We’ve all been asked to do it numerous times whether it’s when visiting the dentist or doctors, but do we really know what our tongue says about our health? In traditional Chinese medicine the tongue is used to predict physical health and it is believed that it reflects all the diseases of the body.
Taking a close look at your tongue and everything else you can see inside your mouth can reveal a lot about the overall state of your health. Your tongue is like a map that tells you about the condition and performance of various organs within the body and can detect digestive disorders, allergies, dehydration, vitamin deficiency, high cholesterol levels, poor circulation and signs of anaemia. You can also see how ‘hot’ or how ‘cold’ your internal organs are. The sooner you pick up on the clues, the faster you can start to take the right steps to getting and staying healthier.
A healthy tongue should be pink in colour, slightly moist and smooth with no bumps or spots. It should also be layered with visible taste buds.
A bright, red inflamed tongue indicates a lack of certain nutrients, especially iron and B vitamins. It can also indicate heat in specific organs or be from a reaction to a certain type of toothpaste, medicine, mouthwash or acidic foods.
Iron is needed by the body for the formation of red blood cells and necessary for energy and vitality. B vitamins are required by the body for energy metabolism, cell growth and proper functioning of the nervous system. Try consuming lean meats, nuts, eggs, dried apricots and shellfish which are rich sources of vitamin B whilst red meat, liver, spinach, whole grains, dried fruits like apricots and beans are good sources of iron. To help regulate heat within the body, try consuming foods such as cucumber, mint, water melon and green tea.
Pale or Yellow –
A pale or yellow tongue indicates that you might be lacking in haemoglobin, especially if the tongue is extremely smooth. Haemoglobin is the iron-containing protein found in red blood cells. It may also indicate fatigue and weakness. A pale tongue is also associated with problems in the lungs and colon. Taking herbs like garlic, cinnamon and ginger may help to resolve the problem. To increase your haemoglobin levels make sure you eat a well-balanced diet containing plenty of iron found in lean red meat, spinach, beetroots, kidney beans, raisins, apples, mangoes, apricots and nuts and foods rich in vitamin C such as Peppers, Oranges, strawberries, Broccoli and Brussel sprouts.
A purple tongue indicates poor blood circulation that results in stagnant blood in the tongue. It may also be a sign that you are suffering from chronic bronchitis. This cuts down the efficiency of the airwaves in delivering oxygen to the bloodstream. A lack of circulation can also translate into emotional stagnation or depression making you feel tired and lethargic. A purple tongue could also mean you are suffering from high cholesterol which could result in heart problems. Consuming too many cold foods or too much sugar can also cause the tongue to turn purple and can make you feel cold. Try adding some warm ingredients to your diet such as garlic, ginger and coriander but otherwise consult your doctor.
A brown or dark spot/patches on the tongue could possibly be the result of poor oral hygiene, smoking and constant consumption of alcohol. Make sure you pay attention to your oral hygiene care and try to quit smoking and cut down on drinking. Brown spots could also be a sign of something much more serious, such as melanoma. Early detection and treatment is extremely important, especially since this form of cancer commonly spreads to other parts of the body. At the first sign of dark spots or patch on your tongue, seek medical advice.
A healthy tongue should be smooth in appearance and layered with visible taste buds.
Raised red spots –
These spots are normally due to broken veins and capillaries in the tongue. Try taking bioflavonoids, a biologically active compound found in vitamin C that help strengthen the tiny blood capillaries in the skin and prevent broken veins. It could also be due to consuming hot drinks so make sure your drinks aren’t too hot and add plenty of citrus fruits, peppers, kiwi fruits and berries to your diet. Sometimes these red spots or bumps can appear on the tongue due to an allergic reaction. If this is the case the allergen must be identified through allergy testing and proper precautions should be taken to avoid it.
These are also known as apthous ulcers and can be painful when eating, drinking or brushing teeth. They can last around 10 days to 2 weeks and although the exact cause of mouth ulcers is unknown, it is thought that stress or tissue injury is thought to be the cause of simple mouth ulcers. Certain foods, including citrus or acidic fruits and vegetables (such as lemons, oranges, pineapples, apples, figs, tomatoes and strawberries), can trigger a mouth ulcer or make the problem worse. Sometimes a sharp tooth surface or dental appliance, such as braces or ill-fitting dentures, might also trigger mouth ulcers. Occasional mouth ulcers are usually harmless and clear up on their own, however if they last longer than 3 weeks or keep coming back it is best to seek medical advice.
Black Hairy Tongue –
Although the name sounds scary, the condition is actually harmless and considered normal for some individuals. It is caused by too much bacteria or yeast growing in the mouth which makes the tongue appear black and hairy. The bacteria builds up on the papillae (tiny rounded projections on the tongue). Instead of shedding as they would do normally, the papillae starts to grow and lengthen creating the black hair-like appearance. Certain lifestyle habits can make it more likely for an individual to develop a black hairy tongue and include poor oral hygiene, smoking, drinking a lot of tea and coffee, taking antibiotics, dehydration, using a high chemical mouth wash and not producing enough saliva. Normally, it is easily remedied by practising good oral hygiene and trying to remedy those bad habits of smoking and drinking. But the best news of all is that it is more common in men. Hurray!
Geographic Tongue –
This is a common condition and is characterised by irregular, smooth bright red patches on the end, sides and occasionally the under surface of the tongue that looks like the outline of a map. There are usually wavy white lines next to the red patches but you may notice that after a few weeks or months the position of these lines and red patches change. The normal top layer of the skin of the tongue is not shed evenly and in some parts the skin is shed too early and so leaves a red, sore area like a scratch on the skin. In other areas the skin stays on too long and has a white appearance. The red areas can become infected with thrush because they are so thin so paying particular attention to your oral hygiene is very important. In general, this condition is harmless and usually triggered by stress and hormonal changes or allergies but usually resolves on its own within a few months.
Fissured Tongue –
This is characterised by certain types of grooves or cracks on the tongue and is considered simply a variation of a normal tongue. Unless debris builds up in these fissures, you are unlikely to have any symptoms but brushing your tongue can help to eliminate bacteria and debris that may cause irritation by building up in the cracks and groves. Fissured tongue is an inherited trait that normally occurs in 5% of the general population and may affect men slightly more often than women. Hurray…..again!
Swollen/Puffy Tongue –
A swollen or puffy tongue is an abnormal condition in which the entire tongue or a portion of it is enlarged, bloated or distended. It can be caused by an infection or allergy, or genetic factors. As the tongue is filled from the lymphatic system, there is a possibility that this system might not be working properly, causing the swelling. If your tongue has swollen up rapidly it is likely to be an allergic reaction which could be very serious it if interrupts your ability to breathe. If this is the case, seek medical help immediately. A chronically swollen tongue over a long period of time can be due to acromegaly, sarcoma or oral cancer. Again, it is best to seek advice from your doctor. Other causes may be relatively mild, such as when you have bitten your tongue, a bacterial, yeast or viral infection, irritants and exposure to very hot foods or beverages, spicy foods, tobacco, alcohol or a side effect of having no teeth (edentulism) and certain medications.
Scalloped tongue –
This refers to groove-like impressions of the teeth and fissures along the sides of the tongue and is also known as Indian tongue. This can be caused by a deficiency in the secretion of the thyroid hormone, water retention in the body, sleep apnoea and Temporomandibular joint, also known as TMJ syndrome. Though there are no known cures or treatments for a scalloped tongue, this condition is completely harmless and the swelling may come down with time. Taking supplements which help to bring back the levels of hormones to normal can aid the proper functioning of the spleen and the digestive system along with consuming warming foods and herbs such as soup, lamb, beef, leeks, nuts, fresh ginger, rosemary, and cinnamon. Eating wild and basmati rice, corn, buckwheat, rye, and amaranth will also help to drain dampness from your system.
A healthy tongue should have a thin transparent coating.
A white coating on the tongue can reflect the presence of digestive problems. It may be that the enzymes that break down food in our digestive system are not functioning as they should be. It can also indicate a build-up of bacteria and debris on the surface which can be due to mild dehydration, illness (when there is less use of the tongue for talking or eating) smoking or dryness of the mouth. A white layer or white spots on the top of the tongue can indicate infection such as oral thrush. This could be caused by an over-use of chemical mouthwash or taking too many antibiotics. Pay special attention to your brushing and flossing habits, try gently brushing it with a tongue scraper and make sure you drink plenty of water.
A yellow coating on the tongue is often a result of a bacterial or fungal infection and usually develops when taste buds become swollen, creating a rough surface which allows bacteria to adhere and build up pigment. Some causes include poor oral hygiene, certain medications, fever and dehydration. In addition the tongue may look or feel hairy and bumpy. It can also reflect poor digestion within the body. There are several ways to address a yellow tongue and these include improving your oral hygiene, using medications to cut down on the bacteria in the mouth or simply making diet and lifestyle changes. Drink ginger or peppermint tea after your meals as it aids in promoting digestion. Eat more leafy and green vegetables with your meals as the magnesium in them will encourage the production of hydrochloric in your stomach and thus aide in the digestive process.
No coating –
This could indicate some form of exhaustion within the body. For example, a red and shiny wet tongue could signal that the body does not have enough fluids to produce a coat. A natural balance of fluids in the body is essential for healthy gut function and overall vitality. Make sure you drink plenty of water and try to consume fruits and vegetables high in water content like watermelon, citrus fruits, grapes, apples, papaya, strawberries, apricots, cherries, carrots, bell peppers, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, squash, celery, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach.
So, go grab a mirror, say ahhh and let me know what your tongue says about YOUR health!
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