Open up and say, ahhhh! We’ve all heard that line from the doctor as they press down on our tongues and peer quizzically into the deep cavity of our mouths. What were they looking for anyway?
As it turns out, the tongue has a lot to say (couldn’t resist the “punny” dad joke). But seriously, the tongue is a veritable mine of information — your body’s personal Wikipedia, if you will. It tells the secrets of not only your oral cavity but about your overall heath. It can even give an indication of some imbalances in your organs.1
Modern medicine, or Western medicine as we sometimes call it, doesn’t typically delve as deeply into the mysteries our tongues are happily showcasing as some of the more ancient practices like Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) do. These ancient practices have been around for 3000-5000 years and have a LOT to say about tongues. In fact, a tongue diagnosis is one of the primary investigative tools these practitioners use to determine the state of a patient’s health.
We’ll be focusing more on an Ayurvedic view, although it’s interesting to note that much of the ancient knowledge is similar in both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Let’s take a look at how Ayurveda views the tongue.
The first thing to do is take a good look at your tongue in the mirror. Stick it right out — it’s ok, Mom’s not looking and we promise it won’t get stuck. Take particular note of the:
What do these three things mean and what’s it ‘supposed’ to look like? Here’s a list from Dr John Douillard that are signs of a healthy tongue and, maybe more importantly, signs of a well-balanced, overall health:
- Pink: not pale, scarlet, or red.
- Pinkish color is consistent across the entire tongue.
- You would be able to see small cylindrical taste buds on the entire top surface of the tongue.
- It’s not too wet or too dry. It’s just right—moist!
- No cracks.
- Very thin white coating of mucus.
- No teeth marks or glassiness on sides.
What “secrets” are revealed?
Maybe your tongue is not all of these things. Perhaps it has cracks, or thick coating, or tremors, or discoloration. These can be indications of imbalances in your body.
Sometimes the deviations that stray from the “perfect tongue” indicate a dosha imbalance. Simply put, doshas are the 3 constitutions (body types) in Ayurveda. Knowing your dosha can be an important tool in reading your tongue as the look of a normal (or balanced) tongue varies between the different doshas.
- Vata Constitution — The tongue will tend to be thinner, smaller, and a bit rough and dry.
- Pitta Constitution — The tongue will be a bit redder in color, medium size, and slightly dry.
- Kapha Constitution — The tongue will be larger, full, possibly light pink, and a bit wet.2
Sometimes abnormalities can be easily identified with information from a reputable Ayurvedic website and remedied yourself. Here’s a list from Banyan Botanicals of common markers that may help figure out what’s going on in your body.
- Ridged edges or teeth marks around the perimeter of the tongue are consistent with malabsorption. Someone who displays this type of tongue should remove all artificial sweeteners and chemicals from their diet. These products compromise the intestinal wall and can inhibit the body from absorbing all the needed nutrition from food.
- Foam on the tongue can correlate with candida. Candida, a yeast-like overgrowth, is caused and fed by the prevalence of too much sugar in the diet. If someone has a foamy tongue, it is best to avoid sugar, especially refined sugar.
- A puffy tongue, or a tongue with waves along the perimeter, is consistent with stagnant lymph. Eating meals too late at night or drinking wine in the evening can also create a puffy tongue. People with a puffy tongue will do well to avoid eating and drinking alcohol after sunset.
- A thick coating on the tongue indicates the presence of ama [or toxins] in the body. The location of the coating is telling as well. A coating in the back of the tongue near the tonsils indicates that the toxicity is mostly in the colon. A coating in the middle of the tongue indicates that the toxins are throughout the gastrointestinal area.
Other indications may not be so simple and could be more serious in which case it is recommended to seek a consultation with a professional. This can even be done via tele-health if there is not a practitioner near you.3
The tongue has a lot to tell you and it’s not shy to share the secrets of what’s going on in your body. All you have to do is look. Make it a daily practice to really examine it — stick it out and say ahhhh to yourself (no doctor or annoying tongue depressor necessary). Becoming familiar with how it looks on a daily basis will keep you informed and you’ll know right away when something is off and when you may need to make adjustments to your diet or routines.
Another important daily task is to scrape your tongue right after you’ve had a good look it — first thing in the morning before eating or drinking. Using a tongue cleaner helps remove the topical toxins, and stimulates the digestive process to prevent the buildup of new toxicity. Making changes in your eating habits and scraping your tongue every morning might be all it takes to keep everything in tip-top shape. And then your tongue’s only secret will be that your body is healthy and balanced.