With healthcare bills surging skywards, and an increased trend towards holistic health and fitness, the world has increasingly been looking at the East for inspiration for alternative healing and medical remedies. Whether the recent obsession with turmeric lattes or the age-old following that Chinese acupressure and acupuncture have enjoyed, traditional remedies from the East have always sparked fascination and curiosity in the Western world. While some of these end up being social media-sparked fads, every now and then comes along a winner of a remedy that has successfully worked for centuries, is simple, cost-effective, and can be used by practically anyone.
Among the sleuth of alternative remedies that keep taking the internet by storm, is a rather slick one called Oil Pulling. Contrary to the image that might pop up in your head, oil pulling involves no muscle power (other than that used by your mouth), and certainly no pulling. So what then, is oil pulling, and why is it currently a rage in the alternative healing community?
What Is Oil Pulling?
Oil pulling is a traditional Indian remedy dating back centuries, which involves holding or swishing around a small quantity of oil in the mouth, for anywhere between 10-20 minutes. This practice has its origins in Ayurveda – a traditional holistic system of medicine from India, which is almost 3,000-5,000 years old. With nylon bristle brushes being a recent discovery, the East has traditionally used twigs of certain plants to brush and clean teeth, and oil pulling almost seems like a more traditional form of a mouthwash – essentially, a liquid rinse intended to cover the entire oral cavity, reaching nooks and corners that might be difficult to reach with a toothbrush, even a medieval one.
The West is no stranger to Ayurveda, with Ayurvedic medicine having gained steady popularity as an alternative to mainstream medicine. Oil pulling is said to have a host of medicinal benefits, the most obvious being improved oral and dental health, and some practitioners claim that oil pulling, over sustained periods of time, has far-reaching benefits such as helping in sinuses, headaches and even a healthier heart. In addition, oil pulling has been increasingly touted as a safe, organic process, since it makes use of natural oils such as coconut, sesame or more recently, olive – each of which have been making rounds of the internet for their magical properties outside the kitchen, be it the use of coconut oil as an excellent moisturiser, or the hundreds of beauty blogs that swear by olive oil as a great hair conditioner.
What also might be increasing this fascination with oil pulling is the willingness and curiosity to explore forms of treatment that are free of chemicals, artificial additives and also promote a greener, more sustainable way of life.
What Exactly Does Oil Pulling Do for You Anyway?
Oil pulling as a healing method, relies on the idea that the mouth contains millions of microbes – bacteria, fungi, all of which make up a person’s unique pattern of microorganisms, called microbiota or the oral microbiome. Some of these bacteria, for instance, the ones found in your saliva, are good for you, aiding in digestion and keeping the mouth lubricated; but these good guys also live with the bad ones – bacteria and fungi that cause infections and inflammations. Your mouth is also one of the gateways to your body, and oil pulling basically keeps this gateway clean by pulling out toxins and harmful bacteria before they make their way inside your system.
When you swish oil around in your mouth, the molecules of oil supposedly bind themselves to the single-cell organisms such as bacteria, fungi (read: the bad guys), and what you spit out is essentially a whole lot of these bad germs, that might have otherwise remained in your mouth, and led to inflammation, tooth decay and bad breath. Studies have shown that some oils, in particular, coconut oil, has been particularly effective in getting rid of the Streptococcus bacteria from the mouth. While this can also be achieved with a chemical rinse that uses Chlorhexidine, the question remains – what would you be more comfortable swishing around in your mouth? A capful of acrid-smelling chemical, or some organic, 100% natural, safe-to-consume coconut oil?
There is a lot of research that shows how effective oil pulling is, especially for oral and dental disorders, and then there is also research that states this process has little or no impact on oral hygiene. Surprisingly, both kinds of studies agree on one thing – that oil pulling is safe, natural and irrespective of any direct benefit it may or may not have, it is definitely a proven method to prevent oral disorders and keep your dental hygiene in top-notch condition.
Is It Safe?
There seems to be mounting evidence that oil pulling does have some positive impact on oral and dental health, although the number of studies indicating the contrary seems to be equal. Whether these studies agree or not and despite the fact that the medical and alternative healing communities remain divided on the topic of oil pulling, the one thing they seem to agree on is the fact that oil pulling comes with minimal risks. Think about it – you’re using one product that is natural, organic and consumption-safe (coconut, olive and sesame cooking oils are all FDA-approved). Secondly, all you’re doing is gently swishing around the oil in your mouth – what harm could that possibly cause? It is as safe as gargling with warm water, in a way.
How Do You Do It?
Oil pulling is a simple process that will take barely 20 minutes of your day. The best time to do this is first thing in the morning, before you eat or drink anything, but some practitioners also recommend an oil rinse after meals. You need little other than a bottle of top-quality organic oil – traditionally, Ayurveda recommends sesame or coconut oil, since both have strong antibacterial properties, but practitioners in the West have been experimenting with olive oil and other natural oils as well. Make sure the oil you use is of the best quality, and contains absolutely no additives or chemicals. Ideally, you want to use an oil you’d use for consumption, so be sure to read the label carefully before you pick up a bottle. Most beauty shops and supermarkets should be a good place for you to look for your oil.
Next, take a tablespoon of oil (make sure you use a dry, clean spoon to transfer the oil from the bottle to your mouth – you want bacteria going out, not more germs going in!) and swish the oil in and around your mouth, making sure it reaches all those spots – the oral cavities in the back, the underside of your tongue and all your teeth. This will feel slightly uncomfortable and somewhat slippery – but you’ll get used to it.
A common mistake that a lot of people make the first time is being really harsh or aggressive – this is oil, not mouthwash. While you may be used to giving your mouth a good, brisk gargle with mouthwash, you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) do this with oil, because first of all, the oil will increase in volume as it mixes with your saliva and draws in the toxins – the gentler this is done, the better. And since you’re going to be doing this for a good 20 minutes, being harsh with the swishing around is most definitely going to give you a painful, sore jaw.
Make sure you don’t swallow any oil by mistake – if it starts to feel uncomfortable, stop for a few seconds; if your mouth feels too full, spit out some oil to make it easier – but absolutely do not swallow the oil. By themselves, olive, coconut or even sesame oil are non-toxic and safe to consume, but in this case, the oil is going to be laden with all the bad stuff from your mouth, and you don’t want all those germs going inside you – there’s only one way for those nasties, and that’s out.
Side Effects of Oil Pulling the Wrong Way (Lipoid Pneumonia)
Since the oils used in oil pulling are safe to consume and organic, most studies concur on the safety of oil pulling as a healing process since there are no toxic hazards involved.
One (and possibly the only) risk involved with oil pulling is that of lipid pneumonia – which is caused by a buildup of oil deposits in the nasal and respiratory passage. It may be possible that people don’t know the right method of swishing oil only in the oral cavity and may accidentally end up inhaling the oil, which would then be contaminated with toxins and bacteria, allowing them to enter the respiratory system and cause an infection.
However, this can be easily avoided with a few precautions – remember never to swish oil too quickly or too close to the back of your throat, as this may lead to an uncomfortable sensation, similar to choking and may make you panic and breathe deeper, causing some of the oil to make its way down your throat. Lipid pneumonia can be easily avoided – all you need to do is follow the right instructions.
Does Oil Pulling Really Work?
Clearly, oil pulling has been gaining massive popularity within alternative healing practitioners, both online as well as offline. Whether its benefits have been proven, or otherwise, everyone from alternative healers, to medical scientists, to mothers and grandmothers seem to be talking about it. So how does one make up their mind about oil pulling? To help you understand this practice better, below are some well-researched benefits and advantages of oil pulling, as documented by actual users, health practitioners as well as scientific studies. Hopefully, this should flush out the doubts in your head, kind of like oil pulling does with all those toxins!
Benefits, Testimonials and Reviews
Oil is a natural emulsifier – which means it has the ability to trap liquids, in this case, your saliva, which in turn has all those germs mentioned earlier. When you swish oil around in your mouth, it creates an effect called saponification, which is essentially similar to the process by which soap creates a cleansing environment.
Strengthens Teeth and Jaw Muscles
Since oil pulling gets rid of plaque, bacteria and aids in maintaining tooth enamel, it leaves your teeth whiter and stronger. Additionally, all that swishing and swirling also gives your jaws and facial muscles some well-needed exercise, if done properly. Oil being a natural lubricant also improves muscle movement. Think of oil pulling as a little yoga for your jaw, morning after morning or if you like, a little pre-workout.
Prevention of Bad Breath
So you brush twice a day, use mouthwash and floss after meals, and still have to deal with the embarrassment of foul breath? You definitely need to pull some oil, then. Since it pulls out toxins and bacteria out of your saliva, your mouth is left cleaner and fresher.
Bad breath is essentially caused by bacterial reaction on leftover food and tooth enamel, which also results in tooth decay. Fewer bacteria and germs hiding between the nooks and crannies of your teeth means less tooth decay, and has been proven to be effective in reducing the release of enzymes and chemicals responsible for bad breath.
Prevention of Dryness of Lips, Mouth and Throat
How many times have you read about the magical moisturising properties of olive and coconut oil, from preventing dry skin and hair, to being a wonderful antidote for chapped lips and cracked heels? Same benefits, only this time, on the insides of your mouth, lips and throat. When you swish oil around, the fatty molecules in the oil have the same moisturising, nourishing effect on the tissues and skin inside your mouth, as they do on the skin on your hands and face.
Protection Against Gum Disease
While medical and scientific studies may argue that the benefits of oil pulling beyond oral and dental hygiene are exaggerated, there is no doubt by now, about the fact that bad gum health is indeed, closely linked to heart disease. Gum health goes so much beyond being a crucial part of oral health. Studies have shown that gum decay and damage are warning signs of possible damage to blood vessels and poor heart health. So while swishing a tablespoon of oil in your mouth may not directly give you a stronger heart, it will most certainly give you stronger, healthier gums, which in the long run will have a part to play in keeping that heart healthy and strong.
Protection Against Plaque, Cavities and Gingivitis
Like mentioned earlier, your mouth, or in medical terms, the oral biome, is home to millions of different kinds of bacteria. Among these are the bacteria that bring out chemical reactions similar to decomposition, creating foul-smelling enzymes and causing bad breath. But that’s not all they’re responsible for – in order to stick to the surface of your teeth, bacteria in the mouth create a “biofilm” on the teeth – a thin layer that coats the surface of your teeth, which is commonly called ‘plaque’. It’s normal to have some on your teeth – regular brushing and flossing usually help, but if plaque becomes a serious problem, you’re in for a world of problems, from the embarrassment of bad breath (halitosis) to unattractive yellow teeth, not to mention expensive visits to the dentist and the excruciating pain of dental procedures.
Oil pulling works like magic to reduce dental plaque – when oil is regularly swished around the mouth, all these nasty bacteria cling to the oil particles, and eventually get flushed out of your mouth, leaving you with a cleaner mouth with each passing day.
Detoxes the Body
The mouth is one of the gateways to the body – nutrients, pollutants, toxins, vitamins can all be absorbed into the body through the mouth, so oral health becomes a crucial prerequisite to wellbeing. With oil pulling, you aren’t just pulling toxins out of your mouth, you’re also clearing up the gateway to your body, making way for increased immunity and resistance, improving your bodily functions like digestion and metabolism and aiding in your body’s natural anti-ageing process, which is absolutely incomplete without detoxification. Does this mean you can eat junk, cut down on sleep, stay dehydrated and you’ll still end up losing weight and with a radiant skin? Obviously not – despite what studies might say, oil pulling is only an added remedy and not a replacement for basic steps for wellbeing and nourishment.
Testimonials and Reviews
If you’re still a tad skeptical about pulling some oil, you might want to hear what regular users who practice oil pulling have to say about the benefits and risks.
The Good Stuff
Regular practitioners of oil pulling, those who have stuck to doing it every morning, despite the initial discomfort have written and spoken about a range of benefits that they experienced.
For some, with a chronic history of bad breath, even chronic halitosis, the freshness in their breath, even after meals was a noticeable change, while some users noticed a significant reduction in the bleeding of their gums. Multiple bloggers mention how regular oil pulling reduced their headaches caused by migraine or sinusitis, also mentioning that the first few days of oil pulling may cause slight pain in the head, which is popularly known as a ‘detox headache’ – the same kind you experience when you drastically reduce your caffeine or nicotine intake.
Perhaps the most staggering evidence of oil pulling benefits comes from those that have experienced a marked difference in the color of their teeth, over weeks and months of oil pulling.
The Slippery Bits
Like with most other healing practices and methods, there are some with oil pulling too. For instance, the initial discomfort of holding oil in the mouth for over 5 minutes, can be quite a challenge to overcome. For one, the texture of oil takes some getting used to, and the oil tends to increase in volume as it mixes with the saliva and the toxins, becoming quite thick and viscous, which can cause some stiffness in the jaws. Regular oil pullers talk about this struggle, but also the fact that it’s a struggle totally worth putting up with, especially because you soon figure out exactly how much oil you oral cavity can hold, and you gradually increase how long you swish it around for.
The key here is to begin with lesser oil and swish it around only till you’re comfortable. From here, you can build up your time and resistance to the texture of oil. Be sure to never, ever swallow the toxin-laden oil, as it will completely ruin the effectiveness of oil pulling. Another important thing to remember, is to spit out the oil in a trash can, and not your sink, as the oil could clog up the pipes.
There might be some slippery bits, but oil pulling is definitely a lot safer and more risk-free than other holistic healing therapies. With a little precaution, you should be able to “pull” this off!
Before and after Teeth Whitening Examples
Even if one were to dismiss all the magical effects that oil pulling has on your mouth (don’t, because some of them are actually true) – the one effect that possibly could not be dismissed is the fact that oil pulling, when done correctly and regularly, will go a long way in giving you shiny, white and healthy teeth. Spotty, discolored, yellow teeth can often cause social embarrassment – after all, no one wants to be in a place where they have to think twice before they smile, right?
Whether you suffer from yellow, patchy teeth because of plaque, or your tooth enamel is damaged, regular oil pulling will definitely help. Sure, a couple of trips to the dentist might set discolored teeth right in a matter of few days, but that’s going to leave you with a large dent in your pocket, not to mention the unforgivable use of chemicals on your pearlies. While cosmetic dental cleaning may work as a quick-fix, last-minute solution to yellow teeth, it will do little to improve overall dental health, only increasing your visits to your dentist in the future. In comparison, it may take you a few weeks of oil pulling before you see a marked difference in the color of your teeth, but it’ll be worth the wait, plus the other changes you begin to see, will definitely keep you going!
Does It Really Help to Remove Heavy Metals in the Mouth and Sinuses from Mercury Amalgam Fillings?
There has been a whole other subject of medical and dental health study – that of mercury deposited in the mouth as a result of dental fillings, causing the internet to go into a tizzy over how tooth fillings could possibly cause mercury poisoning, especially when used over long periods of time. Whether this is true or not remains a topic of debate, but practitioners endorsing oil pulling claim that along with pulling out toxins and harmful bacteria, oil pulling has the same effect on any mercury that may be present in the oral cavity as a result of dental fillings. While this is yet to be documented or proven by medical research, it does seem to make sense – after all, if oil can absorb toxins, which are also chemicals, it would also be able to do the same with another chemical like mercury.
Irrespective of where the medical community stands on this argument, oil pulling definitely poses lesser risk than mercury poisoning – think of it as a bonus, if you do have fillings in your teeth, all that oil you swish every morning might be pulling out more than just toxins and germs, and might just be keeping you safe from a potential risk of mercury poisoning.
What Are the Best Types of Oil to Use?
Historically and traditionally, Ayurveda recommends the use of sesame and coconut oils – both rich in medicinal and antioxidant properties, as well as most commonly used in the Indian subcontinent, where oil pulling is said to have originated. Coconut oil is packed with nutrients and vitamins, and is a magical moisturizer, with its ability to retain moisture. In addition, it also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a perfect remedy for scratches and bruises, as well as a perfect carrier oil for other stronger, more volatile oils, giving it a valuable place in varied applications, from cooking to the beauty industry.
Sesame oil, on the other hand, has been traditionally used as a remedy for aches and sprains, and swelling caused by muscle injuries. With warming properties, it makes for a great alternative home remedy for alleviating joint and muscle pain, especially in the knee joints.
The most ideal type of oil for oil pulling could essentially be any oil that is cold-pressed, mild in taste, safe for consumption and organic, without any additives. This means you could experiment with coconut, sesame, olive or even vegetable oil – although the last one is often commercially produced and as tempted as you may be to save some money, you might want to prioritize a safer choice over an economical one.
Since sesame oil isn’t likely to be on most kitchen shelves in the West, practitioners have experimented with olive oil, more commonly found in kitchens and discovered that it works, too. However, both – coconut and olive oils – have an acquired taste and texture, and it may not be the most pleasant experience the first couple of times.
Olive Oil vs. Coconut Oil
With high-quality sesame oil being rare (and expensive) to find and vegetable oil posing a possible risk of being adulterated, it comes down to choosing between coconut and olive oil. Here’s a look at what works and what doesn’t, and what oil should be your first choice when it comes to oil pulling.
To begin with, both coconut and olive oil are great emulsifiers, making them equally effective at pulling out toxins, but coconut oil also has the advantage of having antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. This only means that out of the two, coconut oil may just aid better when it comes to preventing the growth of harmful bacteria, healing cuts and bleeding gums. If these are not concerns for you, olive oil may work just as well.
Another advantage to using coconut oil, is that it is not only as rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids as olive oil, but it also comes packed with a whole lot of vitamins that aid in bone and skin health, increased immunity and anti-aging. There are studies claiming that oil pulling also affects the overall well-being of the body since it gets absorbed by the blood vessels in the mouth. If these studies are indeed true, then oil pulling with coconut oil might also prove to be a way to contribute to your body’s intake of these vitamins and essential nutrients. Like most of the non-oral benefits of oil pulling mentioned throughout, this one is only an added advantage – great if it does work, but also not problematic if it doesn’t since it’s perfectly safe.
Lastly, coconut oil also wins when it comes to being somewhat easier on the pocket. Surprised? Don’t be – if you’re comparing a bottle of cooking olive oil to organic coconut oil, you’ve got it wrong. Most olive oils used for stovetop cooking are mixed with cheaper oils to lend them a higher smoking point and make them ideal for cooking – which, in the process, makes them cheaper, but also nutrient-deficient. If it’s the good stuff you want, then you’re going to have to invest in some high-quality, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil and at a couple of tablespoons everyday, this might add substantially to your monthly grocery budget.
Coconut oil, on the other hand, is easier and cheaper to find – it is possible to find multiple brands of organic, cold-pressed coconut oil under $15, at a local pharmacy, supermarket or even online.
Best Safe Brand of Coconut Oil to Use for Your Children and Family
Since coconut oil seems to be the clear choice when it comes to oil pulling, here are a few brands that are safe to use, in terms of both application and consumption. First on the list is this natural coconut oil by Viva Naturals – cold-pressed, unrefined and sourced from coconuts grown in the mineral rich soil of the Philippines, followed by Island Fresh’s superior organic coconut oil, which is a 100% organic and non-GMO brand. Both these brands are reliable, certified and cost effective – making them perfect for bulk buying and consuming.
It’s true that research in favor of oil pulling is still slowly piling up, and that some of the indirect, long term effects are still being scrutinised, but there’s little denying that it is good for your health, in one way or another. So go on, buy that jar of oil you’ve been eyeing on your trips to the supermarket. Whether you use it for oil pulling or not, you won’t have to worry about being unable to use it up at all – there are a dozen benefits to using coconut oil, and as far as oil pulling is concerned, once you begin to see the effects yourself, it’ll soon be a family morning ritual and what a great one at that! After all, what’s better than sharing a practice as a family, especially one that comes with beaming, sparkling smiles and a healthy body in return?
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