What your tongue reveals about your overall health

Your tongue can reveal alot about your health. Supplied picture.

Your tongue can reveal alot about your health. Supplied picture.

Published May 21, 2024


Different parts of the human body can indicate certain health ailments.

According to Affinity Health this includes the tongue, which can be a reliable health barometer.

Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine native to India, have long emphasised tongue examination as a diagnostic tool, the healthcare provider’s CEO Murray Hewlett explained.

He added that according to research conducted by Harvard Health, the tongue can suggest whether you're staying hydrated to signalling more serious health concerns.

“That little muscle in your mouth has much to say.”

Understanding the tongue’s normal appearance

Hewlett said that a healthy tongue was typically pink, with a thin white coat and small nodules called papillae.

“Variations in colour, texture and coating on the tongue can signal health issues ranging from minor to severe,” he noted.

The colour spectrum and health implications

Pale tongue

Hewlett warned that a pale tongue can suggest a deficiency in essential nutrients, particularly iron and vitamin B12, which could lead to anaemia, a medical condition which involves having low levels of healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body.

“This lack of colour may also indicate poor circulation or a deficiency in energy, or ‘Qi’, as referred to in traditional Chinese medicine, which could manifest as fatigue or weakness,” he said.

Bright red tongue

An unusually red tongue could be a warning of a fever or infection.

Hewlett said that in Chinese medicine, a red tongue indicates heat in the body, which could relate to inflammation or an imbalance elsewhere in your system.

He added that conditions like Kawasaki disease, a condition which causes inflammation in the walls of blood vessels in the body as well as scarlet fever, a bacterial illness that develops in some people who have strep throat and vitamin deficiencies (B3, B12, folic acid), can also cause a red tongue.

A model sticks out her tongue while posing with a creation from the Degen Autumn/Winter 2013 collection during New York Fashion Week, February 6, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Purple or bluish tongue

A purple or bluish hue might indicate circulatory problems, indicating a lack of oxygenated blood reaching the tongue.

“This can be associated with heart-related issues, high cholesterol, or respiratory problems,” Hewlett said.

“A slightly purple tongue can be expected in colder climates, but persistent discolouration warrants a medical check-up.”

Yellow tongue

While a yellow coating on the tongue can be a result of poor oral hygiene, it can also be a sign of a more serious condition, such as jaundice, which is related to liver dysfunction.

“In some cases, it might also indicate a bacterial or fungal infection in the mouth,” Hewlett said.

Black and hairy tongue:

Though it may sound alarming, a black and hairy tongue is usually harmless and caused by an overgrowth of papillae trapping bacteria and yeast.

Hewlett added that it can result from poor oral hygiene, excessive tobacco use, irritating mouthwashes or antibiotic use.

Geographic tongue

This condition, characterised by a map-like pattern of red spots with a white border, is harmless.

“The spots can move around over time and while the cause is unknown, it is thought to be linked to stress, allergies or hormonal imbalances.”

Other tongue changes to note

Texture and coating

Hewlett explained that a healthy tongue should have a thin white coating.

“A thick coat, or the absence of one and tongue texture changes can indicate digestive issues or other health concerns.”


A parched tongue can suggest dehydration or a side effect of certain medications.

“Conversely, an overly wet tongue might indicate issues with fluid balance or kidney function,” he said.

Size and shape

Swelling or indentations, which are teeth marks on the sides of your tongue, can suggest fluid retention, spleen health or nutritional deficiencies.

Taking action

Hewlett believes that noticing changes in your tongue can be the first step toward addressing potential health issues.

And while not all changes signify severe problems, he stressed that a healthcare professional should evaluate persistent alterations in colour, texture or coating that don’t resolve with improved oral hygiene or dietary adjustments.

“Sudden changes, especially those accompanied by other symptoms, also warrant immediate medical attention.”

The big picture

Hewlett explained that a tongue is just one piece of the health puzzle.

“Monitoring your tongue as well as other healthy habits like eating well, staying hydrated and managing stress can help you stay in tune with your body’s needs,so, stick out your tongue in the mirror and see what it has to say.”