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Cynical Trials: Oil Pulling… is it really all that swish?

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Hi, I'm Ruth! I'm not a Scientist, just a regular girl sharing her adventures in modern day remedies! All opinions are my own, and do not represent Covance. My dabblings in quackery do not constitute a Clinical Trial!

Oil Pulling – What on Earth is it and Why Do People Do It?

Oil PullingThe technique of oil pulling is very simple. A small amount of coconut or sesame oil is held in the mouth and swished around (like you'd do with mouthwash) for 10-20 minutes at a time. The method is not new – it's in fact an Ayurvedic practice which dates back a good 3000 years. It has had a massive revival of late, with tons of celebrity endorsements and anecdotal reports of working wonders for your general health.

Advocates of oil pulling have said that its benefits include:

  • Whitening teeth
  • Freshening breath
  • Increasing energy levels
  • Detoxing the body
  • Aiding hormonal changes
  • Improving skin
  • Promoting oral hygiene

So it fits in nicely with my goals of improving my energy levels, mood and appearance.

How Does It Work? (If it Works)

When I started trawling the internet to find out exactly how oil pulling could deliver all of this, things became a little hazy. Each site I visited presented a slightly different theory. One argued that the fat in the oil bonds with the fatty membrane 'skin' of the bacteria in your mouth, allowing you to spit out the nasties along with the oil. Elsewhere, I read that the oil forms a protective layer in your mouth which prevents plaque and bacteria from forming. Others believe that the sheer force with which you swill the oil around your mouth dislodges bacteria and food particles. I suppose all of these are quite plausible… perhaps there is a grain of truth in each theory?

So, putting aside my misgivings about how yucky a mouthful of oil might feel, I was keen to get started and see if I could feel the benefits first hand! But after the Bulletproof coffee debacle, I wanted to know exactly what I was letting myself in for, so I hunted down some practical tips.

Coconut OilI'd seen a lot of websites recommending coconut over other vegetable oils. I wondered why coconut was best, and read on a number of health blogs that the taste is much milder and more pleasant than the alternatives – ah! Common sense, I like it!

How much should I use, and for how long? Again, not everyone agreed on this point, but the consensus seemed to be 1 tablespoon for 20 minutes – but a beginner may use 1 teaspoonful for 5 minutes to get used to the sensation. What should I do when I've finished 'pulling'? I learned that I should spit the oil into the bin and not the sink, unless I wanted blocked pipes. And I should under NO circumstances swallow any of the oil which by now would be riddled with toxins and single-celled beasties!

Lastly, were there any potentially harmful effects? Well, no – are very few documented negative effects; but it has been known to cause a gippy tummy (Oh joy! Here we go again!).

Down the Hatch…

Armed with all the knowledge I need to get started, I loaded my teaspoon with coconut oil (which incidentally is a white, solid mass at room temperature), set an alarm to go off in 10 minutes ( I could have started with 5, but I like a challenge!), and tucked in!

My first thought was – 'Hey, this is alright!'. Coconut oil really does taste quite good, and the texture isn't nearly as ucky as I expected. The solid oil is sort of crystalline, (so it doesn't feel like the mouthful of lard I was dreading it might), and it quickly melts into something which you can easily swish through your teeth.

But then, I immediately encountered an unforeseen side-effect. 'What are you doing?' asked my husband 'Is this for one of your trials?'. Of course, I can't answer past a mouthful of coconut oil. I can't say anything for another 10 minutes. For me, this is purgatory. 'Is it disgusting? It doesn't sound very nice'. I can't tell him that the coconut oil is actually quite tasty, but I'm suddenly quite conscious of the viscous, swishy, fishy noises I'm making!

Coconut Oil PullingAbout 5 minutes in, I run into another obstacle. A teaspoon of oil looks like a puny amount, but swill it round your mouth for 5 minutes and saliva is going to build up… a LOT of saliva! After about 7 minutes, it has built up to the extent that my lips are turning blue and my jaw aches from holding it all in! (This must be why they tell you to start with 5 minutes). Maybe practise makes perfect? Or perhaps I should just use a little less next time.

When my alarm goes off, I'm quite relieved to spit into the bin and stretch my jaw. I gargle a little warm water and run my tongue across my teeth. And they feel… well, just the same really. I'm maybe a bit disappointed, but this is the result I should've expected. According to all fans of oil pulling, it will take at least a week of practising daily to notice any less plaque – or to feel any of the other purported effects.

The good news is, after trying oil pulling once, I am not horrified by the idea of doing it again! In the name of pseudo-science, I will keep practising and give you an update in the next couple of weeks.

Have you ever tried oil-pulling? How was your first time?