The ancient practice is making a comeback among the health-minded.
It doesn’t involve high-tech rigging or offshore drilling. It can help clear congestion, freshen breath, and boost immunity. What is it? Oil pulling, or kavala graha as it’s known in Ayurvedic textbooks, is a natural way to cleanse and detoxify your mouth and body—and it’s catching on. The practice, which originated in India thousands of years ago, involves taking a teaspoon of unrefined oil and gently swishing it in your mouth much like you would mouthwash (sans the gargling).
“The oil acts like a binding agent, dislodging and ‘pulling’ bacteria and toxins out of the mouth,” explains Abbas Qutab, MD, Ph.D, an Ayurvedic specialist and integrative health practitioner with clinics in Massachusetts. “In Ayurvedic medicine, the tongue is a diagnostic tool and oil pulling improves the hygiene of the mouth and oral health, but also overall health since we know that strep bacteria can lead to heart disease.”
Sesame oil was the traditional go-to for oil pulling in India but coconut oil is the current favorite, thanks to its added health benefits, says Qutab. “Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid and has a natural anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal effect. It can destroy bacteria, yeast, parasites, and viruses.” Oil pull daily (for three to five minutes when you wake up) and it may curb the chronic congestion in your throat or sinuses—the kind that repeated throat clearing or nose blowing doesn’t fix.
So why is this ancient hygienic habit making a comeback? It’s effective but also strangely addictive. One reason: Oil (a.k.a. fat) has a soothing feel in your mouth. In Ayurveda, the reasoning goes deeper. “We all have such Type A tendencies today,” says Qutab. “We have a lot of Pitta fire in us and oil pulling has a cooling Vata effect. It’s pacifying and good for calming the nerves.”