For anyone who has heard of "oil pulling," you are way ahead of me in terms of nontraditional tricks of the trade. I looked into this harmless healing process using cold-pressed oils thanks to a tip from Julie. Assuming that it was some form of New Age absurdity, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that oil pulling is not new at all, but borrowed from ancient Ayurvedic teachings.

What is remarkable about this remedy is its rare simplicity. All you need is a little spare time and dedication to your treatment. The only ingredient required is cold-pressed oil, which does not necessarily need to be organic. If cold-pressed oil is unavailable, any refined sunflower or sesame oil purchased at the supermarket will do. Though oils extracted from other sources, such as peanuts and olives, may be substituted, they have not been proven to be as effective.

Here is a step-by-step guide to the oil pulling process:

1. First thing in the morning, or at any time of day on an empty stomach, take one tablespoon of your oil of choice and hold it in your mouth without swallowing.
2. Move it around your mouth by swishing the solution within your cheeks and sucking it through your teeth. Try to keep your chin up so that the oil touches all portions of the oral cavity.
3. It is recommended to continue "pulling" for fifteen to twenty minutes, though it may seem tedious. Keep yourself busy with routine tasks (ie. showering, applying your makeup, feeding your pet/plants, making breakfast) so that you aren't tempted to spit too soon. I am oil pulling for my fourth time as I write this post.
4. DO NOT SWALLOW the mixture after pulling since it will have become toxic, as evidenced by its milky color and runny consistency. Perform a test spit in the sink to check the status of the solution. If the color remains a golden yellow, you're not finished pulling.
5. Spit the mixture into the toilet or sink, treating it as toxic waste. Rinse your oral cavity thoroughly with water and use clean fingers to remove any residual oil. There's no need to brush your teeth before eating and continuing with your day.

By now, you might be asking "Why would I go through all that?" The reasons are too numerous to describe in detail here. Testimonials have touted boosts to personal well-being, from a clearer mind and less headaches to increased energy and faster metabolism. In a survey conducted in India in 1996, 89% of respondents reported that oil pulling cured at least one chronic disease, including respiratory problems, skin conditions, joint pains, allergies, constipation, and diabetes. One of the first outward signs of this remedy is on the teeth. Not only has it been proven to whiten teeth and remove stains, but it can also eliminate bleeding gums and fasten loose teeth.

And all of this is possible by replacing your mouthwash with oil??  As you know, oil and water don't mix. But by allowing the oil to commingle with your saliva, this process activates key enzymes which draw toxins out of the blood through the mucous membrane of your mouth. According to Dr. Karach, who discovered the regimen and authored a seminal paper on oil pulling, what is contained in your spittle post-pulling is so noxious that one drop magnified 600 times under a microscope would show living microbes in their first stage of development. By stimulating the eliminatory system, oil pulling rids the body of toxic waste without disturbing its healthy balance of microflora.

Dr. Karach claims that oil therapy can simultaneously heal individual cells and cell conglomerates, such as lymph nodes, in addition to more complex tissues like internal organs. Ultimately, he theorizes that regular application can reverse the body's trend toward illness, warding off tumors and heart attacks and increasing the average human lifespan to approximately 150 years. Wait- it gets even better. Dr. Karach's studies have demonstrated that oil pulling can even successfully replace treatments for terminal diseases such as Aids, cancer, and chronic infections.  Patients with acute illnesses such as arthritis will experience respite within a few days of an oil pulling treatment, while chronic diseases, such as leukemia will take up to a year.

I used pure sesame oil, since that is what I could scrounge up from the back of the refrigerator. Because of sesame oil's pungent flavor (which I could detect deep in my throat without ingesting a drop), this particular type might be a bit off-putting if you are not a fan of Asian food before breakfast. As much as I tried to block the idea that a blend of noxious waste was brewing in my mouth, I started to get queasy towards the end of the regimen and noticed a decrease in appetite afterward (perhaps a welcome side-effect for shedding those post-holiday pounds).

After my first three experiences with oil pulling, I have noticed that my gums feel healthier than usual and that a new stain in the recess of one of my front teeth appears to have been lifted. Despite my reservations about Dr. Karach's miraculous promises, all I know for sure is that oil pulling is not some marketing ploy by a cooking oil manufacturer and that it has not been implicated in any health risks.  A firm believer of holistic healing, non-Western therapies, and natural remedies, I am going to keep up my oil pulling treatment for the next month and will report back if I see any change in a chronic malady I am battling.

The biggest challenge of oil pulling is ignoring the taste by focusing on the prize. If you visualize the process as leeching toxins from your body as the oil changes color and consistency inside your mouth, it seems well worth your time.  Considering the cure-all reputation that oil pulling has acquired, it is worth a try for any sort of ailment. Even if it doesn't address specific bodily symptoms, it will undoubtedly deliver some sort of benefits to your overall health.

UPDATE 7/28/09:

We recently came across additional research pointing toward the medicinal benefits of sesame seed oil. An experiment at the Maharishi International College in Fairfield, Iowa showed that sesame seed oil is an effective treatment for gingivitis. 85% of participants in this study experienced a reduction of the bacteria that causes this disease. Though this finding is worth mentioning here, the benefits of sesame oil are referenced across the internet on sites such as Youthing Strategies with scant citations. Long term usage of sesame oil for medicinal purposes has not been fully studied.