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Oil pulling helps nasal congestion: how?

by (6157)
Updated September 16, 2014 at 7:20 PM
Created March 15, 2011 at 9:19 PM

After taking a look some threads on nasal congestion, I decided to try oil pulling. My question is, if oil pulling decreases or cures nasal congestion issues, what's the potential mechanism behind this?

I understand that the answer may not be clear-cut and may be speculative more than anything.

But personally, I have no clue why this would work (other than the placebo effect). Is it the mechanical motion of swishing a fluid around in your mouth? Would it work with non-oils (say, water)? Or is there something chemical that goes on when you hold coconut oil in your mouth for a while?

I just got some coconut oil today so I will update in a few weeks if the oil pulling has helped me.

UPDATE 2 weeks later: I've done the oil pulling for about 4 days on, 3 days off (due to travel), and now 2 days on again. No effect on sinuses. Teeth are definitely cleaner as I note below in my comments. Will update again, although I think I am going to start doing some conditioning workouts again and in the past, that has cleared up my congestion more than anything else. So it'll be hard for me to tell. But the benefits on my dental hygiene are clear-cut, so I'll keep oil pulling. I have no doubts that it has worked to clear sinus congestion for other people, but it doesn't look like it's working for me.

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997 · July 01, 2012 at 12:51 PM

I pulled oil for a few years and in my experience, I think Adam Crafter is spot on - that there is some sublingual and buccal absorption of something going on. If it was just mechanical, it wouldn't matter which oil I use but I have experimented with many oils and it does matter in my system.

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610 · July 01, 2012 at 1:14 AM

So... I should swish fermented cod liver oil before swallowing it? ...

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6157 · April 04, 2011 at 7:52 PM

Oh! More details, please!

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10768 · April 04, 2011 at 4:28 PM

I tried sesame, olive, and coconut... and the results were slightly different for each.

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6157 · April 01, 2011 at 1:07 PM

Oh. You used sesame oil then?

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10768 · April 01, 2011 at 11:29 AM

Different oils likely have different constituents, and thus different effects... Coconut better for dental... Sesame or olive oil better for sinuses?

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8255 · April 01, 2011 at 4:04 AM

Interesting. My teeth have been sensitive lately, so I can't use the whiteners I've used in the past (the hydrogen peroxide's been painful). I wonder if this will whiten them up/reduce the stains with less pain.

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6157 · April 01, 2011 at 2:59 AM

Sinuses: no change. Stains on teeth disappearing: immediate and dramatic effects! I'll update my question.

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6157 · April 01, 2011 at 2:58 AM

The teeth whitening was immediately clear for me within 3 days. Not so much whitening but immediate reduction of some stubborn stains that had been there for months. I have no doubt about the efficacy of oil pulling on dental health, although even there the mechanisms aren't crystal clear to me. But so far it hasn't had any effect on my sinuses.

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3743 · March 31, 2011 at 9:54 PM

Try using salt water.

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10768 · March 30, 2011 at 11:57 PM

http://www.phcogrev.com/article.asp?issn=0973-7847;year=2009;volume=3;issue=6;spage=264;epage=269;aulast=Gauthaman covers the medical uses of sesame oil...

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10768 · March 30, 2011 at 11:41 PM

+1 to futureboy, 'cause i had the same doubts... - I totally had to try it, just to see what would happen. Not much placebo effect here, I was pretty sure that little would happen.

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10768 · March 30, 2011 at 10:35 PM

I limit my claims to my personal experience. Cleaned up gingivitis, teeth whitening (tartar is water resistant, not oil resistant), and my nose went runny till all the evil was out. No effect on my lungs. I swishes with coconut oil, which is antibacterial and antiviral, so the in mouth results seek logical to me.

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5629 · March 30, 2011 at 9:23 PM

I'm so skeptical of this...but interested. What's the harm in trying I guess? Some pretty radical claims out there though. Some people claiming fantastic teeth whitening, lungs cleared of mucous etc...

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6157 · March 30, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Okay, I think you're on the right track that it's not mechanical but rather has to do with fat solubility. What fat nutrients would help with sinus problems?

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803 · March 25, 2011 at 7:25 AM

yes, that's the debate I was referring to. i could never decide which side was right but it's enough to put you off it.

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1344 · March 16, 2011 at 12:40 PM

http://holistic-personal-development.com/2007/04/22/grapefruit-seed-extract-debate/ Good Lord! Is anything without naysayers. I googled it and this is the quickest thing that I came up with. Was this what you were referring to? I don't use it that often, but just another thing to worry about - LOL!

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803 · March 16, 2011 at 9:00 AM

GSE is probably more controversial than oil pulling. google it.

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6157 · March 16, 2011 at 12:24 AM

I'm well aware that there are people who swear it worked for them... but unfortunately this doesn't mean it has an actual scientific basis. There are lots of people who swear by raw vegan diets and crystals and such.

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6157 · March 16, 2011 at 12:22 AM

I agree, their "reasoning" sounds like pseudoscience. I'm still open to the idea that oil pulling is beneficial to the teeth for reasons other than the ones they give. And I remain mystified as to whether oil pulling has any actual effect on nasal congestion, and if so, how.

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5629 · March 16, 2011 at 12:00 AM

Neti pot and GSE is definitely a great idea, I swear by it. My cold remedy recipe for my Neti pot is 1/8tsp baking soda, 1/8tsp kosher salt and 3-5 drops of GSE. Another of my prescriptions for cold/flu is eating raw garlic. I eat as much as I can stand before I get gassy and/or nauseous. I usually eat 2-3 cloves whole, minimal chewing with large glasses of water. You can also drink some OJ to clear the taste and settle your stomach. Works like a charm! Also make some Paleo friendly chicken soup, with bones and all, and TONS of onions, leeks, scallions, garlic, etc. Alliums = friends.

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5629 · March 15, 2011 at 11:48 PM

I think this might land in the same quack-territory as ear-candling. Apparently it "draws toxins from the saliva" by osmosis? Or something equally as dubious?

"...sip, suck and pull through the teeth' for fifteen to twenty minutes. This process makes oil thoroughly mixed with saliva. Swishing activates the enzymes and the enzymes draw toxins out of the blood. The oil must not be swallowed, for it has become toxic. As the process continues, the oil gets thinner and white. If the oil is still yellow, it has not been pulled long enough. It is then spit from the mouth , the oral cavity must be thoroughly rinsed and mouth must be washed thoroughly. Just use normal tap water and good old fingers to clean."

The whiteness they're looking for, it seems to me, is emulsification with the saliva. Sounds quacky to me. I'm no expert though.

Source: http://www.oilpulling.com/

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10768 · March 30, 2011 at 11:57 PM

http://www.phcogrev.com/article.asp?issn=0973-7847;year=2009;volume=3;issue=6;spage=264;epage=269;aulast=Gauthaman covers the medical uses of sesame oil...

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6157 · March 16, 2011 at 12:22 AM

I agree, their "reasoning" sounds like pseudoscience. I'm still open to the idea that oil pulling is beneficial to the teeth for reasons other than the ones they give. And I remain mystified as to whether oil pulling has any actual effect on nasal congestion, and if so, how.

best answer

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10768 · March 30, 2011 at 6:16 PM

I have had personal success with oil pulling AND think the usual explications that I read are crap.

But, I have an alternative explanation.

I have worked as a compounding pharmacy technician and one of the great ways to boost the buccal absorption of drugs is to arrange to have them be suspended in an oil or an alcohol.

http://www.ualberta.ca/~csps/JPPS1%281%29/A.Shojaei/buccalreview.htm includes:

Furthermore, oral transmucosal drug delivery bypasses first pass effect and avoids pre-systemic elimination in the GI tract. These factors make the oral mucosal cavity a very attractive and feasible site for systemic drug delivery.

Now, where they are talking about drugs, we might want to consider the uptake oil of fat nutrients that may help with conditions like sinus difficulties.

My theory is that the buccal swishing of oils (for the 10-20 minutes usually advocated) allows us to absorb some factors from the oil that would be lessened or destroyed by the digestive tracts processing.

If it was mechanical action, then doing this with water or beer should have the same effect. (I have only tried the water version. GRIN)


from http://www.do-dietary-supplements-work.com/spray-vitamins.html

Factors impacting sublingual absorption

The physical and chemical characteristics of a drug will determine how well it can be absorbed.

There are several factors which determine how substances (drug, vitamins or minerals) are absorbed inside the mouth:

  • Fat-soluble drugs are absorbed better when taken sublingually than are water-soluble ones. Tissues inside the mouth, as any body tissue, consist of cells, and the cell membrane is lipoidal (fat-like). Because of this molecules of materials which are better soluble in fat can penetrate cell membranes more easily.

  • Small molecules penetrate through oral tissue better than larger molecules.

  • Molecules penetrate better than ions. (An ion is a charged molecule, or atom.)

Having this information, what can we say about sublingual absorption of spray vitamins?

  • Based on the solubility factor, it seems that water-soluble vitamins (vitamins C, H, B complex) would not be absorbed as well as fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, K).
  • Recent studies show that small molecules (molecular weight less than 100) cross the oral mucosa easily.

    Molecular weights of all vitamins are greater than 100. Vitamin C has the smallest weight of 176, and vitamin B12 has the highest molecular weight of 1357.

    This means that vitamins might be absorbed sublingually - but not as well as substances with smaller molecules (for example, alcohol, with molecular weight of 46).

  • There are vitamins with neutral molecules, such as vitamins B3 and B12. Others have positively charged molecules - vitamin B1 (thiamine), and some vitamin molecules carry negative potential - vitamin C (ascorbic acid) or B2 phosphate. As neutral molecules can be absorbed better than charged molecules (ions), it seems that some vitamins would be absorbed more easily in the mouth than would others.

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997 · July 01, 2012 at 12:51 PM

I pulled oil for a few years and in my experience, I think Adam Crafter is spot on - that there is some sublingual and buccal absorption of something going on. If it was just mechanical, it wouldn't matter which oil I use but I have experimented with many oils and it does matter in my system.

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610 · July 01, 2012 at 1:14 AM

So... I should swish fermented cod liver oil before swallowing it? ...

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6157 · April 01, 2011 at 2:58 AM

The teeth whitening was immediately clear for me within 3 days. Not so much whitening but immediate reduction of some stubborn stains that had been there for months. I have no doubt about the efficacy of oil pulling on dental health, although even there the mechanisms aren't crystal clear to me. But so far it hasn't had any effect on my sinuses.

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10768 · March 30, 2011 at 11:41 PM

+1 to futureboy, 'cause i had the same doubts... - I totally had to try it, just to see what would happen. Not much placebo effect here, I was pretty sure that little would happen.

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10768 · March 30, 2011 at 10:35 PM

I limit my claims to my personal experience. Cleaned up gingivitis, teeth whitening (tartar is water resistant, not oil resistant), and my nose went runny till all the evil was out. No effect on my lungs. I swishes with coconut oil, which is antibacterial and antiviral, so the in mouth results seek logical to me.

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5629 · March 30, 2011 at 9:23 PM

I'm so skeptical of this...but interested. What's the harm in trying I guess? Some pretty radical claims out there though. Some people claiming fantastic teeth whitening, lungs cleared of mucous etc...

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6157 · March 30, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Okay, I think you're on the right track that it's not mechanical but rather has to do with fat solubility. What fat nutrients would help with sinus problems?

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8255 · April 01, 2011 at 2:33 AM

I think most of the explanations I see from the supporters are total bunk. Unfortunately, I don't think you'll see any legitimate studies on it. Just no money in it for the pharmaceutical companies (like they're going to sell expensive oils, not). One of my wishlist items for if I ever win tons of money in the lottery (pay for some top end scientific studies of things like this to see if they really do anything).

There were a couple plausible things that came to mind based on some quick googling.

1) That it acts as a cleaning agent for getting rid of the bacteria in the gums/teeth. Gingivitis puts a load on the body, and bacteria get in the blood, causing inflammation, etc. I suspect a lot of people have some level of gingivitis going on, so every bit helps. The nasal stuff is not a direct effect of the oil, but a side effect of a reduced infective load. If something else is going on with the nasal stuff, the body can work on it because it isn't dealing with the gum issue.

2) Fatty acid profile. This one is a bit shaky from my understanding though. Not sure how it works out based on our current understanding. The thinking here is that it allows the body to absorb extra omegas directly sublingually. Bypassing the digestive system. This allows the cells in the body to renew themselves better with the better omegas. Some of the anectdotes I saw talked about better skin (less acne), etc. The problem with this thinking is that the Indians use Sesame oil. That's pretty high in Omega 6's, and I thought Omega 3's were the big thing. I would think boosting Omega 6's even higher would be a bad thing. But it's possible you see a big impact because of the lowfat craze. People could be lacking in enough decent fats that any bit feeds their body better. If this is really the case, might not see much impact with Coconut Oil (Medium chain) or being on a paleo diet. Not sure how this would affect nasal problems (unless maybe a low level infection is going on.

By the way Jae, you never posted a followup on how it worked out for you. So, did you die yet? :)

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8255 · April 01, 2011 at 4:04 AM

Interesting. My teeth have been sensitive lately, so I can't use the whiteners I've used in the past (the hydrogen peroxide's been painful). I wonder if this will whiten them up/reduce the stains with less pain.

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6157 · April 01, 2011 at 2:59 AM

Sinuses: no change. Stains on teeth disappearing: immediate and dramatic effects! I'll update my question.

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565 · March 30, 2011 at 2:52 AM

Oil pulling is in the tradition of ayurvedic medicine and it usually done with sesame oil as far as I know. I imagine the mechanism at work has something to do with whatever properties the oil has and its ability to create a film around your teeth and potentially beneath the gums. They say sesame oil is antimicrobial so that may simply be it.

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1443 · July 01, 2012 at 12:48 AM

I swear by it. I doubt the "oil pulling out toxin through tongue" things, but it certainly does help the teeth clean. Just as many of us use coconut oil for brushing teeth, swishing with oil helps the oil-soluble parts of teeth junk (plaque) dissolve in the oil, that is why you don't swallow the oil after pulling, because then you're eating all the plaque.

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997 · July 01, 2012 at 12:50 PM

This study showed oil pulling reduced plaque and gingivitis: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19336860

It helps my sinuses too but only some of the oils higher in oleic acid like sunflower and sesame. Coconut oil pulling actually congests me though I can eat CCNO. I have stopped the oil pulling after diagnosis of a breast cancer tumor. If I'm absorbing more O6s because of the pulling, I don't want that for the time being and I don't want it to interfere with chemo though if I start getting a mouth ulcer from chemo I'll be trying the CCNO or some other oil for sure. I rubbed oil on one mouth sore I started getting during my last chemo round and it subsided within hours and stopped another spot from developing. I pulled oil for a few years and by my experience, I think Adam Crafter is spot on - that there is some sublingual and buccal absorption of something going on. If it was just mechanical, it wouldn't matter which oil I use but I have experimented with many oils and it does matter in my system.

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353 · July 01, 2012 at 4:33 AM

Vigorous contractions of face muscles stimulating vagus nerve that is controlling the release of inflammatory cytokines.

Oil vs. water: You do not get the muscles to work as hard with water as you do with oil

too speculative?

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10 · April 04, 2011 at 5:27 PM

I do not know the asnwer as to WHY but I have used oil pulling a number of times over the past five years when I felt a sore throat, sinus problems or even dull headache coming on. While I can't say the results are miraculous, I pretty always have a positive experience and some alleviation to whichever of those things are ailing me at the time. Placebo effect? but far less detrimental than antibiotics for "suspected" infections.

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1344 · March 15, 2011 at 11:51 PM

People do swear by it! Earthclinic.com has tons of testimonies as well as numerous FB sights. I just did it, because I have a cold/sinus infection that I am working on curing myself. UI am also using the netipot with GSE too. I do not want to get antibiotics!

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803 · March 25, 2011 at 7:25 AM

yes, that's the debate I was referring to. i could never decide which side was right but it's enough to put you off it.

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1344 · March 16, 2011 at 12:40 PM

http://holistic-personal-development.com/2007/04/22/grapefruit-seed-extract-debate/ Good Lord! Is anything without naysayers. I googled it and this is the quickest thing that I came up with. Was this what you were referring to? I don't use it that often, but just another thing to worry about - LOL!

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803 · March 16, 2011 at 9:00 AM

GSE is probably more controversial than oil pulling. google it.

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6157 · March 16, 2011 at 12:24 AM

I'm well aware that there are people who swear it worked for them... but unfortunately this doesn't mean it has an actual scientific basis. There are lots of people who swear by raw vegan diets and crystals and such.

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5629 · March 16, 2011 at 12:00 AM

Neti pot and GSE is definitely a great idea, I swear by it. My cold remedy recipe for my Neti pot is 1/8tsp baking soda, 1/8tsp kosher salt and 3-5 drops of GSE. Another of my prescriptions for cold/flu is eating raw garlic. I eat as much as I can stand before I get gassy and/or nauseous. I usually eat 2-3 cloves whole, minimal chewing with large glasses of water. You can also drink some OJ to clear the taste and settle your stomach. Works like a charm! Also make some Paleo friendly chicken soup, with bones and all, and TONS of onions, leeks, scallions, garlic, etc. Alliums = friends.

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0 · August 22, 2013 at 3:54 PM

Because its a little know fact that most sinus infections have an underlying fungal element. Coconut oil contains caprylic acid which is a potent antifungal agent. While oil pulling it is absorbed through various means obviously sublingually will be the main method for this process, absorbing it straight into your blood. Masssaging coconut oil into the temples and face also helps its a good idea to wash afterwards as toxins are drawn out through the skin and you may experience skin irritation/acne.

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17013 · July 01, 2012 at 10:56 AM

My obvious guess at this, with coconut oil is that the MCT oil in it dissolves the phospholipid layer of the bacteria coating, killing it. You don't want to swallow the result, because the dead bacteria released whatever toxins they harbor (i.e. the same way as in a Herxheimer reaction.)

Other oils containing MCTs could work as well. The mechanical action of swishing the oil around for 20 minutes helps progressively dissolve layers of bacterial plaque, the same way the mechanical action of a laundry machine removes caked on stains.

Killing off the bacteria in our mouths frees up our immune system to deal with other things, and not having a constant war zone allows our tissues to heal. Further, gum disease is linked with heart disease, possibly due to bacteria gaining access through lesions in the mouth getting in the blood stream, then attacking heart tissues (although other newer studies contradict this.)

So it has the same kind of use as an alcohol based mouthwash, but without the risk of cancer due to mucosal permeability caused by the alcohol.

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451 · March 16, 2011 at 8:26 AM

I postulate that it has something to do with the mechanical action of the mouth, palette, soft palette and tongue...the constant muscle movement probably massages the entire area, helping to drain fluid.

You could probably get the same result by pushing your tongue up against the roof of your mouth and then pressing in between your eyebrows in an alternating pattern. This apparently flexes the vomoid (sp?) bone and helps fluid drain...

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