5 ways your tongue could be quietly alerting you to a health issue

9 min read
The human body is constantly sending us messages. Image: Unsplash

Your tongue can tell you a surprising amount about your health. Traditional Chinese medicine doctor Dr. Irene Prantalos explains the ways in which your tongue might be trying to tell you something isn’t as it should be. 

The human body is far more superior and intelligent than we often give it credit for. Billions of processes are occurring every moment of every day to keep us alive and healthy, though we are usually completely oblivious to this.

The truth is, our body is constantly communicating with us through signs and symptoms. Feeling tired, having a headache, low in motivation or craving sugar all the time are symptoms your body creates when there is something not quite right. No disease is created overnight. For instance, diabetes can take several years to manifest. In this time there can be many signs and symptoms the body shows but often are ignored.

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The state of our tongue can be an incredible indicator for how to help us make better choices in our diet and lifestyle. As a Chinese Medicine practitioner, this is a common part of my assessment when consulting patients about their health concerns. It has become common practise for people to brush their tongue when brushing their teeth, and while this is in no way harmful, you may be brushing away signs your body is trying to give you about your health.

Here’s what you need to look out for:


Cracks on the tongue are something many of us can experience as we get older. There are many reasons why this occurs but here are just a few.

  • Not drinking enough water or perhaps not compensating for a loss of minerals and nutrients during sweating can lead to being dehydrated. A cracked tongue can merely indicate dehydration in the body.
  • A person struggling with ill health will more likely have cracks on the tongue than a healthy person, sometimes due to the illness itself or as a result of medication for said illness.

Red tip of the tongue

This area of the tongue refers to the heart. If you are experiencing poor sleep or have been feeling anxious, you might notice that part of the tongue appears red. If there has been chronic insomnia, heart palpitations and/or anxiety, the area of redness around the tip is larger.

This tends to reduce when regular sleep is restored and management of anxiety–such as with meditation–is practiced, as this calms the heart’s energy and therefore less redness on the tip of the tongue.

A thick coating

The coating of our tongue is a direct impact of the food we eat. If we eat more fast food, sugar, cold drinks, and salads (particularly in colder climates) this can impact optimal digestion. The result is phlegm is manufactured in the body and is showcased on the tongue.

There are other reasons for phlegm production, however, such as developing a cold or influenza.

Swollen edges

This may be a little tricky to see, but it’s important to draw attention to it as this area represents the liver.

If the edges of your tongue appear swollen, you may need to reassess your diet, reduce your alcohol consumption, or look at ways to reduce stress. All these factors can impact the health of the liver. The good news is, as the detox centre of your body, the liver rejuvenates beautifully when given some love and attention.

Scalloped edges

As mentioned above, the edges of the tongue represent the liver area, but when the tongue enlarges and presses on the teeth, it forms the appearance of scalloped edges on the tongue. This can be due to poor digestion.

A disrupted digestive system can be caused by a few things: stress, consistent alcohol consumption, and an unhealthy diet can all impact the health of the digestion.

You may address these swollen edges by drinking water with a splash of lemon to help with digestion. Alternatively, enjoying green tea or peppermint tea during meals can help the body process food more effectively.

Whenever looking at improving digestive health, always assess your emotions and stress levels. You may be eating the most nutritious diet but high stress can be a massive contributing factor to digestive issues.

When to examine your tongue

A great time to look at your tongue is in the morning before you eat or drink anything. During the night, the body goes through its natural detoxification process which, come morning, the tongue will show you what your inner health is wanting you to know.

With these small insights and tips to address very common health complaints, you can start looking at the clues your body gives you to identify any issues sooner rather than later.

Dr Irene Prantalos (TCM) is a registered acupuncturist and an expert in Chinese Medicine and has a double degree in Human Biology and Chinese Medicine from RMIT University.

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