Face It: Outer Appearances Reflect Inner Health
By Catherine Monahan

Palm-readers and astrologers profess to predict character traits and even hint at the future, but who can do the same for your health? Three experts offer a sampling of alternative medical techniques that use the tongue, skin and eyes, respectively, to diagnose illness and assess inner wellness. You may never look at your reflection the same way again.

Tongue Talk
"Chinese medicine has used tongue diagnosis for thousands of years," says Qiang Cao, L.Ac., O.MD., N.D., a professor at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash. "Someone with experience can look at your tongue and know what problems you are having [internally]."

According to Chinese medical philosophy, certain areas of the tongue reflect the health of internal organs:
Tip: Heart, lungs
Center: Stomach, intestines
Roots: Kidneys
Sides: Liver, gallbladder

The tongue's coating and body are then analyzed for specific diagnosis. Doctors assess coating characteristics such as color, quality and density, and consider physical traits including firmness, color and size. A normal coating is thin, white and clear, says Cao, whereas a healthy tongue body is firm, red and fits well in the mouth. Deviations suggest something is amiss.

Very simply, a white coating indicates excess cold, yellow denotes heat, and darker colors such as gray, green or black suggest internal toxicity. Thicker coatings spell more serious health problems, and a sticky coating may mean your insides are damp. A pale tongue suggests cold; red implies heat. Together, such clues can translate to diagnosis and remedy. For instance, a white, sticky, thick coating denotes a cold, damp condition such as a Candida albicans infection, says Cao. A tiny, pale tongue is a classic sign of anemia, while yellow, sticky coatings on both sides of the tongue point to hepatitis.

"If you look at your tongue," says Cao, "look for changes in coatings—colors too white, yellow, gray or black. The tongue is naturally the same pink-red color as the lips. If it's too pale, it may indicate an imbalance."

Skin Lingo
"Our appearance reflects our inner health," says Ann Louise Gittleman, M.S., C.N.S., author of The Living Beauty Detox Program (HarperSanFrancisco, 2000). "Very often, what we first see with skin, hair and nails is simply a reflection of inner imbalances."

Nose: Heart
Cheek: Lungs, stomach
Forehead: Intestines
Chin: Reproductive organs
Under eyes: Kidneys
Between brows: Liver

Problems such as chronic acne, pimples or dryness often point to nutrient deficiencies, says Gittleman, because the skin is the last organ to receive vitamins and minerals. Breakouts on certain areas of the face may also indicate associated organs are working overtime and your body is being swamped with toxins.

"Skin acts sometimes as a secondary elimination route for either the intestines or the liver, which are intimately connected with the removal of bodily waste," she says.

"In conjunction with more traditional testing, facial diagnosis is a wonderful adjunct," adds Gittleman. "You don't have to take it seriously," she says, "but I've found that it works."

Eye Dialect
According to Ellen Tart, D.Sc., an iridologist in private practice in Escondido, Calif., the eyes are another good indicator of genetic strengths and deficiencies. "The iris can tell us so much without having to use needles, knives, drugs or other therapies," she says.

Also modeled on the Chinese philosophy that outward characteristics represent inner organs, iridology proposes that the color, texture and markings of the iris—the colored area around the pupil—can indicate health and disease.

According to iridology proponents, eye color corresponds to an individual's constitution and affinities for certain types of health problems:

  • Blue eyes: Tendency toward a weak lymphatic system. These fair-eyed folks should avoid salt, sugar and dairy products.
  • Dark brown eyes: Tendency toward blood problems such as anemia. Brown-eyed individuals should avoid salt and fried foods.
  • Hazel and green eyes: Tendency toward digestive and liver-related problems. Those with green eyes should avoid certain starches and proteins.

Tightly grouped iris fibers indicate strong connective tissues and genetic disease resistance, explains Tart. Loose fibers, however, point to weaker connective tissues and a predisposition to illness, especially conditions such as hemorrhoids, hernias and varicose veins related to weak connective tissues.

Iris analysis hints at a person's health leanings and dietary needs, adds Tart. "It's not for someone who wants a quick fix." For more information on iridology and to find a practitioner near you, log on to the Web site www.iridologyassn.org.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Used on its own, any diagnostic technique can be misleading. For instance, looking at the tongue tells only half the story until it's paired with pulse diagnosis. Use face, eye and tongue reading to spot tendencies, but see your health care practitioner if you suspect your reflection is telling you something out of the ordinary.

Catherine Monahan is a health and science writer based in Lafayette, Colo., and is a frequent contributor to Delicious Living.