The internet (social media, in particular) has become a breeding ground for misinformation. Anybody can put almost anything out there without consequence of being held accountable if that information actually harms someone else. It is definitely a "buyer beware" world.
So, this elegantly titled link, "WTF is oil pulling????? + Why I'm hooked", that a 20-something FASHION blogger, Erica Stolman, put out there has made the Facebook circuit. She has decided to advise one and all about health care. (By the way, if you look at her blog, you can find that she can also cast a spell for you. It's under "consulting" to connect you to the "website witch doctors".) I am a firm believer in Evidence-Based Dentistry, dentistry that has scientific proof through legitimate clinical studies. I am going to try to address each one of her claims. And having been raised in Missouri, I take the attitude of "Show Me".
Warning! This is long, as I am passionate about someone advising about dentistry when they have no credentials whatsoever.
THE SOURCE: Erica does not credit any particular source in her blog. Most of her information seems to have been gleaned from coconut oil websites, as well as her and her friends' opinions. Most of the coconut oil claims on the internet are coming from the same sources. In regards to these particular sources, this is what I have learned through the years of reading articles. If the names Huggins, Weston Price, Mercola, Fife, and even Dr. Oz appear as the expert in any articles related to Dentistry, please hit delete. These sources are well known to exploit and sensationalize false dental information with no proper studies whatsoever! The best studies published are those conducted as an independent, randomized, double-blind, peer-reviewed article and appear in well respected and proven journals. Like the "chocolate milk for athletes" study was actually funded by the chocolate milk industry, most articles about oil pulling have been sponsored by the coconut oil industry.
Don't get me wrong, I love coconut oil for cooking and even as a skin moisturizer, but oil pulling as a cure-all for your health (specifically oral health)? Let's look closer:
THE BODY: One claim that the FASHION blogger states is "it pulls toxins out of your body through your mouth" .... The mucous membranes of the mouth can absorb certain substances, but to be able to extract toxins out of your entire body by reversing that natural action? Here's a flat out "NO". You cannot pull toxins out through your mouth. It is the function of your lymph nodes to filter bodily fluids and the kidneys and liver are to filter your blood. If those fail, surgeries, transplants, or dialysis are needed. Big red flag if someone states that anything "detoxifies the bod." Another ridiculous claim: "The oil you spit out is cloudy because of the toxins". Um, put oil into a running blender with a little water, it will come out cloudy. Did it pull the toxins out of your blender blades and walls? No, it's emulsified. Air and water has been incorporated into it. (In the mouth, it's saliva, food debris, and air).
Along the same lines, she claims that oil pulling "relieves headaches & hangovers (!!!)" , "clears sinuses", and "helps you sleep better". In what way does swishing any substance in your mouth fix anything past that immediate area? Every one of these claims should be addressed with "How?. "The body simply does not function that way. "Manages weird hormonal imbalances"? The FDA would have a field day with that one. Which hormones? Thyroid, pituitary, endocrine? How, how, how? "Helps get rid of acne/ eczema/ psoriasis & other skin issues"? This one has already been blasted by dermatologists. Lots of claims, no scientific proof.
THE MOUTH: Now to address the claims in my area of expertise. Erica Stolman claims that oil pulling "Whitens teeth", "strengthens teeth, gums, & jaws", "prevents cavities & gingivitis. Some people even reported it HEALED their cavities.", and "banishes bad breath".
Enamel is the hardest substance in the body. It does not contain living cells. It cannot heal, regrow, or regenerate itself. It is a matrix of organic and inorganic substances. When weakened with physical (wear, injury) or chemical (acidic foods/ drinks, bacterial by-products) trauma, enamel can be re-mineralized or repaired with very specific substances. There is absolutely nothing in coconut (or sesame) oil that can possibly restructure, heal or strengthen enamel. Again, no scientific proof.
In fact, coconut and sesame oil are slightly acidic. About a pH of 5. Refresher: 7 is neutral, 0 is acidic (battery acid), 14 is basic/ alkaline (lye). The mouth is sensitive to pH changes and relies on saliva to neutralize the pH. When the saliva is overwhelmed (think chronic soda acid washing) or shut off (side effect of many meds), enamel is inevitably damaged. With a pH range of 2-4, soda acids destroys enamel. Over the counter mouthwashes have pHs of 4-5.5. These are also destructive levels for tooth damage. (Smart Mouth , Oxyfresh and Closys II are the only pH neutral mouthwashes, so far) Will swishing coconut or sesame oil with a pH of 5 over 20 minutes every day harm teeth? ANYTHING ACIDIC IS BAD FOR TEETH !
"Whitens teeth"? Hmmmm, not really sure how that would work. Does it make the enamel slick to repel surface stains? Could be. Does it penetrate the enamel to oxidize internal stains? Most likely not. Does it dehydrate the teeth, which make teeth appear whiter for a time? Possibly. I would love to see an actual study of how, and if, it whitens teeth.
"Strengthens.....jaws": what part? The entire jaw bone? The joint? How would it actually get to bone level when there are layers of tissue between the oral cavity and the bone itself? And by what mechanism does oil pulling actually strengthen it? It just doesn't make sense.
There has been a recent study done analyzing the antibacterial and antifungal claims of coconut oil. This study was done in Ireland last year (it has not been published, they have only announced press releases) comparing natural-state coconut oil vs enzyme-modified coconut oil. Their own creation of enzyme-modified coconut (and other) oil(s) decreased the number of Strep mutans, the bacteria most associated with tooth decay. The natural coconut oil had NO significant effect on the bacteria. And the big question: What other strains of bacteria are effected? There are well over 500 types of bacteria in the mouth and it a delicate balance of anaerobic vs aerobic, gram positive vs gram negative. If some of the healthy bacteria are killed off, the aggressive bacteria take over, which is exactly what happens to cause bad breath, decay, periodontal disease, and some oral cancers. Again, more research is required.
Well, I could keep going on about oil, anaerobic environments, and aggressive periodontal disease bacteria, but that's not one of her claims and I think I've gone on quite a bit. To summarize, there are no legitimate studies that prove any of these claims of oil pulling improving your health. As far as your dental health, swishing any kind of (pH neutral) liquid will pull debris away from your teeth and help with oral hygiene, but mechanical contact of tooth brushing for 3 minutes is far more effective than swishing anything for 20 minutes.
If you believe that oil pulling really works for you, ok, the placebo effect is real. Just be aware that it is not everything it is claimed to be, and may not be as safe as you think it is. There are now reports of recurrent lipoid pneumonia associated with oil pulling in the February 2014 issue of International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease medical journal. (An infection as a result of inhaling fatty substances into your lungs). It's your time, your money, your health and your choice. I'm just asking you to make choices based on facts, not some FASHION blogger's claims, before you follow them and paste them all over Facebook.
Thanks and good dental health to you all!