What your tongue reveals about your health

Our body tells us when something is wrong, we just need to learn how to read the signs. Besides the skin, hair and nails, the tongue can also provide us with vital clues about our health. In fact, in Chinese and Indian medicine, observation of the tongue is fundamental in determining a person’s state of health. Although not backed by scientific research, tongue diagnosis dates back several thousand years, and is still used as an investigative tool by some health practitioners today. 

The tongue of a healthy person is pinkish in colour, moves freely and is gently moist with a light coating. It should be smooth with no cracks. If a tongue changes colour or texture, it could be a sign of vitamin deficiencies, digestive problems, poor circulation, high cholesterol or allergies.

Here’s how to spot what your tongue is saying about the state of your health



  • Raised red spots: A red tip may indicate stress. Combined with bleeding gums it may suggest a lack of bioflavonoids , compounds found in vitamin C that help strengthen the tiny blood capillaries in the skin and prevent broken veins
  • Tip: Add plenty of citrus fruits, peppers, kiwi fruits and berries to your diet


  • Teeth marks around the sides: May be a sign of nutritional deficiency and unabsorbed nutrients
  • Tip: Eat a diet rich in vegetables and lean proteins, consider supplementing with a high strength multi-vitamin, multi-mineral for a few months until the deficiency is resolved
  • Sore tongue : May indicate a deficiency in iron, B3 and B6
  • Tip: Increase your consumption of iron rich foods including dark-green leafy vegetables, such as watercress and curly kale, iron-fortified cereals or bread, brown rice, pulses and beans, nuts and seeds and white and red meat. Foods containing B3 and B6 include chicken, turkey, pork and fish. You may want to consider supplementing with a high strength B complex for a few months until the deficiency is resolved
  • Horizontal cracks: Could be a sign of poor digestion resulting in malabsorption of vitamins and minerals
  • Tip: If you suspect a nutrient deficiency;  a high strength multivitamin and mineral can help, whilst a supplement containing digestive enzymes and HCL can boost digestion and support the health of your tongue, just make sure you don’t you take it if you’ve had stomach ulcers or other stomach problems [Lamberts healthcare do a good betaine-hcl-pepsin-formula]
  • A swollen tongue may be a sign of hypothyroidism
  • Tip: If combined with lethargy and tendency to feel the cold, ask your GP to test your thyroid function



  • Pale: A pale tongue may indicate deficiency of nutrients, hormones and or neurotransmitters. If combined with lethargy and tendency to feel the cold, it may suggest underactive thyroid function. If combined with pale skin, ask your GP to test you for anaemia.
  • Tip: Eat a well-balanced diet containing plenty of iron found in lean meat, especially liver and warming herbs such as garlic, ginger and cinnamon


  • Bright red:A red inflamed tongue may indicate a deficiency in iron and B vitamins. Iron is essential for the formation of red blood cells, energy and vitality. B vitamins are needed for energy metabolism, cell growth and the proper functioning of the nervous system
  • Tip: Iron is found in red meat, shell fish, nuts and apricots. Lean meat, shellfish, nuts and dried apricots are all rich sources of vitamin B


  • Purple: May indicate high cholesterol which could result in heart problems. A purple tongue could also indicate chronic bronchitis which cuts down the efficiency of the airwaves in bringing oxygen to the bloodstream, poor blood circulation or too much sugar in the body, making you feel tired and cold. If your tongue continues to be purple, see  your GP
  • Tip: add warning spices and herbs to your diet such as garlic, ginger and coriander


  • White coating:A thin coating on the tongue is healthy and normal but a heavy white plaque could indicate candidasis or oral thrush – a fungus infection of warm, moist areas of the body. This could be caused by an over-use of chemical mouthwash or taking too many antibiotics. Oral thrush can impair taste buds and cause bad breath
  • Tip: Reduce sugars and yeast in the diet, take a course of probiotics. Also, clean the tongue with a tongue scraper or natural mouthwash twice a day. Mix cider vinegar with two cloves of garlic, one teaspoon of dried sage and one table spoon of honey poured into one pint of boiling water. Store in the fridge and use within three days


  • Dry tongue: A dry tongue, often caused by swelling of the salivary glands can be the result of stress. It may also indicate a diet high in dairy and sugar
  • Tip: Regulate stress by relaxation routines such as breathing or yoga. Stimulate saliva by drinking cider vinegar and lemon diluted in a glass of water – sounds awful, is surprisingly ok. Persistent dryness could be caused by Sjorgren’s syndrome – an immunological disorder so if your tongue is persistently dry see your GP. Eat a well-balanced diet and cut down on milk, butter and eggs


Shani Shaker BA (hons), dipION, mBANT, CNHC is a registered nutritional therapist with a focus on regenerative and functional nutrition, disordered eating, addiction and mental health. Based in London her services include one-to-one coaching, group classes and Skype sessions. Contact her at [email protected]Shani Shaker: Health, Beauty & Nutrition Therapist

Disclaimer: The information provided is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition. Supplementation should only be temporary. If you’re eating a nutrient-rich diet, extra supplementation should only last for a month or two, just long enough to resolve the deficiency.


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