What Your Tongue Reveals About Your Health
Walk up to a mirror, open up your mouth and say, “ahhh.” This exercise has nothing to do with teeth whitening and actor George Clooney (who paid for that gorgeous grin).
It’s all about your tongue, not necessarily a beauty feature, perhaps, but getting a close look at your own tongue will say more about you than you think.
That’s because the tongue is like a barometer to your body’s health and performance. Chinese herbalists or naturopaths, looking closely at the tongue, can detect vitamin deficiencies, poor circulation, high cholesterol, allergies and digestive problems. Beyond its duties of helping with speech, digestion and tasting your next delicious meal, the tongue is as distinctive as your fingerprint. That’s right! Its shape, texture, coating, color, bumps and indents say something about your health, without saying a word.
Using the tongue to diagnose health problems is not limited to alternative medicine, in case you’re thinking, ‘I don’t buy into that kind of stuff.’ Western doctors see it as an effective way of spotting symptoms, too, and dental professionals check for signs of oral cancer during a routine checkup – which can have the appearance of ulcers, red areas, or white areas, most commonly found on the underside of the tongue and the floor of the mouth.
Think of the tongue as a kind of road map, with particular areas of it linking to specific parts of the body. The area at the back of tongue, for example, corresponds to your kidney and bladder; a thick yellow coating at back of tongue may be a sign of impaired function in the intestines, bladder or uterus. The very tip of the tongue reflects your heart health, where a bright red-tipped tongue can mean heart trouble, stress and anxiety! The sides of the tongue show the state of the liver, while the center of the tongue is connected to the spleen. Point being, if there is an unusual color, coating or shape in a certain area, special attention is paid to the corresponding organ system.
But you don’t have to be a tongue pro to do some basic examination in front of your bathroom mirror. I advise my patients to take a look at their tongue every now and then to note any changes. To help you along, here’s a handy guide to better understand your health through your tongue.
A Healthy Tongue
Let’s start with a tongue that shows vibrant good health: A normal tongue is pink in color with a light white coat on it, medium thickness, has no cracks, ulcers, or teeth marks. Test the surface by running your fingertip across – you should feel tiny nodules called papillae that feel slightly fuzzy. They’re the small hairs between your taste buds. OK, you’re good to go!
What Does Tongue Color Mean?
It may seem ironic, but a bright red tongue, for instance, indicates a lack of nutrients in the body, particularly iron and B vitamins – responsible for energy, cell growth and the proper functioning of the nervous system. Equally essential in the creation of red blood cells are the iron found in red meat, shellfish, nuts and apricots.
But more often than not, a red tongue warns of childhood sicknesses. For example, those that are strawberry or raspberry-colored can be one of the early signs of scarlet fever or Kawasaki disease, a rare childhood illness that affects the blood vessels and can damage the heart. Similarly, a spot on the tongue that has turned brown or has become darkly discolored could actually be melanoma, a form of skin cancer.
A pale tongue, however, means that your blood is sorely lacking in haemoglobin, the iron-containing protein that’s found in red blood cells. Invariably, this results in tiredness or even lethargy. It can also suggest that bacteria, dead cells and debris are wedged into your tongue papillae. And even less common, a pale tongue indicates anemia, or oral thrush, which is a type of yeast infection.
What you can do is eat a well-balanced diet containing the iron found in lean meat and liver. After all, food provides us with enough energy to produce blood. In addition, pay special attention to your brushing and flossing. And add a tongue scraper to your oral hygiene routine.
Purple Or Bluish:
A tongue that is purple or bluish could mean that fluids and blood are not circulating properly. This lack of circulation quickly may translate into lethargy and poor emotional health. It some cases, it can lead to depression. A purple tongue is also seen in those with high cholesterol and subsequent heart problems, as well as chronic bronchitis, which adversely affects the airwaves bringing oxygen into the bloodstream.
The best things you can do here is cut out all of the cold food, such as a lemon, melon or cucumber, and add more warm ingredients to your diet, like garlic, ginger and coriander.
Black And Hairy:
Far less common is a black, hairy tongue. Though relatively harmless and short-lived, it’s unsightly nevertheless. It’s really an overgrowth of papillae trapping bacteria and other mouth debris. The causes include poor oral hygiene and the excessive use of tobacco, antibiotics or stomach medications, such as Pepto-Bismol. You might notice a metallic taste in your mouth and bad breath.
But you can remedy black tongue simply by brushing and flossing more frequently, and using a tongue scraper to remove bacteria. While you’re at it, cut out the smoking among the other unhealthy habits. Check with your doctor if symptoms persist beyond 10 days, please.
When it comes to emotions, you should pay close attention to the tip of the tongue.
As I mentioned earlier, a tip that is redder than the rest of the tongue can signal some kind of psychological stress. That’s because too much worrying depletes cooling, regenerative fluids. This allows for more heat in your system, making your tongue’s tip appear reddish in color.
Whenever you notice a bright red tongue, try avoiding foods that can overheat the body. This means wine, alcohol, coffee and spicy foods, as well as excessive meat.
While a normal tongue feels a bit hairy, a smooth tongue could mean a nutritional deficiency. You might notice map-like patches on the tongue that seemingly change areas from one day to the next. Or you may experience a benign yet rather uncomfortable condition called geographic tongue, brought on by a B vitamin deficiency, or an irritation stemming from alcohol or particular foods.
How About A Wrinkled Tongue?
This is one that bears wrinkles, grooves or furrows suggesting “scrotal tongue,” which has deep grooves that can worsen with age. This is relatively harmless, but it can cause a burning sensation after you ingest spicy foods, not to mention prevent your tongue from remaining clean and clear of bacteria.
What About Sores Or Bumps?
Sure, we’ve all bitten our tongue at one period or another – even hard enough to leave a welt. But that spot on your tongue can mean something more serious than surface trauma. Such a bump can be the direct result of bacterial or viral infection – maybe even an allergic reaction to a food or medication. Canker sores, too, can manifest on the underside of the tongue. And lesions, which appear as a thick, hard surface, could be a sign of leukoplakia, a disorder of the mucous membranes irritated by dentures, crowns, fillings or even tobacco use. Sound familiar? Leukoplakia is mostly seen in people with weakened immune systems because of illnesses such as HIV or the Epstein-Barr virus. Usually fuzzy, such lesions tend to pop up on the side of the tongue. On the other hand, a sore or lump on another side may signal cancer. Syphilis, when left untreated, can become a cancer on the very top of the tongue. Suspect sores, then, should be examined by a doctor straightaway.
Dry Tongue, Anyone?
It’s frequently caused by the swelling of the salivary glands –the bulgy sacs that produce saliva underneath the tongue. More often than not, it’s brought on by stress, work- or socially-related. Try strategies to manage your stress levels, like breathing exercises, a daily walk outdoors or yoga. Drinking cider vinegar and lemon diluted in a glass of water can also stimulate the flow of saliva by flushing out the salivary ducts. A dry furry tongue, meanwhile, indicates that there is far too much mucus in your system. This probably means that there’s too much dairy and sugar in the blood, too. So do yourself a favor and eat a well-balanced diet while cutting back on milk, butter and eggs.
Another thing to watch out for is persistent dryness. This can be a sign of Sjorgren’s syndrome, a debilitating immunological disorder. If your tongue is constantly dry, see your doctor.
The way our tongues are coated – usually on the middle or back of it – best reveals how we metabolize food and drinks in our systems. For example, a healthy digestive system is reflected by a thin, whitish tongue coating. An overburdened system, involving excessive dampness or pathogenic fluid, is evident in thick tongue coats. Behind this poor gut function is an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast brought on by unhealthy diet and overeating. Whenever the tongue is shiny, reddish and wet, the body does not have sufficient fluids to produce enough of a coat, so dehydration. And when there is no tongue coat whatsoever, that’s usually an indication of exhaustion in the body.
So if you have a thick tongue coating, or candida, try the following tips to improve your digestion and tongue’s appearance:
•Eat fermented foods to balance out your inner ecosystem
•Remember the principle of 80/20 at every meal: If you eat wholesome, healthy meals 80 percent of the time, you can indulge somewhat 20 percent of the time
•Warm up your digestion with cooked foods
•Include herbs and spices in your diet
•Drink warm ginger tea 20 minutes before a meal.
Another culprit is the over-use of chemical mouthwash or antibiotics. Instead, try cleaning your tongue using a natural mouthwash twice daily. To make your own, blend cider vinegar with two cloves of garlic, one teaspoon of dried sage and one tablespoon of honey in one pint of boiling water. Then store your mix in the refrigerator for at least three days. Over time, your body will thank you.
When it comes to our tongues, there’s certainly a lot to digest. And every single one is unique, its distinct characteristics reflecting the overall state of our health. As I like to say, listen to your body, and don’t let your tongue trip you up! Add a tongue inspection