To Your Health

Burning tongue syndrome (glossopyrosis) discussed

Q. Lately, it seems that whenever I eat certain foods, such as fresh, uncooked fruits or uncooked vegetables and some nuts, like walnuts, my tongue gets sore. It has the same feel as if I had burned my tongue on hot coffee or soup. Is this just a reaction to acid in the food or an allergy of some kind? I have always had an itchy tongue after eating bananas, although I noticed that it is not so strong since I've been eating organic bananas. I wonder if I should only eat cooked foods. Any light you can shed on this would be appreciated.

A. Burning tongue is called glossopyrosis in medical literature, but as with so many conditions, just giving a condition a name doesn't help us to understand it. It is a condition, so there are a number of possible causes, and the goal is to find the cause in your individual situation. It is a common condition, and some of the known causes are anemia related to iron or vitamin B deficiency, oral candidiasis (thrush), and allergic reactions. Treatment should be specific for the underlying problem.

Burning tongue was once thought to be primarily a psychological problem, but careful research reveals that the temperature of the tongue is either abnormally high or abnormally low in patients with burning tongue, respectively indicating either inflammation or diminished circulation as a reason for the burning sensation. Inflammation is commonly associated with infections, such as candidiasis and also with allergic reactions, and anemia has been found to affect circulation, so all three conditions are possible explanations for a burning tongue.

Candida is naturally occurring yeast found at low concentrations in a healthy gut. However, it can overgrow until it is out of balance with the organisms that normally inhabit the gut and mouth, disturbing your immune system. A study at the Mayo Clinic of 70 patients with burning tongue found that about three-quarters had inflammation associated with oral candida infection. In a recent Japanese study of 40 patients with burning tongue, the tongue pain disappeared or improved markedly in 80% following anti-fungal treatment for candida. In addition to effective prescription medicines, nonprescription grapefruit-seed extract has been used successfully to treat oral candida.

Candida yeast overgrowth may be a major contributor to food allergy or intolerance. Candida can insert tendrils or "hyphae" through the lining of the gut, which open up passages that allow fragments of undigested foods to enter the body. The body reacts to these food fragments by making antibodies to them, eventually resulting in allergy to the food. The foods you eat most often are the foods that you are most likely to become allergic to, so a week or so of eating only uncommon foods usually allows you to recognize those that are bothersome. For instance, you would replace walnuts with macadamia nuts, bananas with sweet potatoes, apples with pears, chicken with rabbit, corn with millet, etc., as far as you can take it (there are books that can help you). You may need to take a week's vacation to do this properly.

Your family physician should be willing to test for anemia and, if he finds it, also be able to determine if it is due to a specific nutrient deficiency, such as folic acid, vitamin B-12, vitamin E, iron, or another factor.

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