Other than talking or eating, you may not give your tongue much thought unless it's swollen and scalloped. While there are a number of potential causes for a swollen scalloped tongue, medically known as glossitis, including an allergic reaction or an infection, a vitamin B-12 or folate deficiency may also be responsible. Consult your doctor if concerned about a vitamin deficiency.
Folate and Vitamin B-12
Folate and vitamin B-12 are both B vitamins. When you're deficient in either of these vitamins, your body produces abnormally large red blood cells that are unable to function properly, leading to what is known as megaloblastic anemia. A deficiency in either nutrient causes similar symptoms and may affect the health of your tongue, leading to swelling and alteration in shape.
Adults need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B-12 and 400 micrograms of folate a day. Unlike folate, vitamin B-12 depends on intrinsic factor, a glycoprotein secreted in the stomach, to be absorbed. Some people cannot produce intrinsic factor due to an autoimmune disease called pernicious anemia and require intramuscular vitamin B-12 shots to prevent deficiencies. Additionally, vitamin B-12 is bound to protein in food and requires an acidic stomach, which can be a problem for older adults that also affects absorption.
What to Eat
Vitamin B-12 is primarily found in animal products such as fish, beef, poultry, eggs, dairy and fortified plant foods such as ready-to-eat cereal. Folate is also naturally present in animal foods, as well as fruits, vegetables and beans. Foods with the greatest amounts of vitamin B-12 include clams, fortified breakfast cereal and trout; for folate, spinach, black-eyed peas and fortified breakfast cereals. If you're a vegan and avoid all animal products in your diet, include foods fortified with vitamin B-12 to prevent deficiencies.
Concerns With Iron
In addition to the B vitamins, an iron deficiency may also cause a swollen and scalloped tongue. Like deficiencies in the B vitamins, lack of iron causes anemia, resulting in a decrease in production of red blood cells. Meats, fish, poultry, leafy greens, beans and fortified breakfast cereal can help you meet your daily iron needs. Men and women over age 50 need 8 milligrams of iron a day, and women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 18 milligrams of iron a day.
- MedlinePlus: Glossitis
- Stanford School of Medicine: The Tongue in Diagnosis
- Beyond Exceptional Dentistry: What Does Scalloped Tongue Mean?
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin B12
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Folate
- NHS Choices: Vitamin B12 or Folate Deficiency Anaemia
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Iron