Oil Pulling? Magic or Mayhem?

What is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling is a practice making curious headlines in today’s confusing search for holistic health.  While it may be new to you, the practice of oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic Indian tradition that has been around for thousands of years.   The process consists of simply swishing coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil in your mouth in an effort to remove harmful bacteria.  As is often the case with health trends, claims can range from research backed oral health benefits to unsupported claims of whole body detoxification.   Considered a complementary and alternative health practice, it is promoted as a tool for preventive medicine, as well as a treatment for a large variety of health concerns due to its ability to remove harmful bacteria in the mouth and allow the good bacteria in your body to flourish.  Whatever you may believe, the process is simple.   

What are the benefits?

Limited research shows benefits of proper oil pulling daily on oral health.  Tooth decay, gingivitis, bad breath, and teeth whitening properties of the practice have been shown in the limited studies available. The oil pulls bacteria away from the gums, preventing bacteria from entering the bloodstream.  This may be the reason some believe it has significant detoxification benefits for the body including migraine relief, and the reduction of eczema, sinus congestion, allergies and insomnia.  Researchers and the American Dental Association agree that there are little known negative side effects to oil pulling but strongly recommend continuing with the recommended standard oral hygiene regimen with ADA approved products.

So, should I oil pull?

The practice of oil pulling has evolved into modern times through the experiences and endorsements of holistic health practitioners and should be practiced based on individual beliefs. While oil pulling has been studied from a dental standpoint, it has not yet been studied from a dietary one. No one knows how much oil is absorbed in the  swishing process and whether it affects calorie or cholesterol levels.


LeeAnn Kindness is a graduate student at Drexel University majoring in human nutrition. She plans to become a registered dietitian.

Photo Cred: Reina Nicole Hayashi

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