Swishing oil around in your mouth sounds like an unusual way to improve your dental health. However, this practice is touted by the ancient Indian medical practice of Ayurveda, promising to help prevent tooth decay, deter bleeding gums and strengthen the teeth and jaw. Oil pulling is also said to detoxify your body and potentially treat more than 30 diseases, but it isn't an established way to lose weight. You may find that your desire to mindlessly snack diminishes after an oil-pulling session because you don't want to dirty up a sparkly clean mouth, but reducing your overall calorie intake and moving more are the only ways to actually lose pounds.
The Oil-Pulling Process
Oil pulling involves placing a tablespoon or so of sesame, coconut or sunflower oil in your mouth and swishing it around for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. You repeat the process several times per week, or daily, preferably on an empty stomach. Avoid swallowing the oil -- as it's said to contain toxins "pulled" from your gums and between your teeth.
Oil pulling doesn't cause any harm, but it shouldn't replace regular brushing and flossing. Brush your teeth thoroughly or at least rinse your mouth with water after oil pulling; some advocate rinsing with warm salt water.
Oil pulling reduces plaque and some of the bacteria that causes gingivitis, showed a study in the Indian Journal of Dental Research published in 2009. Research supporting claims that it combats conditions such as headaches, diabetes and asthma, however, is lacking. No evidence exists that oil pulling directly causes weight loss, either.
Weight-Loss Effects of Oil Pulling
Proponents of oil pulling assert that it reduces total body inflammation, in addition to promoting good oral health. In the teachings of Ayurveda, it's said that stimulating and cleaning points on the tongue, such as is done with oil pulling, positively affects various internal organs, such as the heart, kidney and liver. If true, this could theoretically reduce fluid retention and bloating that contribute to feelings of puffiness and lead to a loss of a few extra pounds on the scale.
No real substantial research supports the claims that oil pulling reduces inflammation, however. And, there's no guarantee that reduced inflammation will lead to weight loss. There's no harm in trying oil pulling to see for yourself if it helps you feel less bloated. If you have recessed gums, mouth ulcers or sensitive teeth, check with your dentist before starting the regimen.
Coconut Oil and Weight Loss
Coconut oil as part of your diet, not as a tooth treatment, may help with weight loss. Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, which, when included as part of your diet, may help diminish your appetite so you eat fewer calories and lose weight, reported a paper published in a 2013 issue of Nutrition Review. Supplementing a reduced-calorie diet with coconut oil helped reduce belly fat in premenopausal women, according to a small study published in Lipids in 2009.
During oil pulling you don't swallow the oil, though, so you can't garner these weight-loss benefits. You don't ingest the medium-chain fatty acids that make you feel satiated and affect the distribution of fat to reduce abdominal obesity.
Weight-Loss Strategies That Work
Weight loss most effectively occurs when you reduce your caloric intake below your calorie burn rate. Use an online calculator to determine how many calories you use per day according to your size, activity level, age and gender. Then subtract between 500 and 1,000 calories to determine how many calories you should eat to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week.
Note that men shouldn't eat fewer than 1,800 calories per day and women no fewer than 1,200 calories per day. Such low levels can stall the metabolism and lead to nutritional deficiencies. To create a greater deficit without eating too little, increase exercise.
Eat coconut oil -- or sesame and sunflower oil -- as part of your low-calorie diet, but note that 1 tablespoon of most oils contains 120 calories. Be sure to count this as part of your total daily calorie intake. When you oil-pull and spit out the oil, though, you won't absorb any significant amount of calories.