Oil swishing (ayurveda demystified)

Several weeks ago I was looking up ayurvedic healing methods online and came across oil swishing, or “oil pulling” – which sounds just like what it is: rinsing your mouth with sunflower or sesame oil every morning when you wake up.

For 20 minutes.

For real. 🙂

Having done my yoga teacher training and gotten a cursory knowledge of Ayurveda (the sister science to yoga, or India’s parallel to Chinese medicine) I’m a believer in all things alternative. It’s not a far stretch. My grandmother is earthy and drinks vinegar every day and uses all sorts of other vitamins and homeopathic remedies. I grew up swallowing garlic as a natural antibiotic, understanding the uses for arnica and zinc and echinacea and ginseng and apple cider vinegar before I probably ever took an over-the-counter cold medicine.

So when I read about oil swishing my first reaction was to not only try it but to recruit my husband to do it. The gist is this: you “swish” around oil in your mouth for 20 minutes, and when you spit it out it looks and feels more like froth (think the heavy head on a Guinness) or half-dried egg nogg than it does oil. I won’t even bother to paraphrase the perceived benefits, but will quote some of it directly:

“What does oil pulling do?

Multiple scientific studies show the efficacy of oil pulling therapy. One study shows that oil pulling with sesame oil can boost overall oral health. Specifically, using sesame oil as an oral health agent helps to reduce the amount of S. mutans (germ) count in both teeth plaque and mouth saliva. Scientists believe that the lipids in the oil both pull out bacteria, as well as stop bacterial from sticking to the walls of the oral cavity.

Oil pulling may also increase saponification in the mouth, creating a soapy environment that cleanses the mouth as vegetable fat is an emulsifier by nature. Most interesting is perhaps the ability of oil to cleanse out harmful bacteria, as well as reduce fungal overgrowth. These oils also possibly help in cellular restructuring, and are related to the proper functioning of the lymph nodes and other internal organs.

Other possible benefits of oil pulling for oral health include:

  • Overall strengthening of the teeth and gums and jaws.
  • Prevention of diseases of the gums and mouth, such as cavities and gingivitis.
  • Prevention of overall tooth decay
  • Prevention for bad breath
  • Potential holistic remedy for bleeding gums
  • Prevention of dryness of the lips, mouth and throat.
  • Possible holistic treatment for TMJ and general soreness in the jaw area.

Benefits Beyond the Mouth?

Believe it or not, ancient Ayurvedic health practitioners believed that oil pulling could reduce more than just diseases of the mouth and throat. Today, many holistic practitioners tout its use for a variety of health concerns. It is believed that these oils help the lymphatic system of the body as harmful bacteria are removed and beneficial microflora are given with a healthy environment to flourish. Because of this holistic perspective, oil pulling has been used as a preventative health measure for many other conditions.

Other possible benefits of oil pulling for overall health include:

  • Migraine headache relief
  • Correcting hormone imbalances
  • Reducing inflammation of arthritis
  • May help with gastro-enteritis
  • Aids in the reduction of eczema
  • May reduce symptoms of bronchitis
  • Helps support normal kidney function
  • May help reduce sinus congestion
  • Some people report improved vision
  • Helps reduce insomnia
  • Reduced hangover after alcohol consumption
  • Aids in reducing pain
  • Reduces the symptoms of allergies
  • Helps detoxify the body of harmful metals and organisms”

Personally, I’ve been oil swishing off and on for about three weeks (every day for two of them) and notice whiter teeth, cleaner feeling mouth, and reduced congestion overall. I’ve also noticed a difference in the tone and evenness of my skin.

To my rational brain, much of it makes sense (some of the claims about oil swishing curing various ailments are overly sensationalized if you ask me) – oil, especially cold-pressed and organic, has various vitamins and minerals and healing properties on its own. When put into your mouth, you’re absorbing it into your membranes, even more so than when you put oil on the skin (abyangha). There is TONS of bacteria in your mouth, but mouthwash kills the good along with the bad; oil, on the other hand, does not. And in terms of acupressure and the tongue acting as a map for the rest of the body (sort of like various points on our feet do), this makes sense to me, too:

Ayurveda advises oil gargling “to purify the taste-buds and the entire system”, as explained by Dr Deepak Chopra in Perfect Health. According to this life science, the tongue is mapped by organ-locations that is, each section of the tongue is connected to the kidneys, lungs, spleen, liver, heart, pancreas, small intestines, stomach, colon, and spine.

I can only speak to my experience but I’m sold on oil swishing as worth 15-20 minutes of my morning. If you think I’m totally nuts by now, I’ll say that this January/February was the first in 5 years that I didn’t get very sick with a respiratory illness of some sort (typically chronic bronchitis) and I truly believe the Ayurvedic treatments and other holistic health stuff I’ve been trying to follow has something to do with it. Or this is classic placebo effect – but no matter. It’s just oil! Try it. Happy swishing.

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