By now, you may have heard via the news or other media about something called oil pulling. It isn’t as weird as it sounds. It’s a suggested beauty routine of swishing around oil (sesame, sunflower, or coconut) in your mouth like a mouthwash for around 20 minutes. But why would someone do such a thing?
It’s actually an ancient practice in Ayurveda, an Indian traditional medicine system that goes back thousands of years. The main focus of Ayurveda is to encourage good health and overall happiness by balancing the mind, body, and spirit. Imbalance creates illness, so to keep the body in check, you participate in particular treatments such as oil pulling, which is a practice aimed at boosting longevity.
There have been some studies and reports linking oil pulling to a variety of oral health benefits, including preventing cavities. Oil pulling does appear to decrease the amount of bacteria in the mouth – one study found that it could “be used as an effective preventive adjunct in maintaining and improving oral health” because it significantly reduces the bacteria in plaque and saliva that can cause cavities. Plus, it also appears effective at getting rid of halitosis (bad breath). Basically, oil pulling can serve a similar purpose as using mouthwash (which doesn’t work as well as you’d like to think).
Oil pulling may have other health benefits as well — natural health practitioners claim that it can help get rid of acne and other skin care issues, like rashes, by detoxifying the body. However, these claims have not been substantiated by research. And there is no evidence to support more extreme claims, such as those linking oil pulling to decreased heart disease or improved kidney function. In addition, oil pulling may lead to lipoid pneumonia, which is a type of inflammation caused by lipids entering the lungs.
The verdict? As this Science-Based Medicine article explains: “There is no reason either theoretically or based upon any evidence to recommend oil pulling…instead of standard modern health care with flossing, tooth-brushing, and mouth rinse. However, it does appear to be better than nothing, and might have a role in developing countries without access to modern oral care.” Just don’t breathe it in.
Featured image by Avenafatua [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons