Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Sucking on oil? Yep, it feels as weird as it sounds. But the latest ancient Ayurvedic health practice to find its way to the mainstream has many of us doing things we’d never thought we’d do, like rinsing our mouths with oil as part of our morning ablutions.
Oil pulling, the practice of “swishing” oil around your mouth for up to 20 minutes, has been in use for thousands of years. But a slate of publicity purporting the practice’s teeth whitening and breath-freshening benefits piqued the curiosity of Western natural-health seekers.
For good reason, says John Doulliard, DC, founder and medical director of LifeSpa, an Ayurvedic medical center in Boulder, Colorado. “There’s a lot [to] suggest oil pulling may have some really profound broad-spectrum benefits,” he says.
In India people credit oil pulling with a range of cures, from reducing all manner of aches and pains to even reversing heart disease. And while these claims have yet to be proven, there is plenty of science that the mechanism behind the practice has merit, Doulliard says.
It’s well documented, for example, that ingesting certain kinds of oil has a chelating, or pulling effect on other oils and fat-soluble toxins, such as heavy metals and pesticides, drawing these substances from the fatty tissues of the body. (This practice forms the basis of Ayurvedic panchakarma cleansing programs.)
And studies have shown oil pulling to be as effective as medical-grade anti-plaque and anti-gingivitis treatments, and to be a potent cleanser for the soft tissues and mucosa of the mouth.
“This incredible [medicine] people figured out thousands of years ago, we’re just proving the benefits of now,” Doulliard says.
How to do it
½ T of fresh, uncooked, cold-pressed sesame oil
½ T organic coconut oil
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
Take about 1 tablespoon of this oil mixture and chew it, suck it through your teeth, and swish around your mouth, for 10 and up to 20 minutes each morning after brushing and flossing your teeth (and using a tongue scrapper, if you’ve already adopted some healthy Ayurvedic morning rituals). Spit out and rinse with water, but don’t rebrush. The slight oil coating is actually beneficial.