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.
All humans have papillae, or tiny bumps, on their tongues. Although these tiny bumps grow as we age, sometimes they can grow too much if they're not shed. If they're too long, the papillae can turn hair-like and collect bacteria, often causing the papillae to change color. They may start out pink or white in color, but depending on what you eat or drink, they may turn green, brown, or even black. This gross looking phenomenon can be caused by drinking too much tea or coffee, smoking, using antibiotics, dehydration, or poor oral hygiene. The color may be accompanied by taste abnormalities or bad breath. Taking good care of your teeth, drinking plenty of water, and using a tongue scraper can usually help with the condition, as does quitting smoking and cutting down on tea or coffee.
While a person's tongue should have a thin white coating at all times, if you notice that coating has become thicker, there's something going on. According to TCM, a thick coating that's white in color indicates coldness in the body, as well as possible circulation or digestion issues. According to Ayurveda, a thick white coating is a Kapha imbalance, which similarly means the bodily functions are heavy and slow.
This condition is also a likely sign that there's an overgrowth of candida causing an oral yeast infection called thrush. Thrush is often caused by taking antibiotics that end up killing the good bacteria along with the bad, and the body is no longer able to keep yeast in check. People with poorly managed diabetes and immune disorders may also experience thrush, and it's very common in children.
Similar to a white coating indicating a person is cold, a yellow coating may mean a person is hot. The darker the yellow color, the more heat is present. Things can get a little complicated in the case of yang deficiency though, as the yin may be forcing the yang out and causing what looks like excess heat. In this case, your tongue may be tender or swollen and the coating will be wet. It's also possible for a yellow coating to indicate an infection going on somewhere in the body. An Ayurvedic diagnosis also includes an excess of heat, inflammation, and irritation seen through an imbalance of Vitta. Many foods and drinks can causing the white coating on your tongue to turn yellow - such as tea or coffee - so the best time to check your tongue's color is in the morning before you eat or drink anything.
If you notice your tongue is purple in color and it's been years since your last grape popsicle, it may mean your blood is stagnant. Whether it's due to a blockage in your qi or an injury, a person with a purple tongue may be suffering from poor circulation. It's possible there may also be problems with the heart, the lungs aren't providing enough oxygen to the blood, or too much sugar is being ingested. Pain and inflammation could be occurring somewhere in the body as well. The basic remedy to is to get the blood flowing smoothly again. Exercise certainly helps, and warming foods like ginger and garlic can heat the blood and encourage it to begin moving again. It's a good idea to avoid cold foods too, so you're better off staying away from those grape popsicles all together.