The health benefits of eating extra virgin olive oil are well known, but a growing number of people are also finding gains to their well-being by spitting it out.
Oil pulling comes from Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of medicine that emphasizes balance, harmony and interconnectedness and good health is defined as a state of balance between mind, body, soul and senses — not just the absence of symptoms. By extracting bacteria, toxins and fungi from the mouth before they have a chance to integrate into the body, the practice of oil pulling helps the body maintain balance.
Oil pulling believers credit the practice of regularly swishing oil around in your mouth with a range of benefits from whiter teeth to increased energy and healthier skin. In the ancient Ayurvedic text, the Charaka Samhita, oil pulling is even credited with healing diseases like diabetes and asthma.
“Oil pulling can be incredibly beneficial,” says Boston-based Ayurvedic health practitioner Kate O’Donnell. But it is particularly important to choose your oil carefully, “Look for organic, cold pressed oils,” she says.
After just two weeks you could see whiter teeth, though O’Donnell encourages at least a three-month regular practice for significant health changes. “You’re lightening the load on the immune system. All the rest of the body will come into balance when the immune system is in balance,” says O’Donnell.
O’Donnell had her first experiences with Ayurveda in India when she was studying Ashtanga yoga with the late K. Patthabi Jois.
While dealing with digestive health issues as a result of parasites, Patthabi Jois referred O’Donnell to a family doctor who practiced Ayurveda.
He prescribed an intense month-long detox program which included oil pulling. “The whole thing just made a lot of sense to me,” says O’Donnell. “I learned so much while healing myself, so I just kept studying.” She now teaches Ashtanga Yoga in the Boston area and does Ayurveda consultations. Her cookbook, The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook is due out in November.
Heaping up to two tablespoons of olive oil into your mouth and then moving it around for twenty minutes might feel strange at first. For those who have a hard time getting past the initial ‘yuck-factor’, O’Donnell suggests starting with a shorter practice by starting with 5 minutes and building up to twenty minutes. After more than twenty minutes, the toxins could reabsorb into the body, O’Donnell says.
Because it is detoxifying, some people feel fatigued, nauseous and experience headaches on their first few pulls but these symptoms indicate that the practice is working. This can be especially true for someone whose body is overloaded with excesses. “If they’re in a bad way, starting with five minutes of oil pulling is just fine,” says O’Donnell.
To give it a try, stock up on your favorite high-quality olive oil, set aside 5 – 20 minutes where you don’t have to talk to anyone and get swishing.
Put 1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil (high quality extra virgin, preferably organic) in your mouth and swish for 20 minutes.
Be careful not to swallow: that oil is full of the toxins you are trying to expel.
When you’re done, spit the oil into a trashcan, not the sink or toilet where the oil might solidify and create a blockage.