Show Us Your Tongue: Gui Pi Tang

By Dr. Eric Karchmer, PhD, MD (China), LAc /

Show Us Your Tongue: Gui Pi Tang

Upon each meeting with an acupuncturist, one of the first questions you will be asked is: “Can I see your tongue?”  To someone untrained in Chinese medicine, this may seem like an incredibly odd question! However, the tongue has been used as an indicator of health for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The tongue is the only muscle that we can see, and to an acupuncturist, it’s an entry point into a person’s overall health.  The shape, color, and coating offers profound insight into a Chinese medicine diagnosis, and can either confirm - or complicate - your acupuncturist’s initial thoughts.  Read more about the tongue diagnosis from Marcie Bower, a Massachusetts based acupuncturist here

Because our health is always changing, our tongues consistently change as well! The tongue may look different to your acupuncturist appointment to appointment, and if you start to look daily, you may notice the subtle changes as well.

When Your Tongue Indicates “Spleen-Qi Deficiency” or “Heart-Blood Deficiency”

There are over two dozen tongue types and patterns when viewed through the lens of an acupuncturist, but for the purposes of this article, we’re going to talk about “Spleen-Qi Deficiency” or “Heart-Blood Deficiency” patterns.  This tongue is typically either pale or has a thin white coat, or one that is swollen or slightly “scalloped”. (In Chinese medicine, a “scalloped” tongue refers to bite marks around the edges of the tongue.)

If your tongue looks like this, here is what you might experience:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxious
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Reduced appetite
  • Pale complexion
  • Pale lips and nails
  • Early menstruation with copious pale blood
  • Continuous flow with little blood  
  • Spotting
  • Night sweats
  • Dizziness (mild and postural, worse with sitting or rising or lying down or when fatigued)
  • Blurred vision
  • Bruising easily
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal distention after eating
  • Premenstrual spotting
  • Dry skin and hair

Sound Familiar?  Gui Pi Tang Can Help Restore Balance.

Gui Pi Tang is an herbal formula comprised of 12 Chinese herbs that has been used for centuries to support the spleen and heart. Classic Chinese herbal medicine textbooks state that it treats pensiveness, anxiety, and physical exhaustion that lead to heart palpitations, mental fogginess and poor sleep. In Chinese medicine, pensiveness, anxiety, and fatigue are considered to be problems of the Spleen; forgetfulness, disturbed sleep, and heart palpitations are conditions of the Heart. By treating deficient Spleen Qi, this formula promotes digestion, alleviates fatigue, and gives movement to thought, preventing dwelling and optimizing mental clarity. By treating deficient Heart Blood, the Spirit - a term that broadly refers to the mental and emotional faculties - is settled and takes up its proper residence in the Heart. Sleep improves, and mental clarity is restored. I talk more depth in about Gui Pi Tang in this article: How Gui Pi Tang Helped Save a Marriage.

DAO Labs has modernized Gui Pi Tang with our Mental Tranquility formula. The natural flavors of the herbs are complemented with essences of black cherry and spice.  Mix one scoop with water daily about an hour before bed to start to wind down, and/or enjoy one scoop with water during the day to promote mental acuity.

If you’re not sure if this is the right formula for you, we can help by having one of our Chinese medicine practitioner partners review your tongue and the answers to a few questions -- just fill out this form. And as always, if you have any questions or want to talk to a real live person, give us a call anytime.

Dr. Eric Karchmer is a practicing Chinese medical doctor, medical anthropologist, and co-founder and Chief Doctor of Chinese Medicine for DAO Labs. From 1995-2000, Eric studied at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine and today is both a licensed acupuncturist and professor at Appalachian State University. Eric can be reached at

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