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The oil pulling paradox
For one, the drawn-out process of oil pulling is met with the sort of reception typically reserved for swallowing a goldfish, or performing an enema. My poor roommate would cringe every morning she caught me removing my bottle of sesame oil from the fridge and downing a spoonful. My boyfriend didn’t even want me to hear me utter the word "oil". Nonetheless, I couldn’t help bringing up its extraordinary self-healing properties every chance I got, even with complete strangers at a bar.
Oil pulling has been documented as a cure for AIDS, arthritis, cancers, diabetes, heart disorders, high blood pressure, kidney diseases, leukemia, meningitis, paralysis, ulcers, and varicose veins, among many others. Within the incredible claims tied to oil pulling, I was most excited about its alleged healing powers over intestinal disorders and stomach problems. You see, I suffer from an incurable ailment known as irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS for short. Today IBS afflicts one in four women, though there is little reprieve in this sorority.
Since being diagnosed with IBS, I have tried every treatment under the sun (expensive medication, insoluble fiber, tummy-taming tea, detox cleanses, herbal supplements, lifestyle changes, you name it), and I have never felt a radical improvement in my symptoms (bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, constipation). With all the hype surrounding oil pulling, I held out hope that my body might respond to this remedy better than the others.
It is hard to say definitively that oil pulling is the cause, but I have felt remarkably better in the digestive department over the past month. I haven’t endured a single debilitating episode of colon spasms, which often strikes every few weeks. Though hardly as punctual as a Japanese commuter train, my system has been much more regular than usual. It makes me wonder if maybe oil pulling leeched toxins from my intestinal tract and restored a semblance of stability.
As a child, I was always enthralled with science experiments. So maybe it’s the budding scientist in me, but I secretly enjoy the feeling of converting one compound into something completely different all within the miniature lab of my mouth. I find that if I let the oil sit still without swishing, it seems to curdle almost instantly. Around fifteen minutes into the process, the solution in my mouth is no longer recognizable as oil and has become more akin to frothy eggnog. How could such a transformation take place if the oil isn’t reacting with something in my spit?
Clearly, the oil is emulsified by the swishing action and changes color as it mixes with saliva. It is well-known that the mucous membranes of the mouth can absorb pills, from prescribed medications to illegal drugs (ie. acid). But does this mechanism of action work in the reverse? And if so, why would the oil then “pull” only toxic substances from the bloodstream and leave the benign flora and fauna behind?
What I have deduced is that in order for the miraculous effects of oil pulling to occur, oil-soluble toxins would have to come into contact with oil inside the mouth, thus triggering an immune system response. As the tissues within the mouth become lubricated with oil, they release mucous and bacteria that would otherwise continue to circulate throughout the body. The more the oil coats the oral cavity (under the tongue, along the gums, etc) the more it extracts the bad stuff that accelerates the degeneration of organs and the progression of aging.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the tongue is a miniature map of the body, plotting out reflex points to various organs, such as the heart, liver, colon, and spine. The practice of oil pulling detoxifies the tongue, which in turn, produces a purifying action on the rest of the organs within the body. Moreover, it is believed to cleanse the taste buds, thereby promoting a state of healthy bodily balance.
Notwithstanding the colorful beliefs of Eastern medicine, one proven aspect of the oil pulling process is that your condition typically worsens before it gets better. It is common to pick up a cold or flu during the treatment, which is a sign of the body’s effort to mobilize a stronger healing response. Over the past two weeks, as I have intensified my oil pulling perseverance (often increasing the frequency of the regimen to twice a day), I have been battling a persistent head cold. This prolonged stretch is the first time I’ve been sick all winter. Coincidence?
Curious about the contents of my ejected spittle, I did the unthinkable and examined my post oil-pulling prize in a small glass bowl. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a microscope handy, but with the naked eye, I did notice tiny squiggles floating back and forth when I tipped the bowl-- bacteria embryos writhing, or streaks of oil amassing? I also observed minute air bubbles popping all over the solution-- the breathing of living microbes, or a mundane chemical reaction? The answer lies in the mouth of the oil puller.