You would be surprised at how many clues your body gives as to exactly what may be going on inside. Your tongue is one of those clue-heavy things. Find a mirror and stick your tongue out. Go ahead. (If you are reading this at a bus stop or something, maybe wait until you get home).
What do you see? Believe it or not, your tongue is a snapshot of several things. It is the end of your digestive tract, and as such it shows lots of clues as to your digestive health and gut microbiota. Inflammation in different organs will cause little red bumps to swell up on the edges of your tongue, and you can even tell if your blood is sticky or not.
I was inundated at one point by new fibromyalgia patients who were worried they had cancer, or other serious illnesses in addition to fibro, and that their health was plummeting. We all sat down and talked about tongues one afternoon, and we went through tongue diagnosis. I brought out a tongue diagnosis textbook (AKA the worst kids picture book ever), and everyone learned the signs of their tongue. It was the last time anyone asked me about cancer.
Tongue diagnosis can get pretty in-depth, with eight main qualities to decipher. It is not to be taken as an end-all be-all diagnosis tool, but rather a gathering of clues.
First clue: if your tongue looks like a cadaver tongue, you may have a poor prognosis. It will be very obvious, and is quite rare to see unless you work in hospice or a terminal ward. Otherwise, it is probably a shade of pink to dark red, with a coating of some sort, and a thick or thin shape, and cracks possibly running down it.
One basic aspect is tongue color. It can range from very pale, almost white, to pink, red, dark red, cyanosed (blue-ish), to purple. Red is standard. As it gets more towards the pink to white spectrum, it tells you that there may be weak circulation or not enough blood to nourish the tongue. It is common to look flaccid or thin as well. Dark red indicates what is called “heat” in Chinese Medicine. It means there is likely inflammation within the body at the organs level, and can commonly be paired with a swollen or tender tongue. It could also indicate “deficiency,” where there may be low levels of hydrogen sulfide or poor kidney health, a condition where it almost feels like the body has lost its cooling mechanism. Cyanosed or purplish tongues can indicate that blood is not moving well. It may be sluggish or thick.
The most telling tongue coating is a thick, greasy, yellow tongue coating. This is generally found with gut dysbiosis. A thick white coating could indicate slow or sluggish metabolism within the gut as well, or a pathogenic attack on the body. A slight coating is normal. Dry tongues can indicate that the body is dehydrated or that water is improperly distributed. A dark red, dry tongue with lots of cracking might indicate that the body is dry and inflamed.
My favorite extreme tongue was from a law enforcement officer who had been shot in the gut several times. His entire digestive tract had been affected. His tongue had a thick, yellow cottage cheese coating with a dark brown triangle at the very back. Following a week of treatment of herbs, qigong, and acupuncture, his tongue coating all but disappeared except at the very back, along with his pain.
The presence of scalloping, or what looks like teeth indentations along the sides of the tongue, is from a swollen and waterlogged tongue. This generally points to water retention where water is either not being pushed, is blocked, or stuck between the cells.
Red spots indicate inflammation, and are most commonly found on the sides (more indicative of inflammation within the liver) and the tip (the heart is being affected to a certain degree). They will often be more pronounced during menstruation, and stress is a sure thing to make them pop out as the liver works to deal with cortisol.
If you stick your tongue up to the roof of your mouth and look underneath, you will likely find two veins extending towards the tip. The more purple and bulging they are, the higher your platelet adhesion levels may be. Your blood is “stickier.” In trauma, injury, or conditions where blood has pooled, this is common as well. In stroke patients I have found that the vein on the side of the body where the stroke happened is more pronounced.
These are a few signs I look at each time I see a tongue. I encourage you to look at your tongue several times per day to get to know it! You will quickly get familiar with what is normal for you and how your tongue changes with your health. If it is even possible, post your tongue in the comments and I’ll break it down the best that I can!