Sustainable and toxin-free living

Sustainable and toxin-free living


I Tried Oil Pulling and It Changed My Life (JK, Nothing Happened)

guruI was very interested in trying oil pulling, a traditional Ayurvedic treatment that purportedly improves oral and systemic health (for example, asthma and diabetes) and whitens teeth without the need for abrasive chemicals. As a red wine and coffee enthusiast, I thought my teeth might at least benefit from this last thing, so it was with some anticipation that I tested GuruNanda’s Pulling Oil.*

There are so many conflicting reports on the efficacy of oil pulling, ranging from gushing documentation of ailments cured to – on the other end of the spectrum – denials from accredited medical authorities, that it’s hard to know what to think. It’s a fact, however, that it’s something of a movement now; a quick search of ‘oil pulling’ on Amazon brings up a list of 3,333 results. Real or not, this remedy must be generating sizeable profits, which is why I was particularly sensitive to the overtly commercial tone of the GuruNanda website. I’ll be getting back to the website in a bit. But first, let’s start with the product itself.

What Happened When I Tried It

The instructions on the bottle say to take a tablespoon of oil ‘or less’ every morning and to swish or ‘pull’ it around the mouth for 2 to 3 minutes, before spitting it out. (NOT into the sink, by the way – the oil may harden and clog up your pipes.) On the site, GuruNanda adds that ‘[f]or better results you may gradually increase the time period up to 15 minutes as long as it is comfortable.’ I started on 10 ml for 10 minutes, and gradually built up to a tablespoon for 15-20 minutes. It was fairly doable to get ready for the day while swishing the oil around my mouth. More inconvenient was where to spit: you’d better be sure there’s enough absorbent matter in your bin to soak up the oil, or maybe spit into a plastic bag or sealable container you were going to trash anyway.

It was fairly doable to get ready for the day while swishing the oil around my mouth. More inconvenient was where to spit: you’d better be sure there’s enough absorbent matter in your trash can to soak up the oil, or maybe spit into a plastic bag or sealable container you were going to trash anyway.

GuruNanda’s formulation consists of four oils: sesame, sunflower, coconut and peppermint. The peppermint oil is a good call, making the whole experience taste less weird than you might expect – the flavor was pleasant, like a peppermint cream.

But does it work? Not in my experience. I finished the bottle, which lasted just over three weeks, and I can’t say that I notice any difference in my oral health or my teeth. In the interests of fairness, I suppose this remedy should be tested out on someone who does have a specific oral or systemic health complaint, to see if they notice any improvement. However, I’m still questioning oil pulling as a remedy – and the GuruNanda website has left me questioning the company as well.

(Snake) Oil Claims?

According to the site, in which oil pulling is the only subtopic in its ‘Ancient Wisdom’ tab, ‘dating back more than 5,000 years, the practice of oil pulling removes toxins which themselves are oil soluble.’ This fact is illustrated by the dubious Clip Art-style diagram below, which doubles as one of several links to buying the pulling oil that break up the text.

pulling-oil-diagramAccording to GuruNanda, ‘today’s consumer is inundated with toxins. We encounter toxins in everything from the pesticides that are used on the fruits and vegetables we eat to the hormones that are laced in the milk we drink. Combine these elements with the pollution we breathe as well as the sedentary and stressful lifestyles we lead, the result is the perfect recipe for toxic buildup [sic].’ Further, GuruNanda explains the body’s means of eliminating ‘the majority’ of toxins (four processes: perspiration, urination, respiration and excretion), and warns how our modern lifestyle can cause ‘a vicious cycle of toxic buildup.’

I won’t dispute that we humans encounter an astounding array of toxins in our lives today, and that we could probably stand to exercise more, but experts have asserted that the body’s natural system of eliminating them is perfectly sufficient. The big question is, if it’s true that our bodies aren’t very good at getting rid of toxins, will swishing coconut oil around in your mouth do what your liver apparently cannot?

The site states: ‘Although relief is very different with individual people, users may see substantial results in as little as 6 weeks.’ If you’re taking a tablespoonful a day, that’s more than two 250 ml bottles right there, along with the implication you’ll probably need more. But don’t worry, you can buy a set of 4 bottles for $49.99. Lest you forget that you buying something is very much the aim here, the explanation and promotion of oil pulling is broken up by no less than eight brightly-colored links to the same two online stockists of the pulling oil product. The promotional copy itself, which is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, is pretty alarmist stuff, verging on the exploitative.

Before you take an apathetic view towards those menacing poisons building up inside your body like an apocalyptic storm cloud: According to GuruNanda, they are also going to spawn that other substance we all fear: FAT.

‘[The body’s] backup strategy for dealing with toxic overload expands the number of fat cells creating stuffed toxin-laden fat cells; commonly referred to as “toxic fat”. This process is likely done to get the toxic trash out of our circulation and away from essential organs, while also serving as a self-defense [sic] mechanism for our body against getting poisoned.’ Notice the word choice here: ‘expands’, ‘overload’, ‘stuffed’, ‘laden’ and ‘fat’. These are elementary emotive language decisions, selected to resonate with any aversion to obesity we may well have developed in this thin-obsessed, heavily mediated world. Note also the speculative use of ‘likely’: it’s doing nothing for the credibility of the piece.

The Bottom Line

An internet search brings up reams of material arguing for and against oil pulling. But for me, the most trustworthy article was posted in Jezebel last July, in which a periodontist and certified nutritionist recommends oil pulling as an effective substitute for mouthwash; indeed, a study has shown that it does reduce bacteria in the mouth. The article concludes, “in the rush to give oil pulling the thumbs up as a cure-all, what we’ve really just discovered is an old way to clean your mouth more thoroughly than you probably are now.” No selling, no big claims; I feel a lot more comfortable with this.

If I were to develop an issue with my oral health, I might even test it again as a natural remedy – but not through GuruNanda.

What do you think about oil pulling? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

*I got this to try for free.

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