Certainly something I have felt like doing when faced with an unwillingness to listen or being dismissed for asking about an alternative diagnosis or treatment. However as is the way of things Science eventually comes round to thinking that there may be something in this alternative business and makes it all modern and ‘proper’ and somehow more respectable.
As a great fan of acupuncture and Chinese medicine I am very well used to being asked to stick my tongue out for a first examination and diagnosis. Peering at my tongue has given a therapist clues as to what’s wrong and it has been a successfully used system for 5,000 years, based as it is on the flow and balance of positive and negative energies in the body. It is just one of the measures used to determine where the body is in need of help and is called zheng.
21st century medical researchers have decided to ‘upgrade’ this ancient system and at the University of Missouri have developed computer software that provides an automated system for analyzing images of the tongue.
The software analyzes images based on the tongue’s colour and coating to distinguish between tongues showing signs of “hot” or “cold” zheng. Shades of red and yellow are associated with hot zheng, whereas a white coating on the tongue is a sign of cold zheng. Hot and cold zheng doesn’t refer directly to body temperature but to a collection of symptoms associated with the state of the body as a whole.
So what is your tongue telling you? Well a person with cold zheng may feel cold and chilly and sometimes accompanied by clear urine and loose stool. Not unnaturally they like hot foods and drinks and want to be kept warm. In Chinese traditional medicine both hot and cold zheng can be symptoms of gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining frequently caused by bacterial infection.
“Knowing your zheng classification can serve as a pre-screening tool and help with preventive medicine,” said Dong Xu, chair of MU’s computer science department in the College of Engineering and study co-author. “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.”
You see I love that idea of people on a bus or tube sticking their tongue out at their phone – often felt like doing the same myself – but is it really any better than seeing a real life therapist? The researchers are certainly enthusiastic and see a great future for it.
“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.”
Or you could just check your tongue every morning in the bathroom mirror and if it looks or feels different you could take that as a sign to get your overall health checked out.