Oil Pulling – A Health Enhancing Practice

Oil Pulling – A Health Enhancing Practice

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Compilation: Dr Sandi Nye

Aromatherapists usually know a lot about the benefits of using natural oils – both volatile/essential oils and fixed/carrier oils – but how much do they know about the ancient treatment of oil pulling?

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What is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling refers to swishing oil in the mouth as a cleansing procedure, and is a form of natural oral hygiene that is way more powerful than simply brushing teeth, flossing and/or gargling.

This tried and tested biomedical method of intensive cleansing and detoxing has been enjoying a modern resurgence since the early 1990s, when it was popularised by a medical doctor, Dr F Karach.  I however first became aware of this ancient practise during my Ayurvedic medicine training in 1995.

Oil pulling is a simple and inexpensive treatment that not only effectively combats yucky bacteria lurking in the mouth, but also simultaneously strengthens gums and whitens teeth.

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Why Oil Pull?

Other than the points mentioned above, oil pulling is reputed to resolve a wide array of health imbalances and ailments – and all without the risk of adverse side-effects.

For example, Dr Bruce Fife, author of Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body Through Oral Cleansing, writes about how the therapy is used to address nasal sinus problems.  This is relevant since mucous drainage is traditionally considered one of the body’s primary detox processes.

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Where did it originate?

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Oil pulling has its roots in ancient Ayurvedic medicine practise – the Indian form of naturopathic medicine that brims with wisdom, and has been around for over 5,000 years.

While this practice has been used for centuries as a traditional Indian remedy for health, since the mouth and tongue are integral to Ayurvedic treatment and diagnosis, oil pulling is also practised by other cultures.

Combining the wisdoms of Oil Pulling, Virgin Coconut Oil and Gemmotherapy, you’ll soon enjoy brighter teeth and help to improve your health with each swirl you take!

How Does Oil Pulling Work?

There’s nothing mystical about the way oil pulling works.  It simply removes pathogenic microbes and toxins in the mouth that may contribute to illness.

Most of the micro-organisms that comprise the oral ecology consist of a single cell with a lipid-layer outer cell.  The postulation is that during oil pulling these lipidic/fatty membranes of the microorganisms are attracted to the oil.

The process is helped along by both the enzymatic action of saliva, as well as the mechanical action of swishing or pulling the oil through the teeth, which loosens microbes lurking in the teeth, gums and oral mucosa.  This is further expounded on below in the section titled ‘Opinion Piece’.

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Bugs in the ‘beak’ – So to speak

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It’s no secret that several potentially pathogenic organisms reside in the mouth e.g. Streptococcus and Candida, which can cause illness if the immune system does not keep them under control.  An Indian study, relative to the effect of oil pulling and oral bacterial count, was conducted in 2008.  It concluded that sesame oil [the oil used for this particular study] exhibited antibacterial activity against Strep. Mutans, lactobacilli, as well as total oral bacteria.

What can it do for your health?

According to oil-pulling guru, Dr Karach – just about everything!  He claims it effectively treats/heals acne, arthritis, bronchitis, cracked lips, chronic blood disorders, encephalitis, eczema, gingivitis and bleeding gums, halitosis, headaches, heart, inflammation, intestinal disorders, kidney, liver, lung, nerve and stomach diseases, as well as nervous disorders, paralysis, sleeplessness/chronic insomnia, strokes, toothache, thrombosis, ulcers [gastric], and woman’s diseases.  Quite an impressive list – all in addition to the standard claims of tooth and gums strengthening, cavity-reduction and tooth whitening!

While most of us wouldn’t dream of not brushing our teeth or flossing, this practise is relatively new and only became the norm in the early 1900s.  Before that time our ancestors cleaned their teeth with bits of chewed twig – if at all – and they sure didn’t all die as toothless wrinklies!  Proof of this is evident, if the dental state of Egyptian mummies from about 3,000 years ago, is anything to go by.

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Obviously other factors like nutrition played an integral part in keeping their nashers strong and healthy during those times e.g. they ate very few refined foods – especially sugary food and drink, and tooth enamel destroying, phytic acid laden grains.

Mouth acidity is also one of your main causes of dental problems due to what we eat and drink such as coffee, sodas and processed foods.

Frequently Asked Questions About Oil Pulling:

Traditionally, sesame oil, coconut oil or butter oil [ghee] have been used for oil pulling, in various cultures, but sunflower and other oils are also advocated.  Choices will generally be influenced by budget and belief.

As health practitioners familiar with vegetal oils are aware, organic, unrefined, cold pressed oils are always preferable for both internal and external use, since they are likely to contain minimal chemical residues and have not been heat-extraction degraded.  Additionally, monounsaturated or saturated fats are preferable to polyunsaturated fats for oil oral use.

Sesame is the traditional Ayurvedic oil of choice, but oils like olive, or the latest favourite, virgin coconut are also popular.

These are healthier choices than refined and pro-inflammatory omega-6 rich oils like sunflower in my opinion.  However, if sunflower seed oil is used a cold-pressed oil is the preferable option.  Fortunately cold-pressed sunflower oil is now fairly easily available from supermarkets in South Africa.  Although sesame oil also contains omega-6 fatty acids it is the oil traditionally used in Ayurveda, so I’m not knocking it – even though we already have an excess of omega-6s to cope with in our western diets.

Energetically, sesame oil is more warming than some of the other oils – so depending on humours or doshas, different oils may be more individually suitable than others.

Olive oil can either be a more tasty option, or a more gag-worthy option, as it is more viscous than most other liquid oils – which can make it an acquired taste for oil pullers.  If you like olive oil you may also be more tempted to swallow it – which is an absolute oil pulling no-no!  Instead – if you can’t resist the urge, rather spit and start again.

Virgin coconut oil [VCO], on the other hand, has some outstanding bacteria-busting benefits due to its high lauric acid content – a fatty acid known for its antimicrobial action.

Streptococcus mutans, which is the primary bacterium responsible for dental caries/tooth decay, is inhibited by lauric acid, which makes this oil an obvious choice for dental health, as confirmed below.

It also has antifungal activity, which helps combat candida.  In addition, VCO is a comparatively potent detoxing agent.  And just to add to its many and varied virtues, it also tastes pretty good, which is helpful when one is swishing away for a long time!  But as with olive – let this not be a temptation to swallow it.

Sarah, a writer for The Healthy Home Economist, states the following:

‘While any of these oils are likely effective, is any one choice better than the others?

According to research performed by Irish scientists from the Athlone Institute of Technology who tested the effects of coconut oil, vegetable oil and olive oil on dental health, the answer is yes.

Of the three types of oil tested, only coconut oil was shown to prevent Streptococcus mutans, an acid-producing bacterium that is a common inhabitant of the mouth and a major cause of tooth decay, from binding to and damaging tooth enamel.

This finding lends serious credence to the anecdotal claims of some people who report that oil pulling works best with coconut oil.

Lead researcher Dr. Damien Brady stated that coconut oil could prove to be an attractive alternative to chemicals in maintaining oral health.  He noted that not only does coconut oil work at relatively low concentrations, but with the worrisome problem of increasing antibiotic resistance, it is important to consider coconut oil a potentially novel new way to control microbial infections.

Dr. Fife also recommends making medicated coconut oil in his book, Oil Pulling Therapy, to enhance the effects and healing properties of oil pulling.’

According to Dr. Karach the beauty of this method of oral hygiene lies in its simplicity.

Simply slowly swish between 10ml-30ml of your oil of choice in your mouth, ‘pulling’, pushing and munching it between your teeth in a relaxed fashion, for about 15-20 minutes.

You may notice that as the process continues, the oil tends to gets thinner and becomes white or creamy coloured [depending on which oil is used].  This is normal and thought to be due to a mixture of saliva, mucus and accumulated toxins.

Apparently swishing activates enzymes in the saliva and these enzymes draw toxins out of the blood.  However, don’t swallow the toxin or ‘ama-laden’ oil that results from the procedure, as that would rather defeat the detox purpose – and besides, it just seems gross!

When you’re done spit it out, rinse your mouth, and brush your teeth.  Rinsing with warm, sea-salt water also has added antimicrobial benefits, and in addition it does not disrupt the balance of healthy flora.

It helps quell the gag reflex if you tilt your chin down or lean forward a bit, as opposed to tilting your head back and letting it hit the back of your throat.

Ideally, first thing in the morning – before drinking or eating anything, and before brushing your teeth – since this is when the accumulated gunk from the sleeping hours is lurking in greatest quantity.  Morning breath confirms this!

In addition, if you do start feeling a bit green around the gills [either from the process or from the detox starting], it’s a lot more pleasant if you have an empty stomach.

It can however also be done at night, 3-4 hours after dinner, if mornings aren’t your thing.

Daily or 3-4x per week – depending on individual need or preference.  It can even be done 2-3x a day, for short periods of time, to accelerate a healing process when needed.  But, always before meals, or on an empty stomach i.e. 3-4 hours after a meal has been digested.

As long as you like or until there is symptom amelioration if you’re doing it for a specific condition.  It’s safe, and other than maybe a bit nauseating for some folk, without significant side effects.

Not usually, but If you do experience a bit of stiff jaw or muscle tightness in the cheeks, just relax your face more when doing it or don’t swish and pull too vigorously and it should subside.

If you experience a release of mucous in your throat or nose [swishing can release sinus gunk], simply blow your nose before you start.

Sometimes symptoms may get initially worse, which is referred to a ‘healing crisis’, but this isn’t a reason to stop the treatment.  Keep going and it too shall pass.

Yep – children can also do this but with less quantity of oil [5ml], provided they have sufficient control not to swallow the oil.

According to the Coconut Research Center: ‘Oil pulling will not and cannot loosen properly placed crowns or fillings.  The only time oil pulling will affect crowns or fillings is if the teeth underneath have decayed and are full of infection.  In this case, the foundation on which the crowns or fillings are secured to is badly decayed and unable to hold the dental material.  Oil pulling removes bacteria, pus, and mucus.  It cannot pull out porcelain, amalgam, or composite dental materials from the teeth.’

If in doubt about oil pulling consult a biological dentist for an opinion.

There are about seven scientific studies on oil pulling, but thousands of anecdotal reports.

A study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine reviewed holistic approaches to oral health.  The researchers reported that oil pulling is one of the most effective natural health solutions known to scientists for the prevention of tooth decay and tooth loss.  In addition, the authors of this study have the following to say about this traditional healing practice:

‘Oil pulling is a powerful detoxifying Ayurvedic technique that has recently become very popular as a CAM remedy for many different health ailments.  Using this method, surgery or medication could be prevented for a number of chronic illnesses.  The oil therapy is preventative as well as curative.  The exciting aspect of this healing method is its simplicity.

Ayurveda advises oil gargling* to purify the entire system; as it holds that each section of the tongue is connected to different organ such as to the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine, similarly to reflexology and TCM.’

A commentator of this research states: ‘This study highlights how the detoxification effect that oil pulling has on the entire body reaches far beyond oral health.  This is especially important for people who have conditions that contraindicate brushing such as mouth ulcer, fever, indigestion, those who have tendency to vomit, have asthma, cough, or thirst.’

A number of other studies have been conducted by researchers in India that all indicate positive benefits of oil pulling for both adults and children.
* NB – the term ‘gargling’ isn’t used in the conventional sense i.e. gurgling a glug of liquid in the back of the throat – it is a more colloquial turn of phrase in this instance to mean swishing oil through the teeth with the mouth firmly closed.

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Many people believe that the therapeutic effects and the science behind oil pulling is the effects caused by the absorption of toxins and chemicals through blood vessels in the mouth and tongue

What do we think about Oil Pulling?

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Now that you know all there is to know about Oil Pulling, we feel it is important that you know what our opinion regarding this simple holistic health method is! We have studied this method and its benefits thoroughly and highly recommend it, here is why:

According to oilpulling.com, the science behind oil pulling could be as follows:

‘Many people believe that the therapeutic effects and the science behind oil pulling is the effects caused by the absorption of toxins and chemicals through blood vessels in the mouth and tongue, as well as sublingual/transmucosal absorption of the fatty acids in the oils used for pulling.

One theory on oil pulling science is:

Oil is non polar and attracts non polar molecules.  The arrangement or geometry of the atoms in some molecules is such that one end of the molecule has a positive electrical charge and the other side has a negative charge.  If this is the case, the molecule is called a polar molecule, meaning that it has electrical poles.  Otherwise, it is called a non-polar molecule. Whether molecules are polar or non-polar determines if they will mix to form a solution or that they don’t mix well together.

Saliva which is secreted into the mouth when the oil is repeatedly swished and pulled is mainly water, electrolytes, digestive enzymes, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral agents, and is mainly polar and therefore attracts polar molecules.  It is this heterogeneous mixture that works together to rid the mouth and body of unwanted toxins and chemicals.

The most common way for substances to migrate from blood to saliva is believed to be by unaided, or passive, diffusion.  The capillaries surrounding the salivary glands are quite porous for many substances. Materials can pass from the blood system into the space surrounding the glands, and then make their way directly through the membranes of acinus or duct cells.  The ability of a molecule to diffuse passively through cell membranes depends partly on its size, and partly on how much electrical charge it carries.  If a molecule is polar in nature, or if it separates into charged ions while in solution, it will have a hard time passing through the membranes, which are made out of neutral fatty compounds called phospholipids.  Steroid hormones are relatively small in size, and most of them are fatty, non-polar compounds, so they tend to pass relatively easily by diffusion.  Other molecules such as the large protein hormones, or hormones or drugs that are bound to large carrier proteins while in the blood stream, are too big to enter by this route.

A second pathway used by molecules to enter saliva is by filtering through the tight spaces between acinus or duct cells.  In order to do this they must be relatively small.  Sulfated steroids such as dehydro-epiandrosterone sulfate and estriol sulfate, which are not able to pass through the fatty cell walls because of their electrical charges, are believed to enter principally by the filtration route.

Compounds such as DHEA-S are slower to migrate into saliva than the neutral steroid hormones, and when saliva output is stimulated they may move too slowly to keep up with the accelerated flow rates, causing concentrations in saliva to drop.

Blood components can also gain entry into saliva from the outflow of the serum-like gingival crevicular fluid [GCF] from the gums, or from small injuries or burns in the mouth.  GCF is believed to be a major route by which certain molecules, which would ordinarily be too large to pass by either diffusion or filtration, can find their way from serum into saliva.

A fourth pathway for the entry of a substance into saliva is by active transport through the secretory cells of the glands, which is the route used by secretory immunoglobulin A [SIgA].  Polymeric IgA is secreted by B-lymphocyte cells close to the salivary cells, then bound and transported across the cells by a Polymeric Immunoglobulin Receptor, and finally released into salivary secretions.  It has been shown that secretion of SIgA is increased by nervous stimulation of the saliva glands, but the exact manner in which the transport is accelerated is not yet understood.  There must be an upper limit to the speed of transport, since SIgA concentrations in saliva are known to decrease as saliva flow is stimulated.

These pathways can also give entry to various bacteria and viruses that have the appropriate electrical charges.

The other theory for understanding oil pulling is not quite as scientific, but more eastern in thinking.

As described above, the polar and non polar molecules of the heterogeneous mixture [saliva and oil] are removing the toxins and various chemicals with the corresponding electrical charges, when they’re being pulled.

This cleansing of the mouth and tongue is the basis for the next phase of the therapeutic process.  If you have studied acupuncture you may be aware of the many points on acupuncture meridians that become congested and blocked from food, bacteria and environmental toxins which our bodies absorb. The tongue is very important to the function of most of the organs and biochemical reactions taking place in the body.

Theoretically, by removing the toxins and various microbes from the tongue we free the congestion and blockages from the important meridian pathways that interconnect our many organs.
Here is the tongue and its many meridian points.

The site also has the following to say about oral ecology:

‘It’s amazing what you can see if you look carefully,” says Mager, a fellow in oral medicine at the Forsyth Institute, an independent research institution in Boston.  The view reveals hundreds of different kinds of bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi, and other micro-organisms.  Forsyth scientists, most of whom are on the faculty of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, have found 615 different species of bacteria – and they’re still counting.

It’s a great place for micropests to dwell.  Glistening white plateaus, dark crevices, and slimy surfaces boast steamy temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The microbes bathe in a saliva-induced humidity of 100 percent, and eat a lavish diet of sugar and other carbohydrates.’  It’s so lush and varied, Mager refers to it as a mini-jungle.

‘In one mouth, the number of bacteria can easily exceed the number of people who live on Earth [more than 6 billion],’ notes Sigmund Socransky, associate clinical professor of periodontology at Harvard.  ‘These bugs don’t colonize your mouth in a random way; rather, they form communities in a pattern that is dictated both by other bugs and by the environment. Bacteria affect their environment, and the environment affects them.  Although they touch each other, the floor of the mouth is populated by different communities than the bottom of the tongue, and the top of the tongue hosts a biota unlike that on the roof of your mouth.’

Years of detecting and identifying mouth tenants have revealed that those living in healthy mouths can be remarkably different from those living in diseased mouths.  Some bacteria increase in number, while others decrease.  By comparing communities of microbes in healthy people with those in the mouths of those with oral cancer, Mager has found a pattern that she expects will lead to the early diagnosis of oral cancers.

Bacteria and other microorganisms don’t select our mouths, our mouths select them.  The conditions in our mouths create an environment that favors certain types of organisms and allows them to grow and flourish.  A healthy mouth [and healthy body] is filled with relatively benign bacteria for the most part.  An unhealthy mouth attracts harmful bacteria.  If you want to have a healthier mouth and body, you must change the environment in your mouth.

Researchers have tried various ways to alter the micro-populations in people’s mouths.  These populations can be altered temporarily by cleaning your teeth, using antiseptic mouthwashes, and even taking antibiotics.  However, the ordinary inhabitants and their relative proportions to each other quickly re-establish themselves.  Killing oral bacteria helps to reduce their numbers, but it does not change the types of organisms that thrive in the mouth.

So-called friendly organisms can inhibit or even kill the more troublesome ones.  So increasing the number of good microbes would help lower the number of bad and keep them under control.  This concept has proven useful for balancing the environment in the gut. Lactic acid bacteria in cultured foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, and probiotic dietary supplements help to build the populations of good bacteria and suppress the troublemakers, thus helping to relieve various digestive complaints.

Likewise, the ecology of the mouth isn’t going to change simply because you introduce a certain type of organism.  The environment in your mouth is established, for the most part, by your diet and lifestyle.  In order to make permanent changes in the environment of your mouth, you need to make dietary and lifestyle changes.

Oil pulling works wonders for removing all types of germs and reducing the number of potentially harmful ones.  But still research needs to be done on prove the effectiveness on altering the percentage of good bacteria.  The recommendation is to maintain healthy habits along with oil pulling therapy.’

We Believe that a happy body comes from a happy mouth!

Upping the ‘ANTE’ with Essential Oils!

In closing, adding a few drops of essential oil to your daily oil pulling dose can enhance the therapy.  About 1 drop per 5ml is usually palatable and effective and a good starting dilution.  Organic essential oils are preferential.

Aromatherapists will be able to work out which oils are best for various indications, but in general, spearmint, peppermint, lemon, orange, grapefruit and fennel are good basic oils to start with.  They can be used either singly or in combination.  Other oils, like oregano, tea tree and myrrh also have a place, especially when there is illness or gum disease present, but they are indeed an acquired taste!  And although clove oil is traditionally the oil of choice for toothache – take care with the dosage as it’s highly potent and can burn the oral mucosa if indiscriminately used – so take care.

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Caution:

Do not swallow!  This is one time when spitting is allowed!

If you use virgin coconut oil, don’t however spit it into the wash basin as it can solidify in the drain.  Spit into tissues or paper towel and bin it.  If using other oils it’s OK to let the spit go down the plug hole, but do clean the basin afterwards, since the spit contains whatever muck has been drawn out of the oral tissue.

Amith HV, et al. Effect of Oil Pulling on Plaque and Gingivitis. Journal of Oral Health & Community Dentistry: 2007; 1[1]: 12-18
Anand TD, et al. Effect of oil-pulling on dental caries causing bacteria. African Journal of Microbiology Research. 2008. Vol 2 [3]: 63-66,
Asokan S et al. Effect of oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in plaque and saliva using Dentocult SM Strip mutans test: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Journal of the Indian Society of Pedodontics & Preventive Dentistry. 2008. 26[1]:12-7
Fife, B. Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body Through Oral Cleansing.  Piccadilly Books. 2008.
Greenhouse Health – Practice brochure.
Singh A, et al.  Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health.  Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. 2011. Vol 2 [2]:64-68.
Thaweboon S. et al. Effect of Oil-Pulling on Oral Microorganisms in Biofilm Models. Asia Journal of Public Health 2011