Microbes in tongue hold clues to heart health, may help detect cardiac failure in patients: Study
The tongue of a healthy person and a patient with heart defects differ in terms of color and microbial composition
Microbes present in the human tongue could provide a peek into heart health. These tiny residents may help doctors detect heart failure in patients, suggest a study. If this preliminary research finds more evidence in the future, doctors may be able to prescribe an oral check to screen and monitor the cardiac condition.
The tongue of a healthy person and a patient with heart defects differ in terms of color and microbial composition. "Normal tongues are pale red with a pale white coating. Heart failure patients have a redder tongue with a yellow coating, and the appearance changes as the disease becomes more advanced," study author Dr. Tianhui Yuan from Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine says. "Our study found that the composition, quantity, and dominant bacteria of the tongue coating differ between heart failure patients and healthy people," she adds.
This is not the first study to link oral health with heart disease. Scientists have found bacteria causing a gum infection called periodontitis in the plaques, which are fatty buildups that cut off the oxygen supply to the heart. Other oral bacteria can also cause damage to the heart by entering the body and triggering an immune response. Further, researchers have also suggested that tongue microorganisms could be used to diagnose pancreatic cancer.
Here, researchers enrolled 42 people: some healthy and others with cardiac failure. None of them had an oral, dental disease, or any other upper respiratory tract infection at the time of the study. The research did not include pregnant women and lactating mothers. Through this study, researchers wanted to check if the microbial population differed between the two groups -- healthy people and their counterparts with the heart condition.
The team used stainless steel spoons to collect samples of the tongue coating in the morning before participants had brushed their teeth or eaten breakfast. To identify the bacterial species, they deployed a sequencing technique. The results showed that healthy people had a specific set of microorganisms. So did the heart failure group. Additionally, they noted that five categories of bacteria distinguished heart failure patients from healthy people.
Dr 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. The underlying mechanisms connecting microorganisms in the tongue coating with heart function deserve further study."
Given the current evidence, doctors urge people to maintain good oral hygiene. "Whether the link is direct, indirect, or coincidence, a healthy mouth and a regimen to keep it that way (including not smoking, and getting regular dental care) can help you keep your teeth. That's reason enough to do what you can to make oral health a priority. Perhaps it will turn out to have other benefits though much of that remains speculative," Dr Robert H Shmerling, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, wrote in a blog post.
The study is presented on HFA Discoveries, a scientific platform of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).