What on earth is your tongue trying to tell you?
Ever wonder why the doctor asks you to open your mouth and say “ah”? Well, would you believe you could have a symptom of celiac right there, staring him or her in the face? Yes, it is called Geographic Tongue, scientifically known as “Atrophic Glossitis.” The papillae pattern on your tongue (those little fingerlike nodules) can possibly be the only indication that you may have celiac.
The tongue is full of all kinds of information and is thought to mirror and reflect the gut in health status! Way back in 1942, Dr. Harold Jeghers, MD, recognized just how valuable a tongue inspection could be in determining medical conditions. He wrote an article for the New England Journal of Medicine entitled “Nutrition: The Appearance of the Tongue As An Index of Nutritional Deficiency.” The smooth, glossy textures may be due to nutritional deficiencies, a lack of B vitamins, or a sign of anemia. The raised surface can also be an indication of an infection such as candidiasis, Sjogren’s syndrome, or tissue inflammation due to Gluten exposure.
So what is this Atrophic Glossitis? Well, we know that for those with Celiac, gluten causes inflammation to the mucosa lining of the small intestine. Guess what? Atrophic Glossitis is an inflammatory disorder of the mucosa on the tongue. Whole sections of the tongue will appear shiny and glossier than other parts while different areas look raised and darker or lighter in color. This all comes together to resemble a road map on the surface of the tongue. Dr. Mary Chalmers with The Institute for Functional Medicine teaches that the tongue may look as if it has bald spots when there are missing layers of papillae. Not surprisingly, Geographic Tongue is often seen in people with psoriasis and eczema, which are also closely associated with celiac.
If you look at your tongue and see a map shaped design, get tested for celiac before going gluten-free. If your tongue is in pain, to help with immediate pain relief, you can try using mouth rinses with anesthetic. There are several over the counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications to help. However, if you want to get to the root of the problem, the solution may be to get a simple screening test for celiac and then try eliminating gluten from your diet. The gluten-free diet could improve your nutritional status and your mucosa (the cells on the tongue and throughout the intestines).