You may have heard about the trend of “oil pulling,” which is currently very popular among advocates of natural medicine, home remedies, and holistic health. Oil pulling is a practice supposedly originating in India that has taken off in recent years in the U.S. In short, it involves swishing a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil around in one’s mouth for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Advocates of oil pulling claim that it provides amazing benefits, from preventing cavities to curing AIDS… But does it work?
The question doesn’t have a straightforward answer, because it depends on what we mean by “work.” One website states, with no scientific evidence to back the its claims, that oil pulling draws toxins out of the blood stream, reduces arthritis and inflammation, fights cancer, and boosts the immune system. The author even claims that it can reduce grey hair. These effects aren’t just unproven; they’re completely implausible.
First, there’s no rational reason to believe that oil pulling would draw “toxins” from the bloodstream. Your mouth doesn’t have enough blood vessels to expose all of your blood to the oil in just fifteen minutes, and, even if t did, it wouldn’t remove toxins from your bloodstream. Fat-soluble toxins are stored in your fat cells, not your blood, and there’s no physical, chemical, or biological action that would cause toxins to magically jump from your blood and fat, and into a tablespoon of oil in your mouth.
The other claims are equally outlandish: there is no mechanism by which vegetable oil mouthwashes could regenerate hair follicles that have started producing grey hair, shrink tumors, or somehow reduce inflammation in joints several feet away. Claims like this require some kind of evidence, or at least a plausible hypothesis, but advocates of oil pulling don’t offer this. There is no evidence that oil pulling works in that capacity.
However, oil pulling does seem to work fairly well for one thing: improving oral health. At least one study has shown that people who practice oil pulling for at least 45 days have less gum diseases and plaque than people who do not. This may be because of actions associated with oil pulling itself, or it may just be a nice side-benefit of the recommendation to brush and floss after oil pulling. Doing it at least once daily could lead to better, healthier checkups at the dentist.
Since it involves safe, edible oils like coconut and sunflower oil, there aren’t any major safety concerns associated with oil pulling (although the taste could certainly make some people nauseated). As long as you’re comfortable practicing oil pulling, you can feel free to continue the practice and you might look forward to some benefits for the health of your teeth. But, if you’re expecting it to cure diseases or purify your blood stream, you’d be better off seeing a doctor than trying to self-treat using oil pulling.