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Vitamin Deficiencies & a Swollen Scalloped Tongue

author image Jill Corleone, RDN, LD
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.
Vitamin Deficiencies & a Swollen Scalloped Tongue
Milk and eggs with an egg beater Photo Credit: YelenaYemchuk/iStock/Getty Images

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.

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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.

Recommended Intakes

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.

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