July 31, 2013

The Truth about Oil Pulling.

Perhaps you have heard of it: the Ayurvedic technique of swishing oil in your mouth for 10-20 minutes daily that claims to deliver a litany of health benefits.

The web is chock-full of stories claiming amazing results from this seemingly innocuous procedure. It seems implausible that swishing oil in the mouth could benefit one’s joint, heart and immune health.

In this article, join me as I dive into the research—separating the wheat from the chaff, the truth from the non-truths—about this very ancient Ayurvedic technique.

What is Oil Pulling?

The practice of oil pulling is typically done by using sesame or coconut oil as a mouth wash or gargle. These oils are classically herbalized with turmeric and/or other herbs to enhance the effects. One tablespoon of this oil is swished in the mouth and sucked or “pulled” through the teeth for 10-20 minutes.

An International Buzz

In 1996, an Indian newspaper called Andhra Jyoti conducted a survey to find out user experiences regarding the effectiveness of oil pulling. Out of a total of 1041 respondents, 927 (89%) reported amazing health benefits. Only 114 (11%) reported no benefit.

The survey included the following:

• Pains in the body – 758 cases
• Respiratory system -191 cases
• Skin -171 cases
• Digestive system-155 cases
• Elimination – 137 cases
• Joints – 91 cases
• Heart and Circulation – 74 cases
• Blood Sugar – 56 cases
• Hormones – 21 cases
• Miscellaneous -72

Since the newspaper buzz in 1996, oil pulling has been gaining more and more attention. The claims of health benefits linked to this very simple therapy have been extraordinary. However, many such claims are just anecdotal, without any research to substantiate them. Unfortunately, this newspaper survey, while it might have spawned international interest, carries no real proof for these claims.

But before you throw your “swishing oil” in the trash, there are real benefits to be had. Let’s take a look at the facts.

The Truth and the Research

Ancient Science

Oil pulling is clearly mentioned in the classic and most esteemed textbook of Ayurveda, the Caraka Samhita. Caraka says this about oil pulling:

Keeping of oil gargle provides strength in jaws and voice, development of the face, maximum taste and relish of food. One does not suffer from dryness of throat, lip cracking and teeth become firmly rooted. The teeth do not ache or become sensitive and can chew the hardest food items (1).

Modern Science

In a randomized triple-blind study measuring the effect of oil pulling on oral health, 20 boys were divided into two groups. One group gargled daily for 10 minutes with a traditional mouthwash (chlorhexidine, considered the most effective anti-plaque and anti-gingivitis agent). The other group gargled daily for 10 minutes with sesame oil.

The results showed support for a healthy immune response against foreign microbes, and healthy gums and plaque levels in both groups (2, 3).

In another study, the swishing of the oil in the mouth and pulling the oil between the teeth were shown to have a saponification (detergent or cleansing) effect on the oral mucosa (4).

Numerous studies citing similar results very much support the original statements made by Caraka Samhita more than 3000 years ago. The benefits of oil pulling on plaque as a natural cleansing agent for the teeth and gums are all very real.

But can the benefits of oil pulling go beyond the mouth?

How Does Oil Pulling Work?

Sesame oil, coconut oil and turmeric all have benefits. Sesame and coconut oils herbalized with turmeric are used in Ayurveda regularly to detoxify or “pull” toxins from the skin that they are applied to. The theory is the oils are lipophilic, meaning they attract other oils. The fatty layers in our skin are well-known dumping grounds for fat-soluble toxins (6).

Some of the fat-soluble toxins that we are regularly exposed to are:

o heavy metals
o parasites
o pesticides
o preservatives
o additives
o hormones
o environmental toxins

When applied to the skin, these oils may attract toxic fat molecules to the surface, cleansing them through the body’s largest detox organ: the skin.

Backed by Science

This use of oil as a detox accelerator or “pulling” agent has been recently studied. In one study, the external use of sesame oil in massage and the ingestion of ghee were found to reduce lipid peroxides or free radicals in the blood (5). The researchers concluded that the lipophilic effect of the oils helps pull free radicals and toxins out of the blood.

Another study observed how heavy metals and environmental toxins were “pulled” out of the blood during sesame oil massage and the ingestion of ghee during an Ayurvedic detox called panchakarma (6). Again, the lipophilic or pulling effect of the oils is believed to be the mechanism behind this detox effect.

To Pull or Not to Pull?

While more studies need to be done on the oil pulling technique, it is clear that the mechanism of oil acting as a pulling agent for toxins is known. As a result, it is very plausible that exposing the skin—and particularly the oral mucosa—to oils and herbs like sesame, coconut and turmeric may have a beneficial and detoxifying pulling effect.

1. Charaka samhita Ch V -78 to 80.
2. Asokan S, Emmadi P, Chamundeswari R. Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian J Dent Res. 2009; 20:47– 51. [PubMed: 19336860]
3. Effect of oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in plaque and saliva using Dentocult SM Strip mutans test: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. 2008 Mar;26(1):12-7. PMID: 18408265
4. Indian J Dent Res. 2011 Jan-Feb;22(1):34-7. doi: 10.4103/0970-9290.79971. PMID:21525674
5. Sharma HM, Midich SI, Sands D, Smith DE: Improvement in cardiovascular risk factors through Panchakarma purification procedures. J Res Educ Indian Med, 1993; 12(4); 2-13.
6. Heron, Fagan. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in its September/October 2002 issue, two

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Ed: Sara Crolick

Image: Håkan Dahlström / Flickr

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Brad Yantzer Jul 3, 2015 2:54pm

What is being touted as Ayurvedic is not at all. Sorry folks. Sorry John. If your not following the proper protocols of the proper treatments and just garbling it all up, how is it Ayurveda at all?

Oil pulling does not detoxify in the way that this article or the other state. Coconut oil can never detoxify as per Ayurveda. It is brimhana or building/anabolic.

The treatment your are kind of stating above is palliation, not shodana, therefore not detoxing as per Ayurveda.

AS PER AYURVEDA (Charaka Samhita):

Kavala is of four types:
Lubricating with oils and fats (snigda)– for Vata imbalance disorder. It is done by the use of oil processed with herbs of sweet, sour and salt tastes. Not cold and heavy coconut oil.
Palliative (shamana) for Pitta imbalance disorder. It is done by herbs of bitter, astringent and sweet tastes.
Cleansing / detoxing (shodana) – for Kapha imbalance disorder. It is with herbs of bitter, pungent, sour, salt tastes and possessing hot property. Not cold and heavy and sweet coconut oil.
Healing (ropana) – It is done with herbs of astringent and bitter taste.

Different substances are used in kavala in Ayurveda:
Fats – oil, ghee milk,
Honey with water
Fermented gruel
juice of meat / meat soup
urine of animals such as cow urine (yep)
dhanyamla – Sour fermented grain liquid

For daily use, oil pulling with sesame oil or meat soup
"Benefits of oil pulling with sesame oil, daily: Sesame oil gargling is beneficial for the strength of jaws, depth of voice, flabbiness of face, excellent gustatory sensation and good taste for food. One will never get dryness of throat, nor does his lips ever get cracked; his teeth will never develop caries and will be deep-rooted; he will not have any toothache nor will his teeth set on edge by sour intake; his teeth can chew even the hardest eatables" Reference: (Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana 5…. that is the Ayurvedic text)

The proper use of the treatment depends upon what it is being used for (what of the above 4 is being done) and the person and their disease state.
The person should sit in a place devoid of breeze but in mild sunlight. At the right time of day as per the dosha.
It is never done when the sky is overcast.
His shoulders and neck should be massaged with the proper oil and then fomented depending upon the treatment and why it is being given.
After fomentation, the treatment of Kavala is commenced.
Keeping the face slightly lifted up, one should hold the liquid in their mouth till the mouth gets filled with Kapha (sputum / slimy liquid / mucus) and till the nose and eyes start secreting liquid. Not 20 minutes. Each individual will be different and this is the sign that it is done completely as this is what it is being used for.
Then the contents of the mouth are spitted out.

After this Dhumapaan or smoking of herbs is done. Not as per what Westerners think smoking is.
Then tambula is chewed.

This is real Ayurveda.

The treatment will vary as per the person and what they are using it for.

There is no pulling toxins as written above going on except when it is used as shodana treatment, which what is written in this article above is not. At best what is written above can kind of be said to be a palliative treatment. But in even that coconut oil would never be used as it is opposite qualities as per Ayurveda and is a brimhana or anabolic and also a kaphakara or builds kapha and the mouth is the seat of Bodaka Kapha thus will create imbalance.

It is used for neck, jaw, eyes, nose, throat, gum, teeth, sinus problems when used properly but can easily create the same when used improperly.

Most importantly, it is to never be used in cases when someone has aama (if you look at your tongue and it has a white film or plague it is signs of toxicity and lack of digestion), poisoning, fainting disease, alcoholism, depletion, TB, bleeding diseases, low clotting factor, inflammation of the eyes, constipation, and depletion of waste.

Don't believe the hype.

Jenn Apr 5, 2014 12:05pm

If I use a coconut oil and turmeric mixture on my skin, does it need to be left on my skin for prolonged period of time, or does it need to be rinsed off? I’ve been using coconut oil for a long time, but I’ve never put turmeric on my skin so I’m curious as to whether or not I should be worried about any possible reactions. Thanks!

Cassie Dec 30, 2013 2:36am

The scientific facts quoted in this article are not accurate.

The study mentioned above that compared oil pulling to chlorhexidine mouthwash showed that BOTH methods were equally effective in reducing oral bacteria.

This means that one can just as well use mouthwash, as oil pull – though it seems that oil pulling is fairly harmless, provided you rinse your mouth out after and don't swallow any oil (which would likely lead to diarrhea).

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Dr. John Douillard

Dr. John Douillard, DC, CAP is a globally recognized leader in the fields of natural health, Ayurveda, and sports medicine. He is the creator of LifeSpa.com, the leading Ayurvedic health and wellness resource on the web with over 7 million views on YouTube. LifeSpa is evolving the way Ayurveda is understood around the world with over 1,000 articles and videos proving ancient wisdom backed by modern science. Dr. John is the former Director of Player Development and nutrition advisor for the New Jersey Nets NBA team, author of seven health books, including Perfect Health for Kids, a repeat guest on the Dr. Oz show, and featured in USA Today, LA Times, and dozens of other national publications. He has been in practice for over 30 years and has seen over 100,000 patients.

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