What Your Tongue Could Tell You About Your Heart Health

New research shows that the bacteria on your tongue could help diagnose heart failure.

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You probably already know all the ways to keep your heart healthy as you age, from eating right to exercising to getting enough sleep. But you might not know that a surprising part of your body has a newly discovered link to your heart. According to recent research, the tongues of people with heart failure look distinctly different from the tongues of people whose hearts are in working order. "Normal tongues are pale red with a pale white coating," study author Tianhui Yuan, MD, of the No. 1 Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, said in a statement. "Heart failure patients have a redder tongue with a yellow coating and the appearance changes as the disease becomes more advanced."

That's because of the bacteria we all have on our tongues. It turns out, tongue microbes could actually be used to diagnose heart failure, according to Yuan's research presented in June on HFA Discoveries, a scientific platform of the European Society of Cardiology. Yuan and his team determined that the tongues of patients with and without heart failure not only looked different, but also had completely different microbiology—findings that could give doctors an important diagnostic tool to work with.

close up of doctor placing stethoscope on patient's chest
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The researchers took samplings of study subjects' tongue coatings to identify bacteria. They found that all the tongues of patients with heart failure shared microorganisms, as did the tongues of patients with healthy hearts, but there was no overlap of bacteria between the two groups.

While you probably won't be able to stick out your tongue in the mirror and assess your own heart health, the results of this research could have a profound impact for medical professionals. In the future, your doctor might take a sampling of your tongue coating to determine if the bacteria present is associated with a healthy heart, or if your heart is in trouble.

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"Our study found that the composition, quantity and dominant bacteria of the tongue coating differ between heart failure patients and healthy people," Yuan said. "More research is needed, but our results suggest that tongue microbes, which are easy to obtain, could assist with wide-scale screening, diagnosis, and long-term monitoring of heart failure." And for more on heart health, learn these 30 Warning Signs Your Heart Is Trying to Send You.

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