What do Gwyneth Paltrow and I have in common? We both enjoy the sensual feel of a mouthful of hard coconut oil.
Yup, the GOOPster herself recommends swishing, as do I. Oil pulling, the chic new-old practice of swishing oil around your mouth for 10 to 20 minutes each morning before eating, is popping up everywhere in my Facebook feed. Oil pulling is today where neti pots were in the 80s. Back then, unless you lived in an ashram, you never heard of a neti pot. Recently, though, I was having lunch with my 87-year-old Great Aunt Litza, and when she noticed that I had a cold, she kvelled to me in between bites of a corned beef sandwich, “Have you tried neti potting? It’s wonderful!” Then she offered to demonstrate.
I know what you’re thinking. Twenty minutes? That’s like half a Mad Men. I agree, believe me. That’s just what I thought. Who has time for that?
A Google search for oil pulling yields thousands of hits. I’m feeling a year too late to the oil pulling train. I spend the day reading article after article, learning all I can about the practice. Which is to say, not that much. Everyone is quoting the same celebs and seeking a comment from their local dentist, who answers by Googling the topic, so we’re all fishing from the same small pond.
Lots of articles quote New York City-based cosmetic dentist to the stars Dr. Marc Lowenberg. A fan of oil pulling and a practitioner himself, Lowenberg boasts high profile patients the likes of Russell Simmons, Cyndi Lauper, Cindy Crawford, Heidi Klum, and Chris Rock and has this to say: “The toxins in your body are fat-soluble so they join with the oil and are removed when you spit it out. Since the mouth is loaded with plaque, it makes sense that there would be a reduction.”
Young star Shailene Woodley is another staunch advocate, though she prefers sesame oil over Gwyneth’s coconut oil. Nobody puts GOOP in the corner. I sense an oil-preference showdown on the rise.
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I trust Gwyneth; who doesn’t? But I’d prefer to hear from some experts. Some articles credit Dr. F. Karach, M.D. for reintroducing the world to the ancient practice when, in 1992, he presented a paper on the subject to oncologists and bacteriologists belonging to the Academy of Science of the USSR. Karach feels that human beings are living only half their life span, with the potential to reach 140 to 150 years old.
Other adherents assert that oil pulling was first touted in the ancient Ayurvedic text, the Charaka Samhita, from 700 BC, as “beneficial for flabbiness of face, strength of jaws, depth of voice, improving gustatory sensation and good taste for food. One used to this practice never gets dryness of throat, nor do his lips ever get cracked; his teeth will never be carious and will be deep rooted; he will not have any toothache nor will his teeth set on edge by sour intake; his teeth can chew even the hardest eatables.”
This seems like good news. I like strong teeth and I can probably benefit from less flabbiness of face.
As early as 1996 many folks in India began crediting the practice with a range of cures, from reducing aches and pains to reversing heart disease. The Indian newspaper Andhra Jyoti asked people about the effectiveness of oil pulling, and 89 percent of 1041 respondents reported benefits that included clearer skin, better digestion, more stable blood sugar, and decrease in aches and pains. This excites me. I wonder if it will help my low back?
There’s only one way to find out for sure. It’s time to give it a whirl.
You’re supposed to swish in the morning on an empty stomach. I wake early and head straight for the oil. As recommended, I scoop out one tablespoon. In my mouth, it turns from hard coconut butter to liquid oil in moments. First I sit and fidget. Then I walk around the house. I’m not sure how to pass the time; I’ll have to find my rhythm here. Ten minutes in, Noah wakes up, so I spit into the compost bin. You can’t spit into the sink because the oil could clog the pipes.
My mouth feels remarkably fresh and clean. And of course, my jaw muscles are wide awake. I spend the next two hours rubbing my tongue against my extraordinarily smooth teeth—I haven’t spent this much time rubbing my teeth since my braces came off in 1983.
I wake up in the middle of the night, so I take the opportunity to swish uninterrupted before heading back to bed. In the morning, my breath feels fresh and my floss glides remarkably easily.
Today I wake up with my two boys. Surprisingly, when I swish, they don’t give me a hard time, but get a kick out of my grunts and miming to communicate.
My tongue is not nearly as distracted today. Are my teeth less smooth or am I just used to it? Later, after a shower, I look in the mirror and you know what? I think my skin is clearer and my teeth are whiter. Weirdly, however, my low back is much worse today. Could be from a full day of writing at my desk yesterday. Could be because the weather is turning cold. Or, maybe, just maybe, it’s a temporary cleansing response to the oil pulling, just as several of the articles predicted, and I’ll feel dramatically better in a day or two.
After a vigorous morning swish, I am so happy and my spirits are so ebullient, it arrests me. At lunch, when I eat sauerkraut, my teeth are much less sensitive—just as the Charaka Samhita predicted. Plus, my gums feel healthier and don’t hurt or bleed when I floss.
Today oil pulling is put to the test. I’ve been streaming the old HBO seriesDeadwood and watching two episodes a night. Characters in the show make whiskey look awfully delicious, so last night I joined in with three shots. That’s exactly three shots more than I’m accustomed to, so this morning I am queasy and a bit wobbly. My tablespoon of coconut oil looks particularly unappealing, but I am dedicated to Project Paltrow.
And I am shocked to say that directly after oil pulling, I am fully cured. Hangover gone. In 15 minutes I go from bleary and nauseous to wide-eyed and energetic.
The past few days, Benji has had a runny nose and a cough, though still lots of energy. Yesterday morning we wrestled and he sneezed on my face. And then, when we kissed goodbye before he toddled off to kindergarten, no matter how hard I tried to dodge, he planted a wet kiss not on my cheek, but directly on my nostrils, delivering his germs as efficiently as possible to my mucus membranes. So today, I wake up with a scratchy throat and a bit of nasal congestion. The very earliest stages of a cold. But here comes Captain Coconut to the rescue. Fifteen minutes of oil and I am healed. Can I get an Amen?
I’ve completed a week of oil pulling and plan to continue for a few more days. Is this something, in the words of Louis CK, that I “just do now”? Yup.
I want to continue indefinitely, but I have to consider several factors. First, I think my wife, Gwen, is disgusted when I spit my giant mouthful mix of frothy oil and saliva into the trash, and it may soon affect our sex life. Second, there is only so long she will tolerate me unable to speak as we ready the boys for school in the mornings. Besides, if oil pulling made me so healthy I lived to 150 years old, I’d miss my family. It hardly seems worth it.
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