By now you have probably already heard of ‘oil pulling’. It seems to have become the latest beauty trend, and there are how-to articles, blog posts and health and wellness websites dedicated to promoting this daily regimen, and touting its many supposed benefits. For those who have never ventured further into understanding what oil pulling is, don’t despair. This article will aim to break it down and discuss its history, process, technique, benefits, and last but not least, the claimed end results, which seem to vary person to person.
The name oil pulling may sound a little misleading for what it actually is. The short version of oil pulling means that you use an oil (cold-pressed and organic ideally) and swish about a tablespoon in your mouth for health benefits that are said to go well beyond oral hygiene. This practice is rooted in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is a type of traditional Hindu medicine with the word itself meaning “science of life”. It is often referred to as “alternative medicine” in the Western world. It was created and gained popularity on the Indian subcontinent, and now many of its practices have become known and recommended worldwide. Some of the many aspects of Ayurvedic medicine include the use of herbs to treat ailments, eating foods based on your constitution (vata, pitta or kapha), and the use of oil for deep body massages or for oil pulling, the latter of which is the focus of this article.
There are two kinds of oil pulling in Ayurveda. The first is called Kavala Dharma in Sanskrit, and is a much shorter process. This is when some of the oil is taken into the mouth, swished around, and then spit out – essentially very similar to how mouthwash is used. The second one, Gandush, is the version that has become so popular today. It is a longer process said to have many healing benefits and many practitioners recommend it and swear by its use.
What exactly is oil pulling, or Gandush?
Oil pulling is when about a tablespoon or so of oil is taken into the mouth, and is swished around for 20 minutes. The amount of time now seems to vary, with some websites claiming it can be 10 to 15 minutes instead, but traditionally, it is said 20 minutes is the amount it takes for this treatment to be effective. The goal of oil pulling is to remove or “pull out” toxins, called ama, from your mouth and body. Throughout the process, the oil will begin to become milkier and thicker, apparently from absorbing the many toxins. Some people may have trouble keeping the oil in their mouths this long, but as there is no heavy flavor since the oil is not toasted, for most people it is a neutral experience.
It is very important to make sure not to swallow any of the oil while you are swishing, since according to those who recommend the practice, it is now very concentrated and full of toxins. For this reason, it is also not advisable to gargle with it as you may accidentally swallow some, and instead you should simply swish it around your mouth, covering your teeth, gums, tongue and even pushing it between your teeth. Once the 20 minutes are over, you spit the oil out – ideally in the bathroom toilet, as it has been said the residue has such a high amount of concentrated toxins in it, it can destroy the surface paint if you spit it out in your sink! You then rinse your mouth to remove any excess residue, and can tongue scrape as well, and then resume your regular morning dental hygiene routine.
That is all there is to the process. It is very quick and effortless and said to carry many benefits when done correctly and consistently. There are a few more factors in making sure it is done correctly, but these rules seem to be a little more flexible. Ideally, you would do your oil pulling first thing in the morning upon waking up. It would be the first step before eating or brushing your teeth. However, some people choose to do it before bed, and others even do it twice a day.
Most Ayurvedic sources advocate the use of organic cold-pressed sesame oil, as opposed to different oils, due to its anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. However, some have made exceptions and offered organic cold-pressed coconut oil as an alternative as well. More and more websites seem to be interpreting the practice on their own, and therefore the times now vary (10, 15 or 20 minutes), and they also include more options for oils, including olive and sunflower. However, if you want to try and be as authentic as possible, aim for 20 minutes and use organic cold-pressed sesame oil.
So what are the reported specific health benefits one should expect to see from this simple process of oil pulling?
Firstly, oil pulling is said to improve overall oral health. By pulling out toxins, advocates state that it can reduce inflammation, and remove bacteria, fungus, and other organisms out from your mouth, teeth, gums, tongue and throat – strengthening the teeth and gums this way. It is therefore also claimed it can prevent certain diseases of the gums and mouth, including cavities and gingivitis. Since sesame oil is also very nourishing, it also aids in preventing the dryness of the lips, mouth and throat as well.
Beyond oral health, the benefits of oil pulling for your overall well-being seems to be the key reason as to why so many people are interested in trying it. The general idea behind it being that using sesame oil would aid in removing toxins from your body, which would then in turn lead to it being able to ease headaches, migraines, hangovers, reduce symptoms of bronchitis, reduce sinus congestion and provide allergy relief, help with insomnia, and aid in overall body detoxification.
With a list like that, 20 minutes a day really does not seem so bad! But does it really work?
From the many people who have tried it as an experiment or because they genuinely believed it would work, I can categorize them into three groups: first, those who thought the process was disgusting and the oil in the mouth would cause a gag reflex. Second, those who reported some benefit to how their mouth specifically felt, and finally, those who felt better in terms of the general health ailments listed above.
The first group would of course report no changes, but were also not able to keep the sesame oil swirling in their mouths for twenty minutes, or be consistent with the process. If it really made them gag, it is understandable how doing it first thing in the morning would of course be less than ideal.
The second group reported better oral health. Anything from fresher breath, to their gums being less sensitive or less prone to bleeding. Some of them stated their dentists even noticed the better health of their gums and teeth and the reduced plaque. While these can still be considered to be success stories, it was mostly reserved to their oral health.
The last group was the fewest, but also the most adamant that this process worked for them and went well beyond oral health. The most common ailments it seemed to resolve were reducing or eliminating headaches, migraines, and especially hangovers. Some also stated it “encouraged” all the mucous and phlegm build-up in their nose and throats to be expelled from their bodies, bettering their sinus conditions as well as allergies.
While no one I have talked to personally who has tried oil pulling has gone to report the other more dramatic supposed benefits, other than the first group, the other two were satisfied with the results and plan to continue with this process. The claims of complete health renewal seem to be stories or testaments you can only find on the Internet, so of course it is wise to always read them critically and with some suspicion.
A few other important things to consider with oil pulling is that most websites, blogs, or people who advocate for its use, are not claiming it should replace any other oral health regimen. Instead, it is something you can add to your routine. It should not replace brushing your teeth or visiting the dentist. Another important factor to consider is that recent studies have claimed oil pulling could potentially lead to lipoid pneumonia. Lipoid pneumonia is a condition that is caused by breathing in small amounts of oil, and since in the case of oil pulling you keep oil in your mouth for 20 minutes, it could increase the risk of this disease. It is always important to understand the risks with any fad – regardless of how ‘holistic’, ‘natural’, or popular it may seem to be.
While curiosity may of course lead you to want to try oil pulling for yourself, make sure to actually log in your experience and note any effects it may have on your overall well being. After your test period, you can review and decide if oil pulling is really a technique that is worth for you.
Photo courtesy of Pinterest