Surprising Signs

Tiny organisms on the tongue may help diagnose heart failure, according to research presented in June on HFA Discoveries, a scientific platform of the European Society of Cardiology.

According to researchers involved in the project, the tongues of individuals living with chronic heart failure look entirely different from those without chronic heart failure.

The tongues of healthy individuals should be pale red, with a very pale white coating, while patients with heart failure often have a redder tongue with a yellowish coating.

As heart disease progresses, changes in the tongue become more apparent.

The research study found that the tongue’s changes occurred because of the difference in the composition, quantity and dominance of bacteria.

Earlier research revealed that the tongue-coating microorganisms were also distinguishable in patients with pancreatic cancer more than in those without the condition. Previous studies have also found that an imbalance in microbes in the mouth could mean more inflammation and illness.

Inflammation and how the body responds to an imbalance of microbes may play a role in heart disease.

During this study, researchers analyzed 42 patients in the hospital with chronic heart failure and 28 healthy patients.

None of the participants had oral, tongue or dental diseases; recent upper respiratory illness; or used antibiotics and immunosuppressants in the previous week. None of the participants were pregnant or lactating.

Using stainless-steel spoons, study authors took samples of the tongue coating in the morning before the participants brushed their teeth or ate breakfast.

‘The presence of illness-causing bacteria in the mouth is telling about the oral-systemic link,’ said Dr. Sean Endsley of Legends Dental in Waco, Texas.

The researchers then used a gene-sequencing technique known as 16S rRNA to identify bacteria in the coating samples.

The team found that patients with heart failure had similar bacteria and other microorganisms in their tongue coating. Additionally, they found no overlap in microorganism makeup between the two groups.

Getting down to the genus level, the researchers found that five categories of bacteria could distinguish heart failure patients from healthy individuals.

While more research is needed, results suggest that tongue microbes could improve screening and diagnosis and may help monitor and potentially improve patient outcomes.

Source: European Society of Cardiology. ‘Tongue microbes provide window to heart health.’ ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 June 2020.