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. Its shape, texture, coating, colour, 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 check-up – which can have the appearance of ulcers and red 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 centre of the tongue is connected to the spleen. Point being, if there is an unusual colour, 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.
Healthy tongue and colour
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.
What your tongue colour 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-coloured 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 discoloured could actually be melanoma, a form of skin cancer.
Pale: A pale tongue, however, means that your blood is sorely lacking in haemoglobin, the iron-containing protein that’s found in red blood cells. Haemoglobin 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 may quickly 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 ten 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. – Dr. Victor Marchione, Bel Marra Health