I am starting a little sub-series on bro2beast that I will be calling “Adventures in the Esoteric.” In this sub-series I’ll be trying some of the more obscure health ideas out there and giving my thoughts. While some of these might not be specific to weight loss or fitness, they’ll all be generally about overall health. Some might be fun, painful, or useless, but hopefully all will be entertaining. The topic in part one is oil pulling.
Oil pulling is essentially using oil as a mouthwash and swishing it in your mouth for an ungodly amount of time. This supposedly helps fight gingivitis, plaque buildout, and “cleans” the mouth. Let’s see what this is all about.
Oil Pulling- A (Very) Brief History
Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine with origins in India. In general, modern practices derived from the Ayurveda are seen as “alternative medicine” (i.e. quackery to many people). Traditionally, these practices began with the Gods imparting medical knowledge to the sages who then taught it to ancient physicians. Oil pulling, or a version of it, was practiced by these ancient physicians to reduce dryness, inflammation, and burning of the mouth.
The modern term “oil pulling” appears to have become popularized in the 1990’s by Koteswara Rao from Bangalore. This guy claimed to have found the method from reading various texts by scientists from the USSR.
Historically (at least from what I can tell), the usual oil used for this was sesame oil but recently a popular substitute has become coconut oil. I imagine this is at least partially because of the recent surge in popularity for its uses in other areas (cooking, lotions, shampoo, etc).
How I Pulled With Oil
I believe people use the term oil pulling because it is supposedly “pulling” toxins out. My BS detectors immediately start sounding when I hear the phrase “getting rid of toxins.” I gave it a shot anyway.
I didn’t have any sesame oil lying around the house but I did have a jar of coconut oil so I went with that. I scooped out a big spoonful of oil and stood staring at it, working up the courage to take the plunge.
(Insert picture of oil on spoon)
I dove in… it actually didn’t taste too terrible. It did not, unfortunately taste like coconuts (or at least my American idea of what coconut tastes like). Actually, it didn’t really taste like anything. The biggest issue was the texture. It was almost like a lumpy, flavorless pudding that slowly dissolved in my mouth. In retrospect that might have been eliminated if I had heated it up just a bit before scooping it in.
I proceeded to swish and swash for 10 minutes. This is harder than it seems. For one, having a 4 year old trying to ask you questions about what you are doing for 10 minutes without being able to respond is certainly something Dante should have included in some level of hell. Secondly, I’m used to the little 30 seconds to 1 minute swishing of modern mouthwash so I lack the strength in whatever facial muscles I was using. My face was pretty worn out after 10 minutes.
What the timer finally went off I spit out the oil into the trash. Understandably it is recommended you don’t spit it down the drain for the same reasons you try not to pour oil and grease from cooking down your kitchen drains- the fats will solidify and clog up pipes.
After I spit out the oil I was hoping that all of the “toxins” in my teeth would be magically whisked away and my mouth would be a shining white example of toxin-free dentition. This was not the case. The only difference I could actually identify was that I had a faint smell of coconut on my breath and it felt as though my teeth had a slight coating in oil because, well, they did.
It’s impossible to say based on one time whether or not it truly helped anything or not. To really measure I should probably go get a dentist check-up, oil pull consistently for a year, go back and see if there is any way the dentist can say whether my mouth was in better or worse shape. Doing that is not a guarantee of accuracy, though, because many other factors could influence it.
With all of the other changes I’m trying to make this year I doubt I’ll commit to consistently doing this but all in all it wasn’t so bad. I will probably try it periodically when I can remember to. After a quick pubmed search, it does seem like there is some evidence using modern study techniques that it is beneficial to oral hygiene so it might possibly be moving from the realm of alternative medicine/quackery to a solution that truly does help.