An exclusive interview with Dr Hongchun Yin, a pioneer in the application of modern tongue diagnostics to 21st century health problems in the UK.
Introduction to this article：
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is one of the biggest disciplines of alternative medicine in the UK. Even though TCM and Western medicine practitioners differ significantly in terms of underlying philosophy and content, there is a growing recognition of the value of an integrative approach that combines the strengths of both fields for the benefit of patient care.
The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) was a pioneering public healthcare system when it was first launched 76 years ago. Many of us in the UK can’t remember healthcare that was not free at point of access. The NHS is deservedly regarded as the pride of the UK and few other countries can claim an equivalent national treasure. However, we are all increasingly aware the NHS is overstretched and under-resourced, due to political choices and a population with increasing health needs. Waiting lists for joint replacements and mental health care now span years, highlighting how the NHS system is currently struggling to provide comprehensive and efficient care despite all healthcare professionals trying their best on a day-to-day basis.
Many patients seek complementary and alternative medicine due to the multifactorial challenges in accessing NHS care. TCM is one of the biggest areas of alternative medicine, playing an ever-increasing role in filling the ever-expanding gaps in the NHS. National data is incomplete but there is estimated to be over 2000 TCM clinics in the UK caring for over 10,000 patients per day.
Dr Hongchun Yin is a TCM specialist, who runs a thriving clinic in Streatham, south west London. Born in China, he graduated from the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shandong University of TCM in 1988 and undertook his postgraduate training at a top hospital in the city of Qing Dao. Working in a system where TCM was regarded as equivalent to western medicine enabled Dr Yin to gain great experience in breadth and depth as he was the principal healthcare professional for many patients. He moved to Britain in 2001 and started working at a private TCM clinic in the UK. The new job initially posed a significant challenge due to the marked differences between the two working environments. In China, TCM hospitals are equipped to enable TCM doctors to thoroughly assess, investigate, diagnose, and manage the patient’s illness however, UK TCM clinics are not as well-equipped. Dr Yin soon realized that, unlike in China, he was not perceived as equivalent to a medical doctor trained in western medicine but rather as an alternative service or treatment provider. In the UK, TCM practitioners do not have the authority to order blood tests or imaging tests, making it more difficult to perform the comprehensive role they play in China.
Despite the notable disparity in the recognition of TCM between the UK and China, Dr Yin still believed that his wealth of experience, knowledge, and skills could contribute to holistic and effective patient in the UK clinic setting. Over the past two decades, Dr Yin has successfully addressed the health concerns of thousands of patients, facilitating symptoms resolution and aiding their return to work. His reputation has attracted patients from across England and around the world. Dr Yin’s expertise spans a diverse spectrum, encompassing atopic conditions like asthma and eczema, reproductive system issues such as infertility and prostate disease, as well as neurological conditions including sciatica, epilepsy, migraine, and paediatric conditions like tics.
Dr Yin’s professional knowledge extends beyond conventional medical expectations, particularly in cases where families sought alternative options after losing hope within NHS hospitals. One case involves a middle-aged patient, JL, who was in a coma for three weeks due to a significant intracranial haemorrhage. He was entirely reliant on multiple tubes for oxygen, nutrition and hydration. The consultant in charge of his care told JL’s family that death was likely, and the best-case scenario was a persistent vegetative state. The family refused to give up hope and turned to TCM for a lifeline. Dr Yin, with his expertise and acumen, delivered 10 sessions of acupuncture in 10 days. JL woke up and regained consciousness which totally defied the beliefs of the NHS doctors. After another 10 sessions of acupuncture, JL was able to communicate coherently, breathe independently and eat autonomously. He continued to make good progress in his physical recovery over time, showcasing the transformative potential of TCM under Dr Yin’s dedicated care.
While a vegetative state represents an extreme circumstance, Dr Yin routinely addresses and successfully resolves several hundred ‘complex’ cases each year. These are patients who, having been informed of their incurable nature of their symptoms within the NHS system, turn to his clinic for alternative solutions.
In the UK, TCM is considered a supplementary form of healthcare and does not hold the dominant therapeutic position seen in Western medicine. However, the undeniable and impactful healing outcomes achieved by TCM in curing patients and aiding in disease recovery cannot be overlooked. This is precisely why TCM can practice in the UK as a complementary form of healthcare. The consistent and efficient treatment results have enabled TCM to flourish and advance over the course of several decades.
Dr Yin has continued to advance his expertise in TCM throughout his career to enhance the quality of care provided to his patients. He has also made monumental contributions to the field of TCM. He developed the innovative concept of modern tongue diagnostics. This pioneering approach seamlessly merges traditional concepts with bio-holographic theory, allowing for the diagnosis of diseases in the human body based on the appearance of the tongue. Dr Yin’s groundbreaking method has significantly contributed to his renowned skills in clinical efficacy and diagnostic accuracy.
Modern tongue diagnostics relies on the tongue’s ability to reflect different aspects of physical health, with its appearance corresponding to pathological changes in different body organs. Dr Yin once treated a woman who came in with unbearable pain on the left side of her neck. Traditional tongue diagnostics associates signs of thyroid disorders with the middle or tip of the tongue. However, modern tongue diagnostics, as developed by Dr Yin, recognizes the representation of the thyroid on both sides of the upper edge of the tongue. Dr Yin observed a red spot on the upper left side of the patient’s tongue, aligning with her neck pain. Dr Yin diagnosed this as subacute thyroiditis and prescribed Chinese herbal medicine for treatment. After taking it for 2 weeks, the patient’s neck pain had vanished, and her thyroid disorder was effectively cured.
Many people, especially those who have never been exposed to TCM, have never heard of modern tongue diagnostics. However, this innovative concept has garnered increasing attention and support from TCM practitioners over the past decade. A landmark milestone was the publication of Dr Yin’s ground-breaking textbook Modern Tongue Diagnostics in Chinese Medicine in 2018. Dr Yin is the founder and president of the International Association of Modern Tongue Diagnostics and Dean of the International College of Modern Tongue Diagnostics. He is also a distinguished clinical expert at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine and holds several other leadership roles in national and international organisations dedicated to TCM. The fact that he continues to work directly with patients in Streatham south west London, alongside his duties as a global expert in modern tongue diagnostics is a testament to his humility and dedication to helping patients first and foremost.
I recently sat down to interview Dr Yin, where I learned more about Modern Tongue Diagnostics and the potential future of Traditional Chinese Medicine directly from the expert himself.
Sun: Can you explain in layman’s terms why modern tongue diagnostics is so clinically effective and how it is different from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)?
Yin: Modern tongue diagnostics represents a significant breakthrough for the entire field of TCM. We used to rely on clinical experience and intuition to treat patients. For the same disease, different TCM doctors could have different diagnoses in mind and consequently prescribe different treatments. There was so much weight on the individual doctor’s experience and subjective thought processes. This approach led to inaccuracy in diagnosis and corresponding treatment. As western medical doctors would say, there was a lack of objective basis.
Modern tongue diagnostics can prevent the occurrence of the above mistakes. It is based on observing the patient’s tongue image. Different parts of the tongue correlate with different parts of the body, so the tongue can show where disease or problems are occurring in the body, such as the kidney, heart or liver. It is the essential first step to accurately diagnosing the problem. Studying and practicing the basic principles of modern tongue diagnostics leads to understanding how the tongue is the physical and metaphorical voice for the body.
For example, modern tongue diagnostics can be employed for the assessment of heart disease. The presence of depressions or cracks in the area of the tongue that reflects the heart, indicates a potential cardiac issue, necessitating further diagnostic tests for a comprehensive evaluation.
Modern tongue diagnostics can also help us recognise when western medicine pills may not be appropriate for certain patients. For instance, in the case of a patient with hypertension, if a dry and red tongue is observed, it is advisable to avoid diuretics. The rationale behind this precaution is that diuretics may worsen symptoms related to Yin deficiency and excessive internal heat, potentially resulting in adverse effects such as dry mouth, muscle cramps, and joint stiffness.
In short, modern tongue diagnostics could provide doctors with valuable insights for precise diagnosis and treatment, enabling them to prescribe the most suitable and effective medicines and therapies for patients. With a robust evidence base and strong scientific underpinnings, it marks a noteworthy milestone in TCM. This advancement signifies a departure from reliance on subjective intuition based on experience towards a more integrated approach, combining clinical insight with scientific principles.
Sun: As you say although experience is important, experience is not science. Can you tell me more about the scientific basis behind Modern Tongue Diagnostics?
Yin: TCM and Western medicine inherently diverge in medical theories and concepts giving rise to distinctions in diagnostic methods and treatment approaches. However, I firmly believe their differences complement each other and integrating both ways of practicing medicine, learning from each other, would be in the best interests of the patients. Modern tongue diagnostics encompasses traditional TCM elements and reveals anatomical reflections on the tongue. This innovative diagnostic method has the potential to bridge the gap between TCM and Western medicine. Modern tongue diagnostics presents an opportunity for both TCM and Western medicine practitioners to acquire a shared understanding, as the core concepts align with elements from both medical traditions.
I mentioned earlier the example of when a patient’s tongue can reveal a heart problem. In western medicine, further investigation may take a long time, a year or even longer, to confirm and characterise the pathology. Not all diseases can survive the wait.
The patients who come to my TCM clinic are looking for treatment, often after difficulty accessing NHS care or after NHS treatment failure, and we try our best to heal them using a variety of methods – modern tongue diagnostics, acupuncture, herbal remedies. Establishing an evidence base in a TCM clinic comparable to a multi-million-pound, multi-centre randomised controlled trial would be impractical. However, when patients consistently experience successful outcomes, and the number of recoveries continues to grow, attributing this solely to random change becomes implausible. It is crucial to recognize that Traditional Chinese medicine is not the opposite of Western medicine; rather, the two share numerous similarities. Through integration, I believe that their differences could mutually reinforce their respective strengths.
Scientific innovation needs to be actively disseminated. Dr Yin knows that one person’s ability will always be limited in power and effect compared to a group. He is driven to encouraging and supporting more TCM practitioners to learn and master skills in modern tongue diagnostics, to improve their diagnostic acumen and clinical efficacy and to help more patients in the long term.
Seven years ago, Dr Yin started to launch a four-month online course to make learning modern tongue diagnostics accessible and reach a large audience. Using this online platform, he teaches modern tongue diagnostics through clinical cases and lectures in the theory underpinning the core principles. This course aimed to introduce and build a solid foundation to learning the skills of modern tongue diagnostics. He has taught over 1000 registered learners around the world via this course. Both TCM and western medicine doctors have praised his teaching and support as they worked hard to apply what they learned to change their own practice after the course.
Dr Yin has gained significant recognition for his development and promotion of modern tongue diagnostics over recent years. In September 2023, Dr Yin was invited to give a lecture at the distinguished Master Lecture Hall, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, an extremely revered honour in TCM.
In the UK, the road to TCM becoming part of the mainstream medical system is still very long. Breakthroughs and innovations, led by great minds like Dr Hongchun Yin, are encouraged and already in progress. We look forward to the exciting new chapter of TCM in the UK and around the world.
All patient names and details have been anonymised for confidentiality.
Dr Hongchun Yin runs Streatham Chinese Clinic at 143 Streatham High Road, London SW16 6EG
Editor: Joe Evans