Oil-Pulling: Can Swishing Oil in Your Mouth Improve Your Health?

ABC News' Becky Worley reports:

I started noticing lots of Facebook posts about something that sounded so weird it couldn't be real: gargling with oil! And not just a quick "swish swish spit." Twenty minutes of gargling. It's called oil-pulling, which alludes to the supposed pulling of toxins out of your body.

It's based on an ancient Ayurvedic practice, and celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley swear by it. Online searches about oil-pulling have shot up recently for no particular reason. Claims of its benefits on alternative health websites range from simple, whiter teeth and better breath, to extreme, relief from migraines, eczema, arthritis and bronchitis, as well as better vision, softer skin and even milder hangovers.

How to Oil Pull

According to oilpulling.com - yes, www.oilpulling.com - you only need a tablespoon of any pure oil: sesame, olive and coconut seem to be the most popular. I'll try coconut. It seems the least disgusting. I dig a spoon into the congealed coconut oil and scoop out what seems like a tablespoon. I plunk it into my mouth and immediately realize I've made an error.

Big mistake.

The oil has the consistency of lard. I am one of those people who will try any food, I have no texture issues and I never get a gag reflex from food.

I immediately start gagging. It escalates to a mild heave. My photographer is doubled over trying not to laugh out loud. So I am also laughing while trying not to spit the oil out. This is not good.

After about two minutes of sucking this lard-like substance through my teeth, it melts. Things are better now. Once reduced to an oil base, I can manage the swishing and gargling. The only problem is that the coconut oil has a very subtle Mounds candy bar taste, so I think I'm salivating. Suddenly that tablespoon feels more like 2 tablespoons and I am gagging again.

This has gone from gross to uncomfortable in about four minutes flat. I tough it out; swishing, sucking, pushing the oil out into my cheeks. This had better be worth it!

Evidence-Based Research?

As I kill time waiting for the interminable 20 minutes off gargling to end, I check online to see whether any evidence-based research has been done on oil-pulling. From what I can find on the National Institutes of Health database, only a handful of studies exist. A few show that oil-pulling can reduce plaque and mouth bacteria that can cause halitosis.

They say it works as well as prescription mouthwashes containing the drug chlorhexidine. And one research document shows an improvement for people who suffer from receding gums, but there are no studies that tackle larger health claims.


Finally, my 20 minutes are up. I spit out what is now a rather large quantity of oil, and spit. It's milky and still smells like coconut. No visible toxins or putrid odors. I guess that's a good thing.

My mouth did feel surprisingly good afterward. I didn't really have the urge to wash out the oil. My teeth felt clean and I did notice through the day that my lips seemed less chapped.

Will I do this again? Uh, no.

But next time I get chapped lips I'm definitely putting some coconut oil on them.