Oil pulling is a trendy adoption from ancient Ayurvedic medicine. Although the technique is thousands of years old, it only came to be adopted in the West around 2008 when it was promoted among alternative health circles. Since then, it has spread, changed, and been commercialized according to the usual whims of the US health food subculture.

What Ayurvedic Medicine Says about Oil Pulling

Oil-pulling is derived from the techniques of kawal (also kaval or kavala) and gandush (also gandoosh or gandusha). If you read modern interpretations of this technique, you’ll see that it’s potentially able to cure many different conditions.
Kawal cures:

  • Headaches
  • Ear conditions
  • Eye diseases
  • Excessive salivation
  • Throat problems
  • Thirst
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Anorexia
  • Sinusitis

Gandush is effective in improving:

  • Jaw and chin strength
  • Voice and speech
  • Strength of face
  • Appetite
  • Sense of taste
  • Dry lips
  • Strength of gums and teeth

However, this list is very deceptive, because in the Ayurvedic texts, the recipes for treating these conditions rarely rely on rinsing alone.

For example, consider this treatment for pari-dara (bleeding gums), translated from the Sushruta Samhita:

In a case of Pari-dara the treatment should consist of the remedies described in connection with Sitada. In a case of Upa kusai as well, the system of the patient should be cleansed both ways (by means of emetics and purgatives), and his head should be cleansed with Siro-virechana. The affected part (in a case of Upa-kus’a) should, in addition, be bled (by rubbing it over) with the leaves of the Kdkodtimbarikd, or of the Goji, or with the application of a medicinal compound composed of the five officinal kinds of salt and Trikatu mixed with honey. Tepid watery solutions of Pippali^ (white) Sarshapa  Ndgara, and Nichula fruits should also be used as gurgles (Kavala). The use of clarified butter cooked with the drugs of the Madhuta (Kdkolyddi) group as errhine (Nasya) and gargle (Kavala) is also recommended.

Kawals are usually used not as a simple single compound, but are kawala-dharana, medicated gargles, that include numerous ingredients.

However, modern Ayurvedic advocates of kawal have generally recommended using sesame oil as a rinse.

What the Current Fad Will Tell You about Oil Pulling

In its faddish incarnation, oil pulling is a simple application of rinsing your mouth with oil, preferably coconut oil, for about 20 minutes. This can ostensibly lead to:

  • Whiter teeth
  • H2er gums, teeth and jaw (including TMJ)
  • Acne cure
  • Cavity prevention
  • Detoxification of body
  • Hangover cure
  • Improved sleep
  • Cleared sinus and reduced allergies
  • Bad breath cure
  • Chronic pain reduction
  • Improved hormone balance

And much, much more.

If you look at the modern history of oil pulling, it goes back to the 2008 book Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body Through Oral Cleansing. This is where it gained its association with coconut oil, being written by Dr. Bruce Fife, head of the Coconut Research Institute.

Whether Dr. Fife is a true believer or a shill, we cannot deny the impact this and other similar books have had to help create a huge coconut oil industry.

What Science Says about Oil Pulling

Since 2008, there have been many studies of oil pulling. These studies do show some benefit in terms of reduction of Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium that is associated with gum disease and tooth decay. It’s also been shown to reduce gum disease and bad breath. A study of the effects of oils on S. mutans in experimental cultures showed antibacterial effects for sesame and coconut oils.
Now, there are a few caveats to these studies. All the early studies were performed by a single author, focused exclusively on sesame oil, and published in just a couple journals. More recently, two other authors have published studies that look at coconut oil and sunflower oil.

Finally, in all the studies, oil pulling is being done along with routine oral hygiene in the morning, so it’s hard to know how much of the impact is actually because of oil pulling. None of the studies report on any additional health gains as a result of the procedure.

And the science about oil pulling also warns us of a potential danger. It’s been associated with lipid pneumonia, so if you’re going to do it, use care to make sure you don’t accidentally inhale any of the oil.

Otherwise, the technique is mostly harmless, and if a fancy fad is what it takes for you to make oral hygiene a priority, it will likely lead to only good things.


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