Conventional western medicine dictates that Lesions on the tongue could indicate oral cancer; Ulcers could indicate high stress and a white, filmy coat creates an environment perfect for bacterial infections. But did you know that the tongue can actually be a great indicator of the health?
Conventional medicine treats the ‘furry’ tongue as a cosmetic problem. The concern is due to bad breath and unsightliness, and they don’t delve to see if there are any other deeper problems. A coated tongue, whether white, yellow or black, can be an irritating and sometimes frightening condition.
According to modern research removing the superficial layer of plaque and bacteria settled on the tongue reduces the risk of bad breath, tooth decay, gum disease, throat infections and heart disease. It won’t, however, alter the appearance of deep pathological tongue signs.
Traditional Schools of Medicine
According to ancient Indian and Chinese medicine all the body’s meridians connect to the tongue just as they connect to the feet, hands and ears. Because of its proximity, digestive disorders are particularly obvious from tongue analysis. The tongue clearly indicates the body’s internal digestive enzymes, assimilation, inflammation, stagnation and hydration.
According to ayurveda, your tongue is a map of your internal health. Ayurvedic practitioners have used tongue diagnosis (jihavaa pareehsha) for many centuries. Abnormalities on the tongue can be read by ayurvedically-trained doctors to provide an in-depth analysis of health.
Ayurveda considers tongue as a barometer of internal health and uses abnormalities to diagnose conditions. This is probably because the tongue is actually the end part (and start) of the gastro-intestinal tract and one of the body’s detoxification paths. The furry coating on the tongue is actually toxins eliminated from the digestive system overnight. The tongue is directly connected to the heart, therefore indicative of the health of the cardiovascular system.
For over 5,000 years, Chinese have used a system of medicine that measures the appearance of the tongue to classify the overall physical status of the body, or zheng. In Japanese it’s called- Zetsu Shin and Chinese call it She Zhen. Bian Que (471-221BC), one of the pioneers of Chinese tongue diagnosis said he could see the patient’s insides from the tongue, identifying past and present patterns as well as predicting future conditions.
The overall health of the body or zheng can be determined by an analysis of the tongue. If the tongue is red, it is considered ‘hot’ whereas a white tongue indicates ‘cold.’ These temperature markers refer to symptoms within the body and can serve as a warning sign of health problems.
However, hot and cold zheng doesn’t refer directly to body temperature. Rather, it refers to a suite of symptoms associated with the state of the body as a whole. For example, a person with cold zheng may feel chills and coolness in the limbs and show a pale flushing of face. Their voice may have a high pitch. Other symptoms of cold sheng are clear urine and loose stool. They also may prefer hot foods and drinks and desire warm environments. Both hot and cold zheng can be symptoms of gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining frequently caused by bacterial infection.
Modern medical science is now taking notice of tongue. After a landmark study in China revealing significant tongue changes in 12,000 cancer patients, US researchers led by Dr. Robert Schoen, director of Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, is recording computerized images of patient’s tongues to note any correlation between cancer and tongue signs. Dr Schoen explains the rationale behind this, “The tongue is one of the first parts of the gastro-intestinal tract that’s visible.” The tongue is also known as the ‘sprout of the heart’ as it is directly connected to the cardiovascular system. Hence, eighteenth century doctors would routinely inspect the tongue in fever patients to monitor how the heart was holding up.
A new study of obese adults shows that those who have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have a significantly larger tongue with a higher amount of fat. OSA is a chronic disease that involves repetitive pauses in breathing during sleep.
The authors suggest that the extra fat may hinder the muscles that attach the tongue to bone. The fat may prevent these muscles from keeping the tongue away from the airway. As a result a fat tongue may be more likely to block the airway during sleep. The risk of OSA increases with excess body weight. Common warning signs for sleep apnea include snoring and choking, gasping, or silent pauses in breathing during sleep.
How Should A Healthy Tongue Look?
.It should be uniformly pink.
.Oval in shape.
.Neither too thick nor too thin.
.Has an even width.
.When sticking out it’s naturally straight rather than veering to one side.
.The tongue of a healthy person will remain still and strong, not quivering, flaccid or stiff.
.A healthy tongue has a thin transparent or white coating.
.It displays all taste buds and is free from red or glassy patches, deep cuts and denuded patches.
.It is neither too dry nor too wet.
.Doesn’t emit a bad odor or taste.
.The veins on the underside of the tongue will not be distended.
.If your tongue looks like a map of the world don’t worry. Some people have genetic geographic tongues which indicate certain hereditary signs that are not necessarily negative.
According to Ayurveda, a healthy tongue should be pink with no coating or bumps or marks. This is rare and most people have a little bit of coating, especially at the back of the tongue. This indicates ama buildup in the colon.
Ayurveda states that ama on the tongue should be scraped off, instead of left to be swallowed and reabsorbed into the body. Ama is undigested matter from the stomach. It contains toxins and bacteria, so must be removed. If it is left to build up too much, it can cause sore throats, and then illness. It will also cause bad breath. Ama will be released back into the body.
Examination of Tongue According to Ayurveda (jivha pariksha)
The state of the digestive system is also assessed by the condition of the tongue. A cold and rough tongue bearing cracks indicates a vata dosha. A red or blue colour of tongue indicates a pitta dosha. A white and slimy tongue indicates kapha dosha.
If all the three doshas are aggravated, then the tongue is black and thorny eruptions come out. Any abnormalities on the tongue (such as spots, marks, coating) can indicate a problem with the corresponding organs. The front of tongue corresponds to the lungs, heart, chest and neck. The centre of tongue equates to the spleen, stomach, pancreas and liver. The back of the tongue corresponds to the intestines, colon and kidneys.
Tongue Signs You Need To Notice
The traditional Tibetan greeting of sticking your tongue out evolved because they understood how to analyze a person through their tongue. They also kept their tongue firmly in cheek to hide their deeper secrets! You can decipher your tongue by analysing its alignment, colour, surface and shape. Remember that coffee, tea, drugs, cigarettes or food colour can affect the colour of the tongue.
It’s best to look at the tongue in natural light or halogen lighting and in the morning before eating or drinking. Incandescent light makes the fur look yellowish and fluorescent light makes the tongue look bluish or purple when it’s not. Poke your tongue out in a relaxed rather than a forceful way so you don’t distort its shape. Pop your tongue back in every ten seconds to stop it from dehydrating or changing colour.
1. Coated Tongue
Having a coated tongue usually indicates that you don’t digest food very well and because of this, bad bowel bacteria and yeast such as Candida are allowed to overgrow. Your liver helps you digest fat by producing bile. If you have liver or gallbladder problems, you may not be able to produce enough bile for adequate digestion. This can leave you feeling bloated and physically and mentally tired. A coated tongue is a wonderfully accurate indicator of problems like this happening lower down in your digestive system.
A coated tongue and bad breath can also be indicators that your stomach is not producing enough hydrochloric acid. This can leave you unable to digest protein rich foods such as meat, seafood, eggs and poultry. Therefore food can sit in your stomach for too long, leaving you feeling bloated and excessively heavy. Stomach acidis also a brilliant disinfectant. It helps to kill bad bugs in your digestive tract. If you don’t make enough stomach acid, you won’t be experiencing these antiseptic benefits. This is also very relevant in people who take acid suppressing drugs for indigestion or heartburn.
Because bad bacteria and yeast tend to overgrow in people with poor digestion, the toxins they produce can lead to bloating, gas and indigestion, as well as bad breath.
Nearly everyone will get a coated tongue while they have a cold or flu, if they are smokers or if they are dehydrated. This is normal because toxins are building up in these situations. However, people with chronic sinus problems, usually have a coated tongue all the time. These people are prone to chronic and/or recurring infections.
If it veers to one side when sticking out it means there is tension on that side of the body or may indicate weakness on the other side.
.Pale- Anaemia, low blood pressure, coldness or poor circulation and general depletion. .Yellow- Excess bile in liver or gall bladder.
.Blue- Heart problems or blood stagnation (also present in healthy pregnant women). .Very red- Inflammation, acidity, heat or high blood pressure.
.Thick white coating-Toxins in the respective organs/systems, which may include Candida albicans and mucus.
.Thick yellow coating- Chronic heat, congested liver or gall bladder. This may also be related to food colourings, drugs or smoking.
.Cracks- Connective tissue in this area is weak and undernourished and hence tight. .Red patches- Inflammation or acidity in this area.
.Denuded patches- Depleted energy in this area.
.Raised areas- Vascular congestion in this area causing probable pain.
.Indents around edges – Malabsorption of nutrients often seen in malnourished people with digestive disorders.
.Thick tongue – Fluid retention or lymphatic congestion.
.Thin tongue – Dehydration, depletion and fatigue.
.Pointed tip –Muscle tension, inflexibility and rigid physical condition.
.Rounded tip – a flexible yet firm physical and mental condition.
.Very wide tip – flaccid muscles.
.Forked tip – Indecisive and rapidly changeable moods.
.Stiff – Mental and physical tension.
.Trembling – Debilitated nervous system and internal gas.
.Rigid tongue – High mental and physical stress.
.Flaccid tongue – Low energy and poor circulation.
The Doshas and Tongues
1. Vata tongue
Will generally be small, thin and dry. There may be slight tremors. A thin tongue means dehydration in the body. There may be a brownish/black coating, indicating too much vata in the body. There may also be small cracks, bumps or pimples on the back of the tongue (indicating kidney, large intestine or colon problems).
2. Pitta tongue
Will generally be medium-sized, broad, and tapered at the end. There may be yellow or red ama, indicating too much pitta in the body. Yellow means too much bile, maybe related to taking drugs or smoking. Redness means inflammation or acidity or high blood pressure. There may be bumps or bright red patches in the middle of the tongue (indicating liver, spleen, stomach or pancreas problems).
3. Kapha tongue
Will be pale, thick and large. A white coating indicates too much kapha in the body. There may be too much mucus or candida in the body. A thick tongue means water retention in the body.
An entirely coated tongue means that agni is too low, allowing ama to build up. Action must be taken to restore health. In this case, an entire detoxification process (panchakarma) would be needed, and a major lifestyle and dietary change taken, according to your particular dosha.
Yogic Remedies for Coated Tongue
In the Ayurvedic and yogic systems, a coated tongue is thought to be a manifestation of ‘ama’, a buildup of debris and blocked energy in the system caused by weak digestion and an accumulation of toxins. The most commonly used and effective Ayurvedic remedy for coated tongue is a tongue scraper: a bent strip of metal, often silver, that can remove debris from the tongue, and which you can use up to twice a day. Limit your diet to easily digested foods such as rice and soups, and include ginger whenever possible for its cleansing properties. Completely eliminate tobacco and alcohol. An Ayurvedic herbal remedy called Triphala may also help strengthen the body’s elimination.
Apparently, the ancient Egyptians and Romans (as well as ancient Indians) all scraped their tongues. Special silver tongue scrapers can be bought, but are often very sharp. Apparently, this stimulates all the nadi points in your body and starts the digestive process off to a good start for the day.
Using a tongue scraper has been shown to be more effective than a toothbrush or mouthwash and it doesn’t make one gag or dry the mouth as alcoholic mouth rinses can. Previously halitosis was attributed more to tooth decay or stomach problems but current studies show that up to 86% of all bad breath is caused by harmful tongue bacteria that isn’t removed by brushing, flossing, or gargling alone. This foul smelling odor is produced by toxic volatile sulphur compounds (vsc’s) which the Journal of the American Dental Association (Sept., 2000) advises one removes with a tongue scraper.
Yoga to Release Ama
A buildup of ama can also be a result of stress, anger and regret, according to the Ayurvedic system. Relaxed, heart-opening yoga postures such as supported back bends can be useful in restoring balance.
Place a bolster, rolled blanket or block under your upper back, around the area of your shoulder blades. Lie down over it and open your arms to your sides, palms up, until you feel an opening in your chest. Draw your feet toward you and bring the soles together, letting your knees fall open. Breathe deeply into your chest and allow your thoughts to drift through your mind without following any, or trying to control them. If you have difficulty breathing, your backbend is too deep; adjust your support.
Lion Face Yoga
A yogic method of refreshing the face, and especially the mouth, is called the Lion Face. To perform this exercise, open your mouth wide and stick your tongue all the way out, pointing down. Roll your eyes up and open your hands. Exhale with a loud, prolonged “ha,” drawing in and up on your lower abdomen to expel all the air. Repeat as desired. This practice is intended to clear toxins from the lungs, mouth and tongue, and may help keep the skin and mucous membranes supple and healthy. It also helps flush the system of ama by providing an energetic and emotional release.