10 Things Your Tongue Can Tell You About Your Health, Based On Chinese Medicine

Believe it or not, your tongue can actually tell you quite a bit about your health. Sure, you're probably not staring at it in the mirror much, inspecting its grooves and color, but maybe you should. Based on Chinese Medicine, your tongue gives clues about your health, so you can see what things you might need to work on or when something's off balance. So, get out that magnifying mirror and take a peek.

First off, what's Chinese medicine? It's an approach to healing from a mind-body perspective and holistic health practices. When a practitioner of Chinese Medicine examines your health, they look to see if yin and yang are existing in balance, two opposite elements of our being that must remain in harmony for a healthy qi, or life energy. When yin and yang are existing in a non-balanced state, practitioners are able to assess health problems, and they can do this all by looking at your tongue.

As a certified health coach, I encourage clients to pay attention to their bodily signals, as it can alert them when something's not right and whether or not they should change their lifestyle habits. For instance, weird tongue patterns or indicators of poor health could be related to a bad diet, lack of sleep, bacteria or illnesses, and more. So, if you're able to catch it through a glance and make some healthy, helpful changes to your living conditions, you might be able to improve the health of your tongue (and your overall health then, too.) Luckily, we have experts in Chinese Medicine to thank for indicating signs you should look for in your tongue and what their appearances mean. Here are eight things your tongue may be doing, and what it means about your overall health.

1Pale Tongue

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A normal tongue should be pink with a thin white coating Dr. Amanda Frick, ND, LAc, lead naturopathic doctor for Harvey Health, tells Bustle. So, if it's pale and "bloodless" in appearance, something's up. "This is an indication of cold in the body," says Frick. "This could mean a pathogenic accumulation of cold [meaning your body feels cold], or a deficiency in qi, blood, or yang. You may find this if you are fatigued, run down, or if you need to nourish your blood." To combat this, Frick suggests eating warm foods, avoiding cold or raw foods, and even trying ginger.  

Or, you might also be deficient in iron, Katie Clifton, licensed acupuncturist in Roanoke, Virginia and owner of Queenpin Family Wellness tells Bustle. "Pale and dry can mean iron deficiency. Don't panic, eat a nice steak or some yummy beets with kale," Clifton says.

2Your Tongue Is Bright Red

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If it's more red than normal, it could also indicate an imbalance. "This is an indication of heat in the body," says Frick. "Again, this may be a pathogenic accumulation of heat [your body is feeling hot], or it may be a sign of deficiency of yin. You might find this if you’ve been eating poorly, or inappropriately for your body, or if you’ve got inflammation or issues with digestion." The solution? Frick suggests eating cooler foods like cucumber, watermelon or mint, while staying away from spicy foods.

Similarly, Clifton says a red tongue means heat isn't circulating properly in your body. "Are you getting sick? Are you eating too many spicy foods? Are you getting enough exercise to keep heat moving in and out of the body?" says Clifton. If this is the case, it may be best to try and restore your body's temperature balance.

3Your Tongue Is Purple

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"A pale purple tongue may indicate cold, a dark purple tongue may indicate blood stagnation, or a crimson purple tongue can indicate extreme heat, particularly if it is accompanied by a dry coat," says Frick.

It might also be associated with respiratory illnesses. "Depending on the underlying condition associated, you should really focus on rebalancing your diet," says Frick. "If you have pain associated, blood stagnation is a likely culprit, so check with your practitioner," says Frick. And, what moves blood in the body? Movement. "Increase physical activity, eat warming foods, think cayenne and ginger," says Clifton.

4Your Tongue is Blueish Purple

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If your tongue is blueish purple, it's also due to blood stagnation, Frick says. "This shade of purple would appear blue, like that of the veins you can see in under your skin," says Frick. "If the entire tongue appears bluish purple, this is a sign of pathogenic cold. If the tongue has spots along the sides and edges, this is a sign of blood stagnation. Again, you may see this if you are experiencing pain in your body." A good solution would be increasing activity to get the heat and blood flowing, such as through a brisk walk or a workout.

5There's Thick Coating

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Thin white coating is normal; thick, not so much. A thick white coating on the tongue indicates a cold condition, where your body doesn't have much heat within. Focus on warming herbs and foods, says Frick. On the other hand, "[a] yellow coating on the tongue indicates a heat condition, meaning your body feels hot," says Frick. "It is important to note, that many herbs, coffee and foods can make your tongue appear yellow, so be sure to check first thing in the morning, and do not brush your tongue."

And, texture, in terms of dryness or moisture, matters, too. "This one gets trickier, but a dry and gray coating would indicate heat, and a moist and gray coating can indicate cold," says Frick. And, "a black tongue indicates an extreme state of heat or cold in the body," Frick says.

6Your Tongue Is Red And Splotchy

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If your tongue is dry, red, with no coat, there may be too much internal heat in the system. "Red splotches on the tongue that looked 'peeled' can mean the body is deficient in fluids," says Clifton. The solution, she says, is to drink more water and use more healthy oils.

7The Changes Are In Specific Areas

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"Color, coating or shape changes may be specifically noted in certain areas of the tongue. Areas respond to certain organs in Chinese medicine," says Frick. What does that mean? "Very back of the tongue is related to the large and small intestines, as well as the kidney and urinary bladder, the sides of the tongue are related to liver and gallbladder, the center of the tongue is related to spleen and stomach, the forward part of the tongue is related to the lungs, and the tip of the tongue is related to the heart," says Frick. So, if there's discoloration or texture issues in a given area, that's where the balance is off.

8Your Tongue Is Puffy

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"An enlarged or puffy tongue indicates accumulation of dampness," says Frick. "Some work really needs to take place with your diet." Work on eating more fruits and vegetables and avoiding greasy foods. Though, puffy tongue can also be a sign of hypothyroidism, aka a condition where your thyroid isn't producing enough key hormones, so you'll want to get checked by a doctor, too.

9There Are Teeth Marks On Your Tongue

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"If you can see teeth marks on the sides of your tongue, we call this 'scalloped,' you’ve got signs of dampness, or an issue with spleen or qi [the flow of energy in the body] deficiency," says Frick. And, you may also be experiencing fatigue, digestive issues or loose bowels, Frick says. If so, go see a doc to figure out next steps and what to do to help improve spleen function.

10There Are Cracks In Your Tongue

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"Cracks in the tongue are most commonly a sign of deficiency, and are commonly seen in yin deficiency, which is often a reflection of hormone imbalance," says Frick. If you think your hormones are off balanced, you might want to see a specialist for advice on how to get back on track.

The most important thing to remember when diagnosing your own tongue is that simple shifts can create great change, so don't freak out, Clifton says. "If you see something that worries you, try to eat healthy, get rest, drink more water, and exercise a little more (or a little less if you've got signs of deficiency)," says Clifton. "And, if your tongue doesn't show signs of improvement in a week, visit your healthcare provider, which might just be an acupuncturist who can give you a more detailed description of what might be going on in your system."

So, next time you're washing your face or putting on makeup, take a peek at your tongue in the mirror. Look for colors, textures, bumps, and other things that could be telling you about your health. It's interesting to see what's really going on.