If you read about health and wellness regularly, you may have heard of oil pulling—the practice of swishing certain oils in your mouth in order to improve health. Many people swear by it; others aren’t convinced of its benefits. If you’re considering adding oil pulling to your self-care routine, you should understand the myths around this ancient, yet thoroughly modern wellness practice.
Oil Pulling Myth #1: It’s just another wellness trend
Oil pulling is more than just a trend. It’s actually an ancient ayurvedic healing method that is as relevant today as it was 5,000 years ago.
Oil Pulling Myth #2: It’s just for healthier teeth
It may seem to focus on the mouth, but the benefits of oil pulling can go much further. We’ve all heard of the mind-body connection—but there’s a strong mouth-body connection as well, according to this 2013 article on the Mayo Clinic’s website, which outlines the associations between conditions of the mouth and diseases elsewhere in the body.
In our daily lives, toxins may accumulate in our bodies due to poor diet, processed foods, pollution, lack of exercise, stress and environmental factors; in addition to the toxins naturally produced by normal digestive and endocrine processes. While most toxins are eliminated via the body’s excretory functions, many complementary health care providers believe a buildup of excess toxins, stored in fat cells, can contribute to weight gain, headaches, aching joints, constipation, energy loss, insomnia and compromised immunity.
According to ancient ayurvedic tradition, oil pulling increases the secretion of saliva and helps trap toxins within the oil particles, which are then eliminated when the oil is spit out. Essentially, oil pulling is believed to allow the salivary glands to act as detoxifying agents. While few formal studies have been conducted on oil pulling’s health benefits, many people report that as they continue to practice it, they have fewer aches and pains, clearer skin, better digestion, a feeling of lightness and increased energy.
Improved oral health is another potential benefit; in a small 2009 study published in the Indian Journal of Dental Research, subjects who used oil pulling experienced a reduction in plaque and oral bacteria. (Note: The American Dental Association does not endorse oil pulling, due to the lack of formal research on the practice; and does not recommend it as a replacement for brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing or antiseptic mouthwash.)
Oil Pulling Myth #3: All oils are equal
Oil pulling is based on the ayurvedic concept that optimal health is achieved when the three humors, or doshas, of the body are brought into balance. In ayurveda, the doshas are based on combinations of the five major elements of existence: air, water, fire, space and earth.
Stand-alone oils such as coconut, sesame and sunflower are often used for oil pulling. Each has distinctive benefits that relate to specific doshas—but it is recommended to look beyond the supermarket shelves for an oil product that has been expressly designed for pulling and uses a blend of oils.
Oil Pulling Myth #4: You won’t need to brush your teeth
Despite how clean your mouth may feel after oil pulling, you must brush afterwards because the oil forms a biofilm on the teeth that can trap microorganisms.
How to Oil Pull
Every morning, before eating or drinking, put about a tablespoon of your chosen oil in your mouth and gently swish for two to three minutes at first, working up to 15 minutes gradually. (Be very careful not to swallow any oil, as it will be full of bacteria.)
Spit the oil out—into a trash can to avoid clogging your plumbing—rinse your mouth with fresh water, then brush with toothbrush and toothpaste. If you have a chronic cough or any other medical condition, you should consult your physician before beginning oil pulling or any other health practice.
Oil pulling is an accessible, everyday wellness practice and can make a wonderful complement to massage therapy and the rest of your self-care.
Puneet Nanda, a successful entrepreneur turned yogi, is the author of the book GuruNanda’s Happy Breath Yoga: Wall Street Yoga, a 14-minute yoga routine designed to help type-A personalities de-stress. He is also the founder of the GuruNanda line of wellness products (gurunanda.com), which includes several specialty pulling oils.