What Your Tongue Can Tell You About Disease

preventativeTraditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a type of preventative medicine that has been practiced in China for over 5,000 years. TCM is based on an understanding of the laws of nature as well as the balance, flow and harmony of vital energy in the body.   TCM is considered a holistic modality of medicine because it addresses the root cause of a person’s illness and TCM practitioners do not believe in causing more damage by merely masking a person’s symptoms with drugs.  Thanks to a gravitation towards holistic medicine over the past couple of decades, TCM practices have become more popular in North America and TCM may soon become even more common and accessible thanks to a new preventative health software application primed to hit the market in approximately one years’ time.

The Preventative Health Tool

TCM practitioners use the appearance of the tongue as a means of assessing ‘zheng,’ which is a measure of the physical health status of a person’s body. The researchers at the University of Missouri have recently developed computer software that provides health tips to people by analyzing images of their tongues in order to identify hot or cold zheng.  According to Dong Xu, chair of MU’s computer science department in the College of Engineering and study co-author “Knowing your zheng classification can serve as a pre-screening tool and help with preventive medicine. Our software helps bridge Eastern and Western medicine, since an imbalance in zheng could serve as a warning to go see a doctor. Within a year, our ultimate goal is to create an application for smartphones that will allow anyone to take a photo of their tongue and learn the status of their zheng.”


Why This Software Could Act as a Preventative

The software works as a preventative health tool and generates health tips by taking into account the color of the tongue and the tongues coating. Yellow or red shaded tongues are a sign of too much hot zheng, while a white coating on the tongue is a classic sign of too much cold zheng.  It is important to note that hot zheng and cold zheng do not refer to body temperatures; instead they refer to a number of symptoms associated with the health of the body as a whole, says  Xu, who is on the faculty of the Bond Life Sciences Center.

Some signs of cold zheng include: clear urine, loose stools, a sensation of coolness and chills in the limbs, a preference for hot environments and warm foods, faint flushing in the face, and a high pitched voice. Some signs of hot zheng may include: fever, dark colored urine, red eyes, excessive thirst, constipation, dry tongue, rapid pulse, burning pain sensations and diaphoresis.

In order to generate this software the scientists analyzed the tongues of 263 gastritis patients and 48 healthy volunteers. The gastritis patients had previously been classified as either predominantly cold zheng or hot zheng and the scientists used the previous classification in order to assure the accuracy of the new automated software.  “As we continue to work on the software we hope to improve its ability,” study co-author Ye Duan said. “Eventually everyone will be able to use this tool at home using webcams or smartphone applications. That will allow them to monitor their zheng and get an early warning about possible ailments.”


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