Monday, June 16, 2014

Oil Pulling or Are They Just Pulling Your Leg?

Health advice found on the Internet and in the news continues to surprise.  The Washington Post tells us that everyone is talking about something called oil pulling.  “Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that involves swishing a pure oil around in the mouth to draw toxins from the body.”  The theory is that swishing the sesame seed or coconut oil for 10 minutes 1-2 times per day (Some sources say 15 to 30 minutes.) draws the toxins out of your body.  The Natural News reports: “This practice has immediate and tangible effects on conditions such as halitosis, gingivitis and dental plaque. Doing this regularly has been shown to improve the luster of the hair, clear the skin, whiten teeth, eliminate parasites, reduce joint pain and improve overall body odor.”  They also imply that it may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia.  (Can you say “snake oil”?)

Actress, Shailene Woodley, who calls it amazing and says it makes her teeth whiter, endorses it along with an acupuncture physician in Tallahassee, who shuns the “harsh chemicals” in mouthwash and was attracted by this “more holistic approach.”  She claims that it reduced her tooth pain, and she feels that it helped balance the ratio of good to bad bacteria in her mouth.  (Is there really a way to sense the ratio of good and bad bacteria in your mouth?)

These are clearly individual opinions, not to be confused with facts, based in part on some magical thinking; but what do the experts have to say? 

American Dental Association will not comment without seeing the results and reviews from additional research.  “Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, says they are not conducting any research on oil pulling.”  A small study at the University in Southern California showed only a temporary reduction in bacteria associated with cavities.  Another study conducted by the department of Pediatric Dentistry at Dental College in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, compared oil pulling to mouthwash and found that mouthwash was more effective.  Professionals in the referenced articles recommend seeing your doctor or dentist before embarking on any self-diagnosis and remedy program warning that “bad breath or tooth sensitivity can point to other, sometimes serious, issues” and it could be “extremely harmful” to anyone allergic to coconut oil or sesame oil.

It seems silly though to worry about research and expert opinion when actresses, social media and others endorse so strongly a practice “based on traditional Indian Ayurveda medicine, which dates back 3,000 years.”  If it’s very old, Indian or Chinese, does not involve chemicals, seems holistic and feels good, how could it be anything but good for you? – Or so the thinking goes.  But it’s not critical thinking.

Added note:  I just got back from the grocery store where I priced mouthwash against coconut oil and sesame oil.  The mouthwash is more than 4 time less expensive than either.  So, this kind of "health superstition" also becomes a poor economic choice.  

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