Every time I see yet another website promoting oil-pulling as a detoxifier, I sigh with amazement at how hoodwinked people can be by misinformation.

Oil-pulling, or “kavala graha” is touted as the ultimate “detoxifier”.  In the past year I’ve seen articles on oil pulling promoted on many FB pages and websites as a cure for many diseases, and with the ability to pull toxins from the body, cure cancer and help people live to be 140 years old.

It has even been described as “miraculous” and “magical”. Those are some pretty bold claims. What always concerns me, is that much of this information is posted with a basis in only anecdotal evidence based on one person, and  without any actual research.

It is one thing to say “I do oil pulling and I love it, my teeth look whiter to me.”  That’s great, if that is someone’s legitimate personal experience. But for anyone to take the leap and promote it as a practice that “this will pull toxins out of your body and heal cancer”, without having done research, that is beyond ridiculous.

Dr. Andrew Weil, the very well known anti-aging specialist and advocate for natural and alternative medicine says: “On the Internet, oil pulling is promoted as a cure for a long list of disorders including headache, bronchitis, toothache, thrombosis, eczema, ulcers and other diseases of the stomach, intestines, heart, blood, kidney, liver, lungs and female reproductive organs. I’ve also seen claims that oil pulling can prevent the growth of malignant tumors. I know of no evidence to support any of these claims.”

How Did This Practice Start to Become Mainstream?

Back in 2001, Deepak Chopra wrote about oil-pulling in his book as an Ayurvedic “folk remedy”. As a folk remedy, oil-pulling was believed to prevent the vatic effect in the mouth (dryness).

Here are 5 FACTS about oil-pulling:

1. There are only TWO verified studies on oil-pulling. The first study was designed to evaluate the effect of oil pulling on bacteria in plaque and saliva, in comparison with the antiseptic power of conventional mouthwash containing chlorhexidine.

Researchers found a reduction in the bacteria count responsible for gingivitis, and so concluded that oil-pulling may help maintain oral health in a similar way that mouthwash does.

The second study examined the mechanism that made oil pulling effective. This study found that it was actually the swishing action of oil which emulsified the oil in the mouth, and was responsible for removing mouth bacteria. (Indian J Dent Res. 2011 Jan-Feb;22(1):34-7. PMID: 21525674)

2. Blood vessels don’t just leak toxins. If chemicals could just leak through the walls of your arteries and veins we’d have no need for oil pulling, would we? We could just rinse our mouths briefly several times a day with plain water and have the same effect.

 The lingual veins on the dorsum, sides, and under surface of the TONGUE, as many of us are already aware, are  capable of fast absorption of drugs, which is why for example, nitroglycerin is given by medical doctors under the tongue to people with angina. It gets there quick. The obvious analogy to this is that when you are swishing oil in your mouth for 20 minutes, of course your body is going to absorb whatever is in the oil.

So, for people who are deficient in fatty acids, it is possible that this may infuse your body with EFA’s sublingually if you are not eating enough in your diet. HOWEVER, absorption via the lingual veins is different than those veins working as filters going in the other direction, as in pulling toxins out.

3. The whole idea behind oil swishing is based on exposing the oil to the large veins under the tongue. But, basic human anatomy tells us that those blood vessels simply aren’t large enough to expose your blood supply to the oil in 15-20 minutes.

4. Any toxin that would be “attracted” to the oil would have to be fat-soluble. Fat soluble toxins aren’t just roaming loose in your bloodstream. They’re stored in your fat cells.

5. If oil-pulling somehow forced your body’s cells to suddenly release stored toxic material, it would first reach your body’s natural filtering systems, the liver and kidneys. You would have a very noticeably sick feeling if that were happening.

Bottom line? If you choose to walk around your house for 15 minutes with some sesame oil in your mouth, it’s not going to hurt you. And it may (and I say may cautiously) whiten your teeth a little and/or reduce plaque on the outside of your teeth.