Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What Your Tongue Says About Your Health

Ever wake up some mornings and see that you have a thick white layer of goop coating your tongue? Maybe you have some cracks or spots on your tongue that wont seem to go away? Well before you go shrugging it off as a result of the big night you had the night before, you may want to take a closer look, because we are just starting to figure out what Chinese medicine has known for centuries, that your tongue is the window to your overall health.  From the color, to the coating, and even the shape and texture, they can not only can it tell you how healthy you are, but it can also tell you what vitamins and nutrients you may be not eating enough of.

One of my favorite shows of all time is You Are What You Eat. I have been watching it for years and it is one of the reasons for my obsession about nutrition and healthy eating, and one of the factors that pushed me into starting my own health blog. It's an English show on the BBC (on BBC America here) where nutritionist Jillian McKeith confronts individuals and families about being overweight and puts them on a nutrition and exercise plan that sees them transform their bodies dramatically.

But that's not why I watch it. Jillian is known for using shock tactics to scare them into loosing weight, showing them the equivalent of what they are currently eating in nasty examples. She has been known to compare excessive cheese consumption to tubs of lard, caloric intake of alcohol to the equivalent amount of fairy floss, and comparing the amount of coffee an overweight person drinks to the equivalent fat content of bacon. But the best thing about her and the show, is that she considers someone's tongue and their poo...yes you read it right, their poo...great markers of their health. She makes them stick out their tongues for analysis and head to the bathroom to (uh hum) produce a sample for her inspection. It not only makes for great TV but it's actually quite informative. Today I am going to spare you the trip to the bathroom (although I'm going to definitely do a post on in the future) and talk about your tongue and what it means to your health.

But what are our tongues exactly and what's their function? Well our tongue is essentially a muscle that is made up of papillae (little bumps) and taste buds, which helps move food around the mouth for chewing, and down the throat into the esophagus and stomach for digestion. They are very important to distinguish whether you are munching on a piece of fruit or a pile of dirt and are also used for speech, communication, and some other NSFW examples I'm sure you are thinking of.

When looking at your tongue, medical practitioners can see the health of various internal organs and areas within our bodies by examining the different areas of the tongue:

If you exhibit strange characteristics such as change of color, lumps, bumps or coatings in one of the above sections, trained professionals could potentially diagnosis a problem with the corresponding area and submit you for further testing.

But it seems there are many variations in your tongue that could indicate health issues or concerns, so lets take a look of them below. Before we do though, let me just say that this is by no means an absolute definitive diagnosis tool. If you do notice some of the below mentioned items, it could be caused by various non-health related variables (such as smoking, some foods, and alcohol) and you should always consult your doctor rather than self diagnosing any possible illness.

A healthy tongue should display a nice pink or light red color, but these below changes in color could mean the following:

Redish Purple: Can indicate blood disorders, temperature and fluid imbalances
Dark Red: Can indicate nutritional deficiencies on folic acid, vitamin B-12 or B3.
Black: A black tongue can be an indication of excessive bacteria or yeast overgrowth
Yellow: Liver or gallbladder disorder. It can also indicate inflammation within the body and an inability to break down animal fats
Pale Tongue: Can be an indication of vitamin B deficiency or anemia
Red Tip: Can mean that you have encountered some emotional stress or upset recently

A healthy tongue should have a thin transparent coating.

White Coating: Could be an indication of dehydration, thrush or yeast infection
Hairy or Furry: This can be caused by many things and sometimes can just be rectified with antibiotics.

A healthy tongue should be devoid of any cuts, cracks, bumps or spots.

Cracks: A crack down the middle of the tongue could possibly mean you have poor digestion and or a weak stomach.
Teeth Marks around the tongue: Another sign of a nutrient deficiency and in particular a spleen deficiency.
Canker Sores or Ulcers: Indicator of fatigue and stress
Horizontal Cracks or Small Circles: Cracks indicate that you are having problems absorbing B Vitamins within your body.

There are some other indications of health concern:

Swollen tongue: is a marker of a lot of health concerns including cancer, leukemia, strep infection or hypothyroidism
Sore Tongue: is a very good indication of nutritional deficiencies, in particular B6, B-12, Iron and niacin.
Burning Tongue: Stomach upset.

There are some things to keep in mind when examining your tongue however that may alter the accuracy of the examination:

Lighting: The best way to examine a tongue is under sunlight rather than artificial lighting
Food: Various food items and beverages may alter the coating and color of the tongue. These include coffee, tea and sugary foods.
Brushing: If you are a tongue brusher, this will interfere with your natural tongue coating and throw off an accurate reading.
Time: The time of the day can affect diagnosis, with the coating of the tongue being thickest in the morning and thins as the day progresses.

Should you brush your tongue? Absolutely. Doctors recommend it to combat bacteria in the mouth and bad breath. Use your toothbrush or head down to your local pharmacy or drug store where you should be able to find a tongue scrapper. Just make sure if you are examining your tongue you do not brush it the night before and the day of an examination.

So whilst it's by no means a tool by which you should be diagnosing yourself, your tongue is a very good indication of your overall health and well being. If you do notice change or some abnormalities, always make an appointment to see your doctor for further follow up.

Healthy Boy x


  1. I love Jillian and her show too (well not the part where she describes what she found in the poo), but pretty much everything else.

    BTW - Nice interview on 2cents down under blog.

  2. haven't seen Jillians show in a while wish you would make more and how about that food hospital they made a few shows and its all repeats come on I want more


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