I first learned about oil pulling two decades ago while studying Ayurvedic cooking. Oil pulling is an ancient detoxification therapy mentioned in ancient Ayurvedic texts and is recommended as an easy, daily practice.
Over time, “oil gargling” can improve oral health and help resolve many chronic conditions such as periodontal (gum) disease and cavities. It can also be helpful for acute illness. For example, oil pulling therapy has been touted as a strep throat remedy or to help resolve persistent sore throat issues.
The modern resurgence of oil pulling therapy commenced in 1992 and was initiated by Dr. F. Karach, MD, who used it with great success in his medical practice. Dr. Karach claimed that oil pulling would resolve a variety of illnesses including hormonal problems, cardiovascular disease, and digestive ailments.
Dr. Bruce Fife, author of Coconut Cures and Oil Pulling Therapy: Detoxifying and Healing the Body Through Oral Cleansing, suggests that oil pulling therapy can effectively be used to clear and heal sinus problems as one of the first detox symptoms that are experienced is an increased flow/clearing of mucus from the throat and sinuses. Mucous drainage is one of the body’s best methods of removing toxins.
How Does Oil Pulling or Gargling Work?
The practice of oil pulling is extremely simple.
One tablespoon of raw, cold-pressed oil is swished in the mouth for 15-20 minutes. The swishing process involves gently pushing and pulling the oil around and through the teeth.
Oil pulling should be performed one to three times a day on an empty stomach. The best time for oil pulling is upon arising in the morning before breakfast or drinking anything. However, if you forget, any time of day before eating will do if necessary.
Dr. Fife advises the following while oil pulling:
While you are pulling, mucous may build in the back of your throat. You may even have to expel the oil and clear the mucous from your throat before reaching a full 20 minutes. That’s okay, take another spoonful of oil and continue until you’ve pulled for a total of 15-20 minutes.
After swishing with the oil for the allotted amount of time, the oil is completely spat out and the teeth, gums, tongue, and palate gently cleaned by rinsing the mouth with saltwater and brushing as usual.
It is important to note that the oil used for oil pulling must never be swallowed or reused. This stuff is loaded with toxins and bacteria and possibly even pus and mucous if an infection is present.
Which Oil is Best to Use for Oil Pulling?
A variety of oils are recommended for oil pulling. Traditionally, unrefined sesame oil, coconut oil or butter oil (ghee) were used. The modern-day practice of this ancient therapy includes olive or unrefined sunflower oil as alternatives as well.
While any one of these oils is likely effective, is anyone choice better than the others?
According to research performed by Irish scientists from the Athlone Institute of Technology who tested the effects of coconut oil, vegetable oil and olive oil on dental health, the answer is yes.
Of the three types of oil tested, only coconut oil was shown to prevent Streptococcus mutans, an acid-producing bacterium that is a common inhabitant of the mouth and a major cause of tooth decay, from binding to and damaging tooth enamel.
This finding lends serious credence to the anecdotal claims of some people who report that oil pulling works best with coconut oil.
Lead researcher Dr. Damien Brady stated that coconut oil could prove to be an attractive alternative to chemicals in maintaining oral health. He noted that not only does coconut oil work at relatively low concentrations but with the worrisome problem of increasing antibiotic resistance, it is important to consider coconut oil as a potentially novel new way to control microbial infections.
Dr. Fife also recommends making medicated coconut oil in his book Oil Pulling Therapy to enhance the effects and healing properties of oil pulling.
Refined vs Unrefined Coconut Oil for Oil Swishing
Virgin coconut oil (VCO) is the best choice for oil pulling therapy as it is truly “raw” – unheated, unrefined and may contain micronutrients and co-factors not present in expeller-pressed coconut oils which are heated as part of the refining process.
Remember too, that coconut oil solidifies at 76 F/24 C, so if your virgin coconut oil is solid in the pantry, you may need to gently liquefy it in a pan of warm water before commencing your oil pulling routine for the day unless you are comfortable to let it melt in your mouth before you start swishing.
If you wish to supercharge the process, you can use ozonated coconut oil, which further enhances the anti-bacterial and anti-plaque benefits of oil pulling. A more concentrated form of ozonated oil is great for dental flossing too.
VCO is an excellent oral antifungal as well.
Is Oil Pulling Right for You?
Oil pulling is probably the cheapest and easiest detoxification regimen you could ever try. It simply involves swishing your mouth with oil one to three times a day on an empty stomach and then spitting it out.
No dieting, fasting, herbs or pills are required to get started. No matter what your age or level of health, oil pulling is harmless and nearly anyone can do it.
Sometimes powerful answers come in a brown paper bag. Give oil pulling with virgin coconut oil a try!
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.