Truth Be Told: What is oil pulling and does it work?

5 min read

By Harmony Faust

“Oil whatting?”

If that’s your response to the phrase oil pulling, you are not alone. What is oil pulling and why is everyone buzzing about it? First of all, it turns out that it’s not an alternative to fracking and has nothing to do with the environment. Based on the context clues provided in the various Facebook statuses and Pinterest pins I’d been seeing, I was able to gather it was a health fad of some sort. Not being much of a bandwagoner myself, I kept scrolling. 

does oil pulling workExcept there it was, again and again. Being tweeted, posted, and shared by my friends. So compelled, I headed off to Google for some quick answers. What I learned from Google is that I’d be better off searching on Pinterest—it was looking like a how-to in the health and beauty category, and Pinterest is my personal favorite for exploring those.

Here’s what I picked up from my five minutes on Wikipedia, Google, and Pinterest.

  • Oil pulling is the ancient practice of swishing oil in the mouth in order to purify the body of toxins
  • Practitioners of holistic medicine have long been proponents of oil pulling, but it recently went mainstream as a health and beauty tip
  • Though primarily used for dental hygiene, supposedly it can cure at least a couple dozen ailments—everything from skin conditions and organ function to sleep behaviors and even a hangover
  • Oil pulling allegedly works because the toxins in your body are drawn to (and pulled out by) the enzymes released by the gargling/swishing
  • Instructions vary—I found articles suggesting any number of different oil types and swishing times varying from 5 to 20 minutes, but they all agree: don’t swallow the toxic oil
  • Oil pulling information is fueled by personal testimonies—no scientific sources were easily discoverable backing the claims

Now, whenever something has been around for centuries but is JUST somehow picking up speed, I’m immediately skeptical. But with claims so lofty and perpetuated across so many sources, I remained intrigued.

Equal parts horrified and curious about the idea of oil pulling, I was desperate for validation. Enter: Gale resources. Your resources. You know, the deep online wells of trusted, authoritative content that are most commonly found at libraries and in which you can research any topic and feel reasonably good about the answer.

Let’s put those resources to the test and solve the mystery once and for all. Is oil pulling legit or are all of the claims full of…hyperbole?

Here’s the truth about oil pulling.

  1. The origin of oil pulling as an ancient Ayurvedic practice is confirmed by multiple academic journals. Ayurveda is a prevention-oriented holistic system of medicine which evolved in India some 3000-5000 years ago. Today, it is still the primary healthcare system of India and many of its methods are considered complementary and alternative to Western medicine.
  2. Ayurvedic texts DO apparently claim that oil pulling can cure upwards of 30 systemic diseases.
  3. Despite the prevalence of anecdotes on and advocates for the Indian folk remedy of oil pulling, it is surprisingly difficult to find scientific information to validate the alleged benefits, though many other Ayurvedic practices have been endorsed by the scientific community.
  4. Oil pulling HAS been proven, by multiple studies, to improve oral hygiene…
  5. …but more research is needed across a larger number of subjects and over a longer period of time before the systemic benefits of this alternative therapy will be fully and officially integrated into Western medicine practices.

Verdict: Oil Pulling is Legitimate-ish

My personal interpretation is that the practice of oil pulling does seem to have legitimate health benefits. I am not a medical professional and have not tried this myself, but I do consider myself information-literate.  On the basis of that alone, if you (and your gag reflex) can handle it, there doesn’t appear to be any harm in trying this latest trend.

Truth Be Told is a newly launched blog series published by Gale, a part of Cengage Learning. Truth Be Told is focused primarily on helping individuals explore and (in)validate mainstream news stories and popular topics in an effort to illustrate the importance of developing digital and information literacy skills. If you’d like to use your library’s authoritative resources to investigate a popular mainstream topic, we welcome you to submit a guest blog post.


“A spoonful of oil keeps the toxins away.” UWIRE Text 24 Mar. 2014: 1. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

Lakshmi, T., R. Rajendran, and Vidya Krishnan. “Perspectives of oil pulling therapy in dental practice.” Dental Hypotheses 4.4 (2013): 131+. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

Purohit, Bharathi, and Abhinav Singh. “Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health.” Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine 2.2 (2011): 64. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

Schneider, Janet M. “Fife, Bruce. The New Arthritis Cure: Eliminate Arthritis and Fibromyalgia Pain Permanently.” Library Journal 1 Sept. 2009: 133. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

Zablocki, Elaine. “Research studies show value of Ayurvedic methods.” Townsend Letter Apr. 2011: 17+. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.


[alert-info]Harmony Faust

About the Author

Harmony Faust is Gale’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications. She channels her passion for libraries into her volunteer work, serving as a member of the steering committee for the Corporate Committee for Library Investment and on the Board of Directors for EveryLibrary, the only national organization dedicated to building voter support for libraries. Harmony lives in Plymouth, Michigan, with her husband, dog and two young children. Her opinions are her own.


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