If you've ever visited an acupuncturist, naturopath, or Ayurveda practitioner, you were probably asked to stick out your tongue. This may have seemed weird to you, but it turns out what your tongue is telling you about your health is super important. Using the tongue to diagnose illness is frequently seen in Eastern medicines such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda as well as complementary practices such as naturopathy. What your tongue is saying about your body is often pretty accurate.
While there are many wild facts about the human mouth, what's lesser known in Western medicine are the health tips and tricks of examining the tongue to diagnose health issues. TCM tries to maintain balance between yin and yang, which each have different properties and effects on the body. Ayurveda attempts to balance Vitta, Pitta, and Kapha, three substances present in the body of every living thing. Looking at a person's very red or pale tongue and deciphering what's wrong, even if it's a medical condition basically everyone has, isn't only limited to acupuncturists and herbalists. Even if you do not practice or abide to Eastern medicine, knowing what these tongue conditions mean can help determine if something more serious is going on in your body.
In some cases, teeth marks along the sides of the tongue are caused because it has become swollen and is pressing against the teeth. However, this is also a sign of deficiency in the spleen or possibly qi in general according to TCM. Practitioners call this "scalloping" and it may include symptoms like poor appetite, overthinking, and fatigue. An Ayurvedic diagnosis includes the possibility that the body is not absorbing nutrients correctly. This could be caused by infection, toxins, or poor digestion blocking the body from absorbing the nutrients it needs to survive from the food that is ingested. Blood stagnation is also a possibility, since teeth marks on the tongue are also an indicator of dampness.
Some people's tongues show signs of aging, and it may develop wrinkles along with a person's skin. Cracks in the tongue however, indicate a deficiency in the practice of TCM. This is commonly a deficiency of yin, which could be a sign of improperly balanced hormones. In Ayruveda, a crack that appears down the center of one's tongue is related to the spine. Where it appears on the tongue matters as well, and while a crack near the tip is associated with the neck, a crack farther back on the tongue may indicate a lower back issue. These cracks can appear in cases of stress, strong emotions, or tension in addition to physical pain. Additionally, multiple cracks all over or in one area of the tongue are considered a Vata imbalance which relates to air, dryness, and coldness.
Some people may notice their tongue has become puffy, swollen, or enlarged. Providing it's not due to an allergic reaction, a puffy tongue usually indicates dampness going on in the body according to TCM. This could be caused by eating too many greasy foods and not enough of those filled with nutrients. Depending on what part of the tongue is enlarged, the condition could indicate a deficiency in the corresponding organ. A swollen tongue is considered a Kapha imbalance condition in Ayurveda and is associated with water as well as a heavy weight and dull quality, so it's a relatively similar diagnosis. Puffy tongues can also indicate hypothyroidism.
People normally associate the color red with fire or heat, so it makes sense that a bright red tongue could mean an excess of warmth according to TCM. This could due to too much heat or too little yin, but both lead to the body suffering from an imbalance. A person with a bright red tongue may be experiencing pain, inflammation, or digestive issues as well. A lack of B vitamins could also be to blame as they are needed for the papillae on the tongue to form, as well as the production of red blood cells and the metabolism of energy. B vitamins can be found in nuts, dried apricots, and lean meat, and if vegetarians find their tongue to be bright red, they may need to add a B12 supplement to their daily routine. If the red color is being caused by a heat related issue, consuming cooling foods like watermelon and cucumber may help, as would cutting out any spicy foods that may be causing the excess heat.