The body is a miraculous thing, almost unfathomable. So many millions of processes go on each hour of each day that it is simply mind-boggling that such an intricate being could exist. The body has many autonomic systems to keep itself in check, to balance and regulate sleep and digestion, and to protect against everything from infection and injury.
In many cases, if left to its own devices, the body is able to heal itself (well, short of traumatic injuries and invasive pathogens and diseases). But if we treat the body right, feed it well, and allow it to sleep and recuperate, it should serve us well.
Negative health issues arise when we push too hard — run it into the ground, so to speak — by pressing on when we’re exhausted and stressed. When we don’t address wellness concerns at their onset, they can become health issues. And then, if still not addressed or cared for properly, those health issues can become diseases.
How do we know when a basic wellness issue arises that requires some self-care? We look at our bodies for evidence of first signs. You see, your body “shows you” what is happening to it on its surface. Unfortunately, we don’t know what to look for. So its messages have become “secrets.”
While there are dozens of signs the body provides us on a daily basis, being aware of a few of them can be most helpful. Let’s look at a few here, in terms of both modern Western and traditional Chinese understandings.
The tongue tells all
The tongue is an essential organ that shows us many signs of the state of our health. Here I will mention just two. But see my article The Tongue Tells All for more detail on this topic.
To begin, in Chinese medicine examining the tongue is one of the most useful and basic diagnostic tools. It is known as the “outlet of the heart,” as the color of the tongue is related to the state of the blood.
For example, a pale-colored tongue can indicate a basic blood deficiency or anemia. This is often a dietary issue. Consuming more red meat or liver, taking iron supplementation and eating more fresh vegetables can often correct the issue.
A tongue with scalloped sides is related to spleen qi deficiency — poor digestion or dietary issues that don’t allow nutrients to build the blood properly, resulting in the tongue’s inability to hold its shape. The dentist will tell you it is related to pushing your tongue against your teeth, but this is a fallacy. In addition to poor nutrition, food allergies can also play a hand in this sign; having yourself tested is a good idea if you think it could be a cause.
Rosy or red eyes, face and cheeks
When people begin to get red cheeks and eyes, it is usually from food and stress. Modern medicine associates rosy cheeks with stomach issues, mainly a decrease in the amount of hydrochloric acid and pepsin in the stomach. Age and diet both account for this.
Interestingly, acid reflux is a symptom of too little stomach acid. Therefore, taking things like antacids to quell acid reflux only makes the underlying cause worse. A better solution is to take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar daily. It works wonders — as does eating less acidic and processed foods in favor of more alkaline foods like cucumber, melons and other fruit.
Red eyes are often associated with what is known in Chinese medicine as “liver yang rising.” This is a poetic way of saying too much stress and/or alcohol causes the liver to get too hot, which sends blood upward instead of downward, thus flushing the face and eyes. If this is your issue, pull back on alcohol consumption and practice methods of stress relief such as meditation, yoga or biofeedback.
Fingernails are essential for protecting the fingers in day-to-day activities and are often dismissed by most people. Many girls and women paint their nails, covering them to make them stronger or more beautiful. In traditional Chinese medicine it is believe that “the liver manifests in the nails.”
The liver is responsible for many processes related to blood, and the quality of blood is essential to vibrant health. When the nails are in good condition (that is, strong, smooth and pinkish with a whiter half circle at the base), it is believed to be a sign of good overall health.
However, when the fingernails are chipped, have white spots, are cracked, lack luster or have ridges, health is waning. Some of these signs (e.g., rough or powder-like surface) may be linked to a fungal infection or immune deficiencies. Having this checked by a healthcare provider is a good idea. Split nails or those with vertical ridges can be seen as a sign of poor nutrition and digestive health, poor levels of hydrochloric acid and pepsin in the stomach, and sugar and gluten allergies. Supplementing with probiotics, zinc and calcium can help, as does generally improving your diet with organic, fresh vegetables high in calcium and live active cultures. In severe cases, if dietary changes don’t help, it may be a sign of a compromised thyroid in need of checking.
The body overall
There are many ways your body speaks to you. I suggest doing some research online or with practitioners to learn about the more obvious ones, as a start. The body is miraculous. And the state of the hair, skin, eyes, nails, tongue, joints, organs, breath and many other areas can offer clues to the state of your health. By using the body’s signs as a guide, you can live a life of disease prevention, addressing issues in the most natural of ways while they are simple and easy to handle, rather than ignoring them and developing a serious chronic health concern.