It’s all about your tongue. Not necessarily a beauty feature, perhaps, but a close look at your own tongue color will tell you more about you than you think.
That’s because the tongue is like a barometer to your body’s health and performance. By looking closely at the tongue, Chinese herbalists or naturopaths 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 the 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 should be 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. It is advised to take a look at your 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.
The Spoon Test
Based on the principles of Chinese medicine, a simple tongue-scraping test might reveal the underlying health of your internal organs.
What to Do
Take a small teaspoon and scrape the entire surface of your tongue. Place the teaspoon into a small plastic sealable bag and leave in direct sunlight or lamplight, then wait one minute. Then, inspect the spoon.
How to Interpret the Spoon Test
- Strong, putrid smell: lungs or stomach problems
- sweet smell: diabetes
- ammonia-like smell and orange-ish coating: kidney problems
- white or yellow coating: thyroid problems or respiratory infection
- purple-ish coating: high cholesterol, bronchitis, poor circulation
If the spoon test shows up with one of the above smells or coatings, talk to your doctor about performing more standard diagnostics.
Healthy tongue and color
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 your tongue color reveals about your health
Bright red: 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, the iron is 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.
Pale: A pale tongue, however, means that your blood is sorely lacking in hemoglobin, the iron-containing protein that’s found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is responsible for delivering oxygen to the body tissues, so when there’s not enough of it, invariably, this results in tiredness or even lethargy. Paleness can also suggest that bacteria, dead cells, and debris are wedged into your tongue papillae. And even less common, a pale tongue may indicate 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 thing 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.
Yellow tongue: A yellow tongue signals trapped bacteria. The papillae can become inflamed through dehydration, breathing through your mouth, smoking, or suffering from a fever.
White tongue: White tongue can be a sign of dehydration, oral thrush, or leukoplakia, which is an excessive growth of cells caused by smoking or other tongue irritants.
Brown tongue: You may notice a brown tongue as an early sign of melanoma, so see your doctor right away if you notice a brown hue on your tongue.
Numbness or tingling sensation of the tongue: If your tongue is numb or you feel tingles, it can indicate a nervous system damage or a reaction after a oral surgery such as a root canal or tooth extraction. Stroke patients, too, may experience numbness of the tongue.
What your tongue tip reveals about your health
When it comes to emotions, you should pay close attention to the tip of the tongue.
As 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.
What your tongue texture reveals about your health
Smooth: 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 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. Sounds 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 straight away.
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. Try strategies to manage your stress levels, like breathing exercises, a daily walk outdoors, or yoga. Drinking cider vinegar with 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 Sjogren’s syndrome, a debilitating immunological disorder. If your tongue is constantly dry, see your doctor.
What your tongue coat reveals about your health
The way our tongues are coated – usually on the middle or back of it – reveals how we metabolize food 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, hence the dehydration. And when there is no tongue coat whatsoever, that’s usually an indication of exhaustion in the body.
Tips for healthy tongue
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 overuse 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. Every single tongue is unique, its distinct characteristics reflecting the overall state of the owner’s health. Listen to your body, and don’t let your tongue trip you up! Add a tongue inspection to your healthy routine.