University of Missouri researchers have developed computer software to analyze images of the tongue to try and determine a person’s health.
The idea of using a tongue to help classify the physical status of the body is not new, but actually a 5,000-year-old Chinese system of medicine known as zheng.
“Knowing your zheng classification can serve as a pre-screening tool and help with preventive medicine,” Dong Xu, chair of MU’s computer science department in the College of Engineering, said in a press release. “Our software helps bridge Eastern and Western medicine, since an imbalance in zheng could serve as a warning to go see a doctor.”
The software developed by the team analyzes pictures of a tongue based on its color and coating to try and distinguish between tongues showing signs of “hot” or “cold” zheng.
Red and yellow tongues are associated with having a hot zheng, while a white coating on the tongue is the sign of a cold zheng.
“Hot and cold zheng doesn’t refer directly to body temperature,” Xu said in the press release. “Rather, it refers to a suite of symptoms associated with the state of the body as a whole.”
Having a cold zheng means a person may feel chills and coolness in the limbs, and they could also show a pale flushing of face. A cold zheng could also show symptoms like clear urine and loose stool.
Having both hot and cold zheng, according to traditional Chinese medicine, can be symptoms of gastritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach lining.
During the research, the team studied 263 gastritis patients and 48 healthy volunteers. The gastritis patients were classified by whether they showed infection by a certain bacteria.
Most of the gastritis patients had been classified with either hot or cold zheng, which allowed the researchers to verify how accurate the software’s analysis was.
“Our software was able to classify people based on their zheng status,” Ye Duan, associate professor of computer science at MU, said in the release. “As we continue to work on the software we hope to improve its ability.”
Duan said that eventually, everyone will be using this tool to monitor their zheng and gain an early warning about possible ailments.
“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,” Xu said in the press release.