three-part series (you can see the first two articles here and here).
Examining a person's tongue is an easy way to get direct insight into the pathological patterns of Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold that may be the key challenges for overcoming a chronic degenerative disease.
The simplified version of tongue diagnosis that I'm introducing will provide great insight into your health status in understanding the factors challenging your ability to heal. To begin, let's take a look at the tongue zones so we know where problems are occurring based on tongue assessment.
Different parts of the tongue reflect different internal organs and systems within the body. The center of the tongue for example reflects the Stomach behind which are the intestines. The sides of the tongue relate to the Liver. The tip of the tongue corresponds with the Heart system. When the tip of the tongue is red it often reflects mental over-activity, anxiety and potentially insomnia. Behind the tongue tip is the Lung zone and when heat is present you often see red dots in this area. The root of the tongue relates to the Kidneys, Bladder and genitals.
Tongue diagnosis can get quiet complex, so for the purpose of this discussion we're going to look at the overall appearance of the tongue in exploring the factors of Dryness, Heat, Dampness and Cold which underlie all chronic degenerative diseases.
If there is simple Dryness due to dehydration, the tongue coating will look dry reflecting a deficiency of thin fluids. These fluids can be restored by simply increasing one's fluid consumption, especially water, and eating hydrating foods such as juicy fruits and vegetables such as celery. Be cautious when hydrating with electrolyte beverages such as coconut water because these elements can increase heat in the body and exacerbate an imbalance if there is already internal heat within the body.
A deeper or more severe level of dryness is indicated when there is no distinct coating on the surface of the tongue. In this case, the tongue body may look like raw meat. When the tongue coating is essentially missing, we call this a peeled tongue, which reflects dryness due to Yin deficiency. Yin refers to the body's substance so we can say this Yin deficiency is an aspect of a hormonal depletion and an actual deterioration of an organ or organs.
Hormonal (Yin) deficiency relates to the thick fluids of the body.
Imagine the thick fluid of oil in your car engine. If your car engine runs without enough oil, the engine will eventually overheat and burn out. In the same way, when the body is hormonally depleted, overheating will often occur. As the body overheats, calcium will be pulled out of the bones to cool down this heat by alkalizing the acid in the blood. This is the mechanism that drives osteopenia and osteoporosis especially in the time of peri-menopause and menopause when a women's hormonal status begins to decline.
When you drive yourself hard and overstimulate your adrenals, heat is generated in the body. If your status of thick fluids is weakened due to aging, poor lifestyle habits such as insufficient sleep, over-dependency of stimulants or drugs, poor diet or simply being born constitutionally deficient, Yin deficiency problems of overheating can occur at an early age. Emotionally this heat can show up as anxiety and attention deficit disorders, which we commonly see in many people today.
Yin deficient dryness can manifest typical menopausal syndrome including hot flushing and dryness symptoms such as the thinning of the skin (collagen breakdown) and drying up of the body's mucosal tissues making the delicate tissues of the body more prone to irritation and inflammation.
In the upper body, dryness can lead to irritation of the eyes, sinus or the lungs.
In the middle of the body, Yin deficiency dryness can cause mucosal degeneration in the Stomach causing weak digestion and even gastro-esophageal reflux disorder (GERD). GERD often relates to a lack of proper HCL (hydrochloric acid) production due to stomach degeneration that occurs with aging. Yin deficiency dryness in the Large Intestine leads to chronic constipation and in the Small Intestine relates to the very common problem of leaky gut syndrome caused by breakdown of the mucosal lining of the Small Intestine. Yin deficiency dryness that has lead to leaky gut syndrome causes un-digested proteins to escape the Small Intestine and leak into the bloodstream. These partially digested proteins are pro-inflammatory factors that create systemic problems of inflammation.
In the lower body, Yin deficiency dryness leads to conditions such as vaginal dryness and thinning of the bladder wall causing recurring cystitis (bladder inflammation).
For a chronic health problem, if your challenge to healing is a deep level of Yin deficiency, you must give yourself at least 6 months for sufficient healing to take place and it is usually longer for the body to repair itself after years of degeneration. The more severe the condition and the more depleted the patient, the more time will be required for the healing process.
Inflammation is the key issue when trying to resolve chronic degenerative diseases and the pathological factors of Heat, Cold and Dampness underlie many inflammatory problems.