The thyroid is a highly integrated organ and influences virtually every system in the body. Because of this, thyroid disease can cause a broad range of symptoms that may not easily be traced back to it. For example, thyroid dysfunction can interrupt seemingly unrelated aspects of wellness such as mood, energy level, and weight regulation. One area that many may not expect to be impacted by the thyroid dysfunction is the tongue. If you are suffering from tongue troubles, an underlying thyroid condition may be present.
What is Thyroid Disease?
The thyroid is a small gland located in the neck that is responsible for producing hormones essential for healthy bodily function. Hormones carry messages throughout the body that influence specific processes. This means that the thyroid has an impressive influence over many bodily functions.
When working as intended, the thyroid produces multiple hormones with the most notable being thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3), and reverse triiodothyronine (RT3). These are the primary hormones used to regulate the activity level of virtually all cells and tissues. Thyroid disease in the form of hypothyroidism (reduced thyroid activity) or hyperthyroidism (accelerated thyroid activity) causes hormonal imbalances that can have a dramatic effect on wellness.
Hypothyroidism is a condition wherein the body does not get an adequate supply of thyroid hormones. There are several potential causes of hypothyroidism including inhibited hormone synthesis, transport, receptivity, and/or conversion. These issues can trigger a decline in thyroid hormone values and subsequent slowing of overall bodily function. Hypothyroidism is associated with symptoms including fatigue, weight gain, difficulty thinking clearly, depression, sensitivity to cold, thinning hair, and others.
Hyperthyroidism is the opposite of hypothyroidism in that it is characterized by overabundance of thyroid hormone or increased thyroid activity. Typically, hyperthyroidism is caused by chronic conditions, inflammation, autoimmune disorders, or thyroid nodules. Increased thyroid activity and elevated thyroid hormone values causes a hastening of bodily function, which prompts symptoms such as jitteriness, anxiety, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, weight loss, muscle weakness, and others.
Thyroid disease can lead to the development of a wide range of symptoms, some of which are mentioned above – get a full list of thyroid disease symptoms here. However, there is an area occasionally affected by thyroid disease that often goes unnoticed; the health of the tongue.
What the Tongue Says About the Thyroid
Many do not realize that the tongue can be a useful part of diagnosing thyroid disease. Depending on the specific characteristics of the tongue, certain elements of thyroid function may be assessed. Discussed below are tongue-related symptoms indicative of thyroid disease or disruption.
Red or Beefy Tongue
A red or beefy tongue may suggest nutrient deficiencies that greatly impede thyroid function.
To work correctly, the thyroid must be supplied with various nutrients including B vitamins, zinc, selenium, and iron. Deficiency or inhibited transport of these nutrients can impede thyroid hormone conversion, synthesis, and absorption. You may be able to recognize a decrease in the values of these important nutrients by simply looking at your tongue.
The term geographic may be used to describe a tongue that has an inconsistent texture, cracking, or deep fissuring throughout. Such symptoms may indicate a food sensitivity or autoimmune issue. A geographic tongue should prompt testing of the patient’s thyroid antibodies. If antibodies are elevated, it is likely that an autoimmune thyroid condition like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease has developed.
Enlarged or Scalloped Tongue
Excessive exposure or ingestion of toxins may contribute to thyroid issues and symptoms of the tongue. Certain types of toxicity may cause the tongue to enlarge and press against the back of the teeth. If sustained for an extended period, this can result in the formation of indentations on the tongue known as scalloping, wavy tongue, crenated tongue, or lingua indentata. Research suggests that toxins related to scalloping are also associated with thyroid damage and the development or worsening of hypothyroidism.
Candida is a beneficial fungus naturally found in small amounts in the intestine and mouth. However, when candida over proliferates, various issues may develop. One of the drawbacks of candida overgrowth is inhibition of thyroid hormone conversion which contributes to the development of hypothyroidism. Candida overgrowth and potential thyroid dysfunction can be identified by the presence of a thin, white coating on the tongue.
The Importance of Thorough Thyroid Testing and Care
Because the thyroid is a delicately balanced and highly-integrated system, resolving symptoms and issues relating to it can be difficult. Recklessly treating symptoms such as those described above without considering the possibility of thyroid dysfunction can result in significant worsening of thyroid function and may lead to permanent damage. Therefore, before receiving treatment for any of the symptoms we have discussed, be sure to ask your doctor for a thorough thyroid assessment.
At minimum, a thyroid panel should include testing for TSH, Free T4, Free T3, RT3, sex hormone binding globulin, and thyroid antibodies. These values can help you and your doctor better determine the function of your thyroid and identify the best next steps regarding treatment.
Different Thyroid Treatments
The medical standard for treating hypothyroidism involves supplementation with synthetic T4 in hopes that the body will properly be convert and utilize it. Unfortunately, this approach is often ineffective leaving many patients to continue suffering from poor thyroid function.
The best thyroid treatments employ patient-specific protocols that are designed to resolve a patient’s individual dysfunction. Some tools that may be used to accomplish this are time released T3, combination T4/T3, and highly customizable bioidentical hormone therapies. Depending on a patient’s individual needs, a knowledgeable thyroid doctor may choose to employ one or more of these options.
The Right Thyroid Care for You
Thyroid disease can be hard to spot because it influences so many different systems. However, you may be able to identify thyroid troubles by checking the quality of your tongue. If you experience tongue irregularities like enlargement, fracturing, or changes in texture, an underlying thyroid issue may be present.
Resources1. Khanal R, et al. “Clue in the tongue.” Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives. Volume 5, 2015 – Issue 1..
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.