Because of its high degree of integration, a malfunctioning thyroid can cause symptoms to develop in areas that you may not expect. For example, the tongue. Interestingly, the tongue can provide specific insight into the function and wellness of the thyroid.
Symptoms such as enlargement, cracking, or coating of the tongue can indicate thyroidal imbalances, deficiencies, and malfunctions. Being able to interpret signs of dysfunction that appear on the tongue may help you better identify and subsequently treat thyroid disease.
What Is Thyroid Disease?
The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland in the neck that influences the activity of nearly every cell in the body through the use of hormones. If thyroid hormones are not properly balanced, a patient can develop a wide range of symptoms ranging from metabolic issues to cognitive disruption – get a full list of thyroid disease symptoms here. Thyroid disease occurs on a spectrum but in a simplified fashion it can be divided into two categories: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is a slowing of thyroid function resulting in a decrease of thyroid hormone. The resulting deficiency causes symptoms such as lethargy, weight gain, difficulty thinking clearly or brain fog, muscle and joint pain, and more. Hypothyroidism may be caused by one or more issues including inhibited conversion of thyroid hormone, nutrient deficiencies, poor hormone absorption or receptivity issues, and physical damage to the gland itself. One of the most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
On the other end of the thyroid disease spectrum is hyperthyroidism, which involves a hastening of thyroid function. As you would expect, an excess of thyroid hormone typically causes symptoms in opposition to those of hypothyroidism. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include rapid or sudden weight loss, anxiety or jitteriness, difficulty focusing, and hyperactivity. Hyperthyroidism is typically caused by excess production or over conversion of thyroid hormone. Similar to hypothyroidism, the most common cause of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune disorder known as Graves’ disease.
What Does the Tongue Tell Us About Thyroid Disease?
One underutilized method of diagnosing a thyroid imbalance is by taking a look at the tongue. Those with thyroid disease rarely have healthy tongues. Therefore, keeping a watchful eye on it may help individuals quickly identify potential thyroid problems.
The information gleaned from the physical appearance of the tongue can provide insight into the wellness of the thyroid. If the tongue exhibits qualities such as a pinkish color, consistent texture, smoothness, and lacks any sort of coating or patina, the thyroid is likely functioning relatively well. However, if the tongue does not appear vibrant and healthy, it is likely that there is some degree of thyroid dysfunction present. Depending on the symptoms that afflict it, the tongue may point to specific thyroid related issues.
Red Beefy Tongue
If the tongue appears red and beefy, it is likely due to a deficiency of B vitamins or other nutrients such as zinc, selenium, and iron. If such symptoms are present it may be beneficial to test micro-nutrient levels. The thyroid relies on B vitamins, specifically B12, to produce all the hormones necessary to maintain regular bodily function. The thyroid also uses zinc, selenium, and iron when converting inactive thyroid hormone T4 into the active form T3. Therefore, deficiency of these substances can contribute significantly to thyroid dysfunction. Redness of the tongue may also indicate poor nutrient absorption, which can further inhibit thyroid function.
Fissured and Cracked (Geographic) Tongue
A tongue with an inconsistent texture, fissuring, or cracking, sometimes referred to as “geographic”, indicates that there is an underlying food sensitivity that is disrupting bodily function. Food sensitivities are a common contributor to leaky gut syndrome, which can promote thyroid dysfunction and exacerbate an already extant thyroid disorder. Furthermore, studies suggest that food sensitivities may trigger the development of Hashimoto’s and subsequent hypothyroidism. If cracking and fissuring appears on the tongue be sure to have thyroid antibody levels checked, including anti-thyroglobulin and anti-thyroid peroxidase antibodies – get a FREE sample lab slip here. Doing so may help identify an existing autoimmune thyroid disease.
Enlarged or Scalloped Tongue
An enlarged tongue usually indicates an increased volume of toxins in the system. As toxin levels increase, the tongue can become swollen or enlarged thereby causing it to press against the teeth. If this pressure remains, indentations known as scalloping can form on the tongue. Toxicity suggested by tongue scalloping may indicate blockage of thyroid hormone receptors. Poor hormone receptivity can cause symptoms of hypothyroidism to develop even if the thyroid is producing thyroid hormone at the appropriate volume. Some studies show that toxins relating to tongue swelling and scalloping may also cause physical damage to the thyroid thereby triggering the development of hypothyroidism or increasing its severity.
Candida is a fungus that is found in the mouth and intestine. At appropriate levels, this substance supports digestion and nutrient absorption. However, when bacteria in the gut becomes imbalanced, known as dysbiosis, candida can overtake the gut and tongue. If a thin, often white or off-white, coating has formed on the tongue, it is likely that the body is suffering from a yeast or candida overgrowth. Candida overgrowth can inhibit conversion of thyroid hormone thereby contributing to hypothyroidism.
Are Signs of Thyroid Disease on the Tip of Your Tongue?
The thyroid has an impressive amount of influence over many bodily systems including the gut and by extension the tongue. Because of the high degree of sensitivity and close relationship with the intestine, the tongue is often one of the first areas to exhibit symptoms of intestinal disruption relating to thyroid dysfunction. Being aware of the important relationship between the tongue, gut, and the thyroid can help patients better identify symptoms and more easily recognize their relation to thyroid function. Thyroid disease can be difficult to spot but by keeping close watch of the tongue one may be able to quickly recognize signs of thyroid imbalances and dysfunction.
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2. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid): Symptoms and causes.” mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/symptoms-causes/dxc-20155382
3. Gopal, K. S., & Sundaram, M. S. “Oral cavity as a diagnostic tool for systemic disorders.” Asian Journal of Science and Technology, 7(9), 3507–3517.
4. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Geographic tongue.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/geographic-tongue/home/ovc-20319483
5. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Oral thrush.” mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/oral-thrush/symptoms-causes/syc-20353533