In Ayurveda, one of the primary investigative tools of practitioners for determining the state of one’s health is tongue diagnosis or evaluation of the tongue.
The tongue is the very beginning of the digestive tract, which lumbers on for another 30 feet or so.
Since we cannot see much beyond the mouth without some invasive diagnostics, a quick look at the tongue can tell much about the health of your inner digestive lining and its function.
In fact, Ayurveda suggested that the surface of the tongue reflects an entire map of the body reflecting its overall health.
While looking in the mirror, examine each area on the tongue and look for differences in:
>> Taste buds
According to Ayurveda, we all have a tongue that closely reflects our main constitution. For example:
The tongue will tend to be thinner, smaller, and a bit rough and dry.
The tongue will be a bit redder in color, medium in size, and slightly dry.
The tongue will be larger, full, possibly light pink, and a bit wet.
Based on the normal variations between body types, a perfect tongue will be:
- Pink—not pale, scarlet, or red.
- The pinkish color would be consistent across the entire tongue.
- You would be able to see small cylindrical taste buds on the entire top surface of the tongue.
- It would be not too wet and not too dry, it would be just right—moist!
- You would not see any cracks on the tongue.
- There would be a very thin white coating of mucus on the tongue.
- There would be no teeth marks or glassiness on the sides of the tongue.
Tongue diagnosis: looking for imbalances.
Inside your stomach and intestines, you have intestinal villi and delicate epithelium with a thin layer of mucus lining the upper digestion. This coating helps with the assimilation of nutrients and the breakdown of toxins.
The health of the digestive skin was classically evaluated by examining one’s tongue. We all grew up with every doctor’s visit starting with a tongue depressor, saying ahhh!
Examine your own tongue and see if you can find a constitution that matches your tongue’s appearance.
Classic tongue imbalances:
Movie Star Tongue
When the tongue becomes red, smooth, and moist or wet, I call this a “movie star tongue.” While it might be pretty, it is not a functional tongue, and here is why: when there is excess acid in the stomach, the tongue will often reflect that by becoming more red.
Due to the hypersensitivity of the stomach lining and perhaps the upper part of the small intestine, the taste buds will contract as if trying to hide and protect themselves. The result is a very smooth tongue that looks like it was sanded down and buffed. Such a tongue will often be moist, which is a reflection of the excess mucus produced in the stomach and small intestine to protect the lining.
The irritated tongue reflects intestinal irritation from stress on the tongue. It can be smooth, wet, and pale. The smoothness is because the taste buds are reacting to the stress by contracting or hiding. It is wet because of the reactive mucus production generated as a result of the stress, and its paleness is the result of the stomach’s low production of stomach acid as a way to protect the intestinal wall from further irritation.
The “acid tongue” reflects symptoms like occasional heartburn. When stomach acid builds up in the stomach and begins to move upward, it can upset the lining of the stomach, esophagus, mouth, and tongue. The result is a very red, dry, and often smooth tongue.
A “boggy tongue” reflects a digestive fire that has been turned off. This typically results in a pale, wet, coated, and even swollen tongue depending on what the body type is.
This tongue generally has scalloping teeth marks along the sides of the tongue. It can also be discolored, where it might be reddish in one area, pale in another, and pink somewhere else. Teeth marks or a scalloped tongue may suggest imbalanced assimilation of nutrients.
This tongue, which generally afflicts vata and pitta types, will have many small cracks on the tongue. This is not to be confused with a “geographic tongue,” which normally exhibits many cracks. A “stress tongue” is also typically dry and often unsteady.
Sometimes you will see a deep crack running down the center of the tongue. This may reflect vata strain in the nervous system or spinal stress.
Ama, in Ayurveda, is the accumulation of improperly digested food that can congest the intestinal tract. An “ama tongue” is when the tongue builds up a thick coating on the entire tongue. If the accumulation of ama is on the back of the tongue, it is generally a buildup of toxins in the large intestine, small intestine, and colon. A thick coating on the front and back of the tongue suggests ama buildup in the stomach and small intestine.
A pale tongue suggests that there is a lack of good stomach acid and digestive enzymes needed to properly digest food and deliver the minerals, vitamins, and nutrients needed for optimal health. Sometimes this can also be a sign of anemia.
For the stomach to produce the acid needed to digest hard-to-digest foods, the stomach requires proper hydration. Proper hydration supports a bicarbonate layer of cells that is 80 percent water and buffers the acids in the stomach. Without adequate hydration, the stomach will not produce acid and the tongue often becomes very dry and slightly pale.
A “wet tongue” can be due to excess kapha (mucus) from a severely irritated stomach lining, intestinal wall, undigested proteins like casein or gluten, or from excessive stress.
A “swollen tongue” may suggest a congested lymphatic system backing up into tonsils, adenoids, and tongue. Look for other signs of lymph congestion to confirm this.
Balance digestion and change your tongue.
Each of these tongue imbalances reflects a certain type of digestive imbalance. Please read the articles in my digestive health article and video archives to address your particular issue. Find a diagnosis/suggestion chart here.
Tongue care, Ayurveda-style:
- In the morning, right after you wake up, scrape your tongue. Make it the first thing you do. Even if you wake up in the middle of the night, scraping the tongue followed by a glass of water can reduce accumulating digestive ama (toxins). Research shows copper may be the best material to scrape with.
- With a relaxed tongue, using your U-shaped tongue scraper, gently reach to the back of the tongue and scrape the tongue from back to front. Repeat this 5-10 times, reaching as far back as comfortable, rinsing the scraper after each pass. A slight gag can help bring up some mucus and ama from the back of the throat.
- Follow tongue scraping with brushing (with non-fluoride toothpaste), flossing, and a large glass of water.
- To complete an Ayurvedic oral hygiene routine, this can be followed by oil pulling—of course, this would require another round of tooth brushing.
- Get into the habit of scraping your tongue prior to each brushing.
How’s the health of your tongue? Take a peek!