The Truth About Oil Pulling - Ayurveda | Everyday Ayurveda

The Truth About Oil Pulling

By on August 30, 2016

Reprinted with permission from Dr. John Douillard, DC © August 1, 2013

Perhaps you have heard of it: the Ayurvedic technique of swishing oil in your mouth for 10-20 minutes daily that claims to deliver a litany of health benefits.

The web is chock-full of stories claiming amazing results from this seemingly innocuous procedure. It seems implausible that swishing oil in the mouth could benefit one’s joint, heart, and immune health.

In this article, join me as I dive into the research – separating the wheat from the chaff, the truth from the non-truths – about this very ancient Ayurvedic technique.

What is Oil Pulling?

The practice of oil pulling is typically done by using sesame or coconut oil as a mouth wash or gargle. These oils are classically herbalized with turmeric and/or other herbs to enhance the effects. One tablespoon of this oil is swished in the mouth and sucked or “pulled” through the teeth for 10-20 minutes.

An International Buzz

In 1996, an Indian newspaper called Andhra Jyoti conducted a survey to find out user experiences regarding the effectiveness of oil pulling. Out of a total of 1041 respondents, 927 (89%) reported amazing health benefits. Only 114 (11%) reported no benefit.

The survey included the following:

• Pains in the body – 758 cases
• Respiratory system -191 cases
• Skin -171 cases
• Digestive system-155 cases
• Elimination – 137 cases
• Joints – 91 cases
• Heart and Circulation – 74 cases
• Blood Sugar – 56 cases
• Hormones – 21 cases
• Miscellaneous -72

Since the newspaper buzz in 1996, oil pulling has been gaining more and more attention. The claims of health benefits linked to this very simple therapy have been extraordinary. However, many such claims are just anecdotal, without any research to substantiate them. Unfortunately, this newspaper survey, while it might have spawned international interest, carries no real proof for these claims.

But before you throw your “swishing oil” in the trash, there are real benefits to be had. Let’s take a look at the facts.

The Truth and the Research

Ancient Science

Oil pulling is clearly mentioned in the classic and most esteemed textbook of Ayurveda, the Caraka Samhita. Caraka says this about oil pulling:

Keeping of oil gargle provides strength in jaws and voice, development of the face, maximum taste and relish of food. One does not suffer from dryness of throat, lip cracking and teeth become firmly rooted. The teeth do not ache or become sensitive and can chew the hardest food items (1).

Modern Science

In a randomized triple-blind study measuring the effect of oil pulling on oral health, 20 boys were divided into two groups. One group gargled daily for 10 minutes with a traditional mouthwash (chlorhexidine, considered the most effective anti-plaque and anti-gingivitis agent). The other group gargled daily for 10 minutes with sesame oil.

The results showed support for a healthy immune response against foreign microbes, and healthy gums and plaque levels in both groups (2, 3).

In another study, the swishing of the oil in the mouth and pulling the oil between the teeth were shown to have a saponification (detergent or cleansing) effect on the oral mucosa (4).

Gum health has been linked to heart heart in many studies over the years which is why dentists take such care to support healthy gums. Poor gum health may allow foreign microbes to infiltrate the blood stream and irritate the arterial walls. Interestingly the same bacteria, Strept mutans which surges in the mouth after a high sugar diet has also found in unhealthy levels in the arterial walls of heart patients.

Numerous studies citing similar results very much support the original statements made by Caraka Samhita more than 3000 years ago. The benefits of oil pulling on plaque as a natural cleansing agent for the teeth and gums are all very real.

But can the benefits of oil pulling go beyond the mouth?

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How Does Oil Pulling Work?

Sesame oil, coconut oil and turmeric all have benefits. Sesame and coconut oils herbalized with turmeric are used in Ayurveda regularly to detoxify or “pull” toxins from the skin that they are applied to. The theory is the oils are lipophilic, meaning they attract other oils. The fatty layers in our skin are well-known dumping grounds for fat-soluble toxins (6).

Some of the fat-soluble toxins that we are regularly exposed to are:

  • heavy metals
  • parasites
  • pesticides
  • preservatives
  • additives
  • hormones
  • environmental toxins

When applied to the skin, these oils may attract toxic fat molecules to the surface, cleansing them through the body’s largest detox organ: the skin.

Backed by Science

This use of oil as a detox accelerator or “pulling” agent has been recently studied. In one study, the external use of sesame oil in massage and the ingestion of ghee were found to reduce lipid peroxides or free radicals in the blood (5). The researchers concluded that the lipophilic effect of the oils helps pull free radicals and toxins out of the blood.

Another study observed how heavy metals and environmental toxins were “pulled” out of the blood during sesame oil massage and the ingestion of ghee during an Ayurvedic detox called panchakarma (6). Again, the lipophilic or pulling effect of the oils is believed to be the mechanism behind this detox effect.

To Pull or Not to Pull?

While more studies need to be done on the oil pulling technique, it is clear that the mechanism of oil acting as a pulling agent for toxins is known. As a result, it is very plausible that exposing the skin – and particularly the oral mucosa – to oils and herbs like sesame, coconut and turmeric may have a beneficial and detoxifying pulling effect.

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1. Charaka samhita Ch V -78 to 80.

2. Asokan S, Emmadi P, Chamundeswari R. Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian J Dent Res. 2009; 20:47– 51. [PubMed: 19336860]

3. Effect of oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in plaque and saliva using Dentocult SM Strip mutans test: a randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent. 2008 Mar;26(1):12-7. PMID: 18408265

4. Indian J Dent Res. 2011 Jan-Feb;22(1):34-7. doi: 10.4103/0970-9290.79971. PMID:21525674

5. Sharma HM, Midich SI, Sands D, Smith DE: Improvement in cardiovascular risk factors through Panchakarma purification procedures. J Res Educ Indian Med, 1993; 12(4); 2-13.

6. Heron, Fagan. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in its September/October 2002 issue, two


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About Dr John Douillard

Dr. John Douillard, DC, CAP, is a globally recognized leader in the fields of natural health, Ayurveda, and sports medicine. He is the creator of, the leading Ayurvedic health and wellness resource on the web. is evolving the way Ayurveda is understood around the world, with over 700 articles and videos proving ancient wisdom with modern science. Dr. John is the former Director of Player Development for the New Jersey Nets NBA team, author of 6 books, a repeat guest on the Dr. Oz show, and featured in Woman’s World Magazine, Huffington Post, Yoga Journal and dozens of other publications. He directs LifeSpa, the 2013 Holistic Wellness Center of the year, in Boulder, CO. For more information visit




    January 3, 2014 at 11:08 am

    I think some real discussion needs to go on with regards to this. The studies cited have more to do with external application of the oil as well as vigorous methods such as massage used which is completely different than swishing oil in your mouth on so many levels . These results of toxin pulling were not quoted in Charaka Samhita as far as I am aware and there are many details about this technique from Charaka that are not being discussed or quoted here. I would suggest reading of the following article linked at the bottom of this and want to know what Dr. Douillard’s proper clinical training in Ayurvedic Samhita he is actually basing any of this off of.



      January 31, 2014 at 6:30 pm

      I have durdnaff & I have durdnaff & dry scalp, in a previous video of yours, for durdnaff 2 white yolk & 4tsp of lemon massage the scalp, for dry hair 2 egg, olive oil, 2tsp of lemon massage and rinse with mild shampoo.  what would be your suggestion to combat both of this? please give me your valuable advice. Thanks in advance.

  2. tedlothian@GMAIL.COM'


    January 6, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Im with bryan does dr speak sankrit or trusts someone else don’t you love poeple from colorado acting like they everything your just like dr halpern



      January 8, 2014 at 10:04 pm

      Yes Ted. Your right. Watch out for California College of Ayurveda,they’re selling the most basic version of Ayurveda you could imagine in the package of clinical training. Compete farce.

      • Jacob Griscom

        January 18, 2014 at 5:55 pm

        Do you think that people would still benefit from going through their program or working with one of their practitioners? or do you think that it would actually do harm? We’re interested in reviews of the schools out there, so please contact us if you’d like to contribute an article.

    • Jacob Griscom

      January 18, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      I don’t understand what you’re trying to say, Ted. Can you clarify?



    April 3, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    First i would present this article….
    This is about the trouble with using western research to try to research Ayurveda. After you read that, you should understand that Ayurveda is not researchable in any means by western limitations as ayurveda works with individual not controlled group evidence. There are too many uncontrolled variables in using a group to study ayurvedic treatments. This is not the only reason though.

    Second, not one of the Ayurvedic texts recommend coconut oil. this is interesting because there are a ton of coconuts in india and coconut is used in other treatments. Many other substances are used though from meat soup to just plain water. All for specific treatments.

    Three, He equates panchakarma to oil pulling and they are such different treatments, even using the comparison of abhyanga to oil pulling = kavala is ridiculous as they are not in the same ball park as treatments nor what they do. Abhyanga is snehana or a oil massage that is usually part of the course of snehapana or the internal and external oiling of the body where then swedana is followed. Kavala is not a treatment that is used for snehapana at all.

    This is really all the death of ayurveda before it even starts to have footing in America.

    If we do not teach the practitioners properly and we let the information of these treatments haphazzardly and irresponsibly out into the masses, what will be the out come. I have already worked with several people who have been harmed due to improper kavala just for the mere fact the correct techniques are not being taught. What about them? Collateral damage to ones own success?



    July 17, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Did the Advanced Yoga and Ayurvedic Course and the Ayurvedic Healing Course with Dr David Frawley hands got about 20 different Ayurvedic books of all sorts and 50 different yoga books of all sorts, been on this path for over 13 years, never heard of oil pulling nor read any of this in the texts…..



      June 20, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      Jacquie, That can only be because the texts your reading are not actually ayurvedic texts but western books. David Frawley’s stuff is much like everything else out there. Did you know that the minimum education of Ayurveda in India is 6 years of medical school? How does this compare to 24 weekends at Mount Madonna do you think or the 200 hours of David Frawley’s courses that are all correspondence courses and you have no context or container to put all the information in except the one you already live in. Yes, i know, because i did his courses as well along time ago. This is the Western world of sales and marketing of all of this stuff. 13 years in a hamster wheel not knowing there is anything different that what is being sold…. well, it is pretty much all there is out there. Kavala is in every ayurveda text in dinacharya. It is then in EVERY ayurveda text in several places but specially mentioned in Chikitsasthana (treatment). Unfortunately, here in the west the actual ayurveda texts are not used and only a westerner writing their own version of things is taught.

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    June 25, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Kavala is of four kinds- unctuous (snigda), pacifying (shamana), purifying (shodana) and healing (ropana). John, Which one is the detoxifying one? Shodana. Then what are the techniques of the treatment that make it detoxifying? Those techniques are not done in the treatment described above yet you blend it together like it is doing the same thing.
    Lubricating with oils and fats snigda– for Vata imbalance disorder. It is done by the use of oil processed with herbs of sweet, sour and salt tastes.
    Palliative for Pitta imbalance disorder shamana – . It is done by herbs of bitter, astringent and sweet tastes.
    Cleansing / purifying – for Kapha imbalance disorder. It is with herbs of bitter, pungent, sour, salt tastes and possessing hot property.
    Healing /ropana– It is done with herbs of astringent and bitter taste.

    This article is Western ayurveda at its best.

    Want to see the deatils of real oil pulling without the sales hype:

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