Benefits and Side Effects of a 14-Day Oil Pulling Experiment
The Oil Pulling Controversy
When I first heard about oil pulling, I was intrigued by the concept. After all, adding a daily fish oil supplement to my diet had improved my energy levels, breathing capacity, and clarity of thought. Once I began researching it further, the enthusiasm and outrage on display in the oil pulling discussions took me by surprise. How could this activity have so many adherents and provoke such indignation throughout the medical community? It took a month or so to finally work up the courage to try it. Once I did, I learned some powerful lessons about what not to do when pulling oil.
I am not a dental professional, nor am I an alternative medicine guru. I came into this experiment with an open mind and a curiosity of what, if anything, the process could do for me. I don’t take daily vitamins, nor have I been diagnosed with a serious medical condition that requires daily medication. Here are the daily results of my oral and systemic health from my 14-day experiment.
What is Oil Pulling?
Pulling oil is an ancient healing practice that dates back 3000 years, when it was first developed in Ayurvedic medicine. It simply means swishing a tablespoonful of oil in your mouth for up to 20 minutes.
The act of drawing the stuff between teeth and in and around gums draws out microbes and bacteria from crevices between teeth, under the gum line and from the tongue and palate of the mouth. The oil absorbs these microbes, which are then firmly suspended in the solution.
What Kind of Oil Should I Use?
Any of these oils may be used:
- black cumin seed
- cedar nut
However, safflower and sesame oil have pro-inflammatory properties, while olive and coconut oil are anti-inflammatory. As we will see, the best systemic benefits are gained by reducing inflammation throughout the body, so I recommend either olive or coconut. Not only does the coconut taste good, but it also prevents Streptococcus mutans, an acid-producing bacterium that causes tooth decay.
But whichever you choose, you'll want to use the best grade of oil possible—raw, unrefined, extra virgin, organic, and cold pressed or extruded are best for these purposes.
When and How?
Pulling oil is done first thing in the morning, before you have had any beverages or meals. Some do it while showering; I did it while checking my morning emails.
You swish the oil around your mouth and through the gaps in your teeth. Take care not to swallow or inhale any during the swishing process, as it is loaded with the bacteria you are trying to rid your mouth of. After 15-20 minutes, you should spit the stuff into the garbage or toilet. (It grows thicker as it mixes with saliva and captured bacteria, so spitting into the sink is likely to cause a clog.) The stuff you spit out should be cloudy from the combination of saliva and bacteria that have been drawn into it. Finish by rinsing your mouth with warm salt water, brushing, and flossing as usual.
Some aficionados perform this process on a daily basis, while others are satisfied with an every-other-day schedule. My experiment lasted for 14 days. Below, I'll discuss my results.
Traditional vs. Integrative Medicine
Do you believe in health benefits from natural remedies?
Proponents cite many benefits, not only for dental hygiene, but for systemic health as well. There are insufficient peer-reviewed scientific studies, but the list of claimed benefits is so long and varied, one wonders if this is where the term “snake oil” came from.
Purported Dental Hygiene Benefits
- Strengthens and whitens tooth enamel
- Alleviates halitosis (bad breath)
- Heals bleeding gums
- Prevents and may reverse gingivitis (gum inflammation)
- Alleviates tooth and gum sensitivity
Purported Detoxification Systemic Benefits
- Improved heart health
- Improved lung function
- Reduced or eliminated acne
- Reduced sinus inflammation
- Detoxifies the body
- Hangover remedy
- Improved sleep
Day 1: Pulling with Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Olive Oil
As I only had olive oil in the house, I thought to give it a try. After all, I love olive oil on fresh tomatoes and Italian bread; what could it hurt? Plus, I did not want to make another investment in what could become yet another discarded supplement without first knowing if I could benefit from or tolerate the process.
I dutifully loaded a shot glass with one tablespoon of olive oil, poured it into my mouth, and began furiously swishing it between my teeth. The minutes passed like hours. My mouthful was growing as saliva was being added to the mixture, and my clenched jaws were growing tired.
That’s when it happened. Six minutes into the experiment, a tiny amount drizzled down the back of my throat. It was revolting. I spit the green goop out in the kitchen sink (against protocol), and had a few dry heaves. I rinsed my mouth with a little water, then regarded the bottle of olive oil and its little companion, the shot glass.
This time I was smart and only poured a half tablespoon into the shot glass. The smaller portion made it much easier to swish around and avoid accidental swallows. I lasted 16 minutes with the growing solution swishing around my teeth and gums. When I spit it out, I expected to see that it had become cloudy, but it just looked like green olive oil to me. Perhaps the first spit contained the majority of bacteria that create a cloudy effect.
I immediately rinsed my mouth with water mixed with Himalayan salt, touted as the purest of salts. Then set off to brush my teeth and rid myself of the taste of olive oil. Now it was time to see the results. My teeth felt clean and looked, perhaps, a little brighter. My gums seemed a little redder than normal, and there was a pleasant tingling feeling.
As an added bonus I had lost my appetite as well, mostly because I hated to pollute my mouth after going to such extreme measures to cleanse it. It should be noted that I did spend the rest of day one with a slightly oily sensation in my mouth. It did not taste like the oil, but felt somewhat greasy.
Later in the day, I set off to the local health food store to purchase a jar of organic, expressed coconut oil.
Lessons Learned from Day One: Start with a half tablespoon of oil and work up from there. Do not use olive oil, and don’t research the process on the Internet while you are pulling oil. It focuses you too much on the bacteria swimming around in your mouth, when it’s best to try to forget what you are doing.
Coconut Oil Benefits
Coconut is rich in lauric acid, a powerful antimicrobial which inhibits Streptococcus mutans that play a part in...
- dental decay
Day 2: Pulling with Organic Coconut Oil
Coconut oilcomes as a solid. One has the option of chewing it until it is warm and liquid, or heating it briefly in the microwave. Fifteen seconds in a shot glass in the microwave oven was enough to liquefy my ¾ tablespoon shot.
It tasted like coconut cream pie and was much thinner than the olive was. This made the swishing job less tiring and more pleasant overall. Coconut oil is preferred by many for its flavor as well as its many medicinal benefits. In fact, 50% of the fat in coconut oil is comprised of lauric acid, a potent antimicrobial. Lauric acid inhibits the Streptococcus mutans that cause tooth decay. Coconut also contains vitamins A, E, and K as well as possessing anti-inflammatory properties.
This time when I spit, it was gratifyingly cloudy. Success at last.
Results and Lessons Learned on Day Two: The coconut did not leave a lingering texture or taste in my mouth, and by midday it seemed to me that the skin on my hands was growing softer. That was something that I had noticed when I did the Master Cleanse Detox. Perhaps the oil pulling does have a detoxifying component to it.
Results By Day 3
My teeth were definitely whiter after three days. At 50 years of age, with 35 of those years spent smoking, my teeth had developed a yellowish tinge around the edges. The yellowing was gone, and my teeth appeared glossier.
Tooth sensitivity had also decreased substantially, and my gums were looking and feeling healthier.
There was also an unexpected benefit, one that I can only attribute to my experiment, and I am curious to see if this benefit repeats one month from now. Typically, when my period arrives, I endure hormone-related acne and sometimes severe cramps. For the first time, ever, I had no cramps or acne on the chin. This benefit alone could be worth the trouble. For once I am looking forward to the next cycle to see if this was a fluke or if it happens again.
After 1 Week
By the end of week one, I was able to tolerate a full tablespoon for approximately 15 minutes a day. It was still a struggle to get started each morning, but it was easier to keep going once I had begun.
Post nasal drip was my only issue. I find it impossible to clear my throat with a mouthful of oil in it, so a few times I had to spit early in order to clear my throat and prevent an involuntary aspiration of the stuff into my lungs due to my irresistible desire to cough. When I did spit early, I just reloaded the shot glass and finished up with a second dose. As a result, I had already gone through half of the oil in six days.
Dental Hygiene Benefits:
- As I noted earlier, my teeth were getting much whiter. I estimate that they were at least two shades whiter than they were at the start. In the past, dental bleaching kits had not improved the yellowing on my teeth very much, and had caused some sensitivity issues that had remained for several years. Much of that sensitivity was now gone.
- My gums were healthier in color, and some of the recession had improved in one area noticeably.
- Flossing was much more comfortable as well.
- My tooth enamel appeared glossier, and there was a more even tone across all of my teeth.
Systemic Health Benefits
- Skin benefits: As the largest organ in our body and the second most powerful detoxifying organ (the liver is number one), healthier looking and feeling skin might indicate a systemic benefit. As noted by day two, the skin on my hands felt softer.
- By the end of week one, the skin on my hands was softer and marginally less crepey.
- The pores on my face had noticeably reduced in size, and my skin was smoother with fewer fine lines.
- Hormone-related acne was almost non-existent.
Improved Energy Levels
- Until starting the experiment, a tall cup of coffee was required to get my engine started in the morning. Two days into the experiment, I actually forgot to make my coffee until midday, and only made it then because I missed the taste of coffee.
- Additionally, over the last few months, lunch had become a sleeping tonic for me. Thirty minutes after eating, I regularly felt like I needed a nap, especially if lunch was high in carbohydrates. While pulling oil for the first week, there were no after-lunch drowses, and I was more productive in general.
- I slept better this week, and was not getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
- As a smoker, my breathing felt easier, and I experienced less morning hack and congestion.
After 2 Weeks
Oil pulling evidently adheres to the law of diminishing returns. I did not see any appreciable gains over the following week beyond what I had experienced in week one. My skin looked a little younger and healthier. My energy levels remained high, and I was more productive at work.
The thought of putting the oil in my mouth remained uninspiring. It was a chore to get started, but easier to maintain once I got started. I could not wait for the experiment to end, at which point I would switch over to an every-other-day routine. I did find the benefits worthwhile and hoped that one day on and one day off would be sufficient to maintain the gains.
Sadly, it was not. A week of every-other-day pulling saw the acne magically reappear and my skin looking more tired. For me to maintain the benefits, I would have to make this a part of my daily routine.
How Does Oil Pulling Work?
As I mentioned earlier, oil pulling is a very contentious topic. When proponents cite many health benefits for both dental hygiene as well as systemic health, skeptics are outraged by their claims. Yet there is growing evidence, through recent research, that oral inflammation in the form of plaque and gingivitis can have serious deleterious effects on a wide variety of health issues.
For decades, antibiotics have been given prophylactically to patients who have undergone heart surgery following dental cleanings. It is understood that bacteria can be set loose during a cleaning and introduced into the bloodstream, where it could eventually attack the heart.
Recent research shows that gum inflammation can increase arterial inflammation and the buildup of plaque on the arterial walls. Additionally, bacteria found in the mouth, known as Streptococcus mutans, have been linked to sinusitis, pneumonia, and meningitis.
Each clean tooth in your mouth harbors between 10,000 and 100,000 bacteria; an unclean tooth can hold up to 100 million bacteria. If these bacteria can cause systemic health issues, conversely, we would expect that a reduction of them could result in systemic health benefits.
As I mentioned earlier, coconut oil contains lauric acid, which inhibits Streptococcus mutans. Swishing this powerful antimicrobial oil for 15-20 minutes a day could substantially reduce their population; after all, few of us swish mouthwash for 15 minutes a day. (And it should be noted that excessive use of mouthwash has been linked to oral cancer!)
Things Oil Pulling Will Not Do For You
- Oil pulling will not cure existing cavities. Deteriorated tooth matter will not grow back; however, the removal of bacteria can slow further tooth decay.
- During my 14 day experiment, I did have an opportunity to test it as a hangover cure. While it may have slightly alleviated some of the symptoms, the headache remained until I took some Advil, and the overall yucky feeling stayed with me until after lunch.
- I do not believe that it will cause you to lose weight, cure cancer, or treat diabetes. However, it may help lower blood pressure if it relieves arterial inflammation and plaque buildup.
During my experiment, I was not aware of any possible negative side effects. Some skeptics point to a “study” that suggested oil pulling can lead to lipoid pneumonia. In fact, this was not a study, it was a correspondence; i.e., a letter, to The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease discussing the experience of a single patient. It appears that a 56-year-old Korean woman had aspirated (inhaled) the oil, rich in bacteria, into her lungs, causing four successive lipoid pneumonias. Ceasing oil pulling resulted in no further bouts of pneumonia. This is an isolated incident with a patient who appears to have had difficulty not inhaling the oil.
Aspirating oil while pulling is not part of the protocol and should be avoided at all costs. If you feel that you frequently cannot control the desire to cough, oil pulling is not an activity for you.
The most damning side effect skeptics decry is that of inactivity. In other words, you have a symptom, oil pulling makes it go away, and you think you've found a cure but in reality, the original symptom could be a sign of something much more sinister. You should go to the doctor to be sure that your acne, eczema, or migraine is not a sign of something much more serious.
The American medical establishment is pretty dismissive, especially considering the terrible advice they have given the American public over the last 30 years regarding which oils we should avoid and which we should consume. Perhaps they need to do the testing to disprove the benefits of oil pulling before dismissing it without data to support their decision. To date, skeptics point to the small studies done in India, saying they are too small to support their positive results and are therefore dismissed as flawed.
For myself, I believe there are positive health benefits to be gained from oil pulling. Unfortunately, I just don’t enjoy it. Perhaps with time I can learn to love it. I will keep at it on daily basis from here on out and report back if something changes for better or worse.
© 2014 James Wilson