Coconut Oil Health Benefits: Fact or Folklore?

The fatty oil from coconuts

Everyone is abuzz over the newly rediscovered health benefits of coconut oil. If you’ve been on any social media site in the past few months, you’ve likely seen a post about the positive effects coconut oil can have on skin, hair, and metabolism. The ancient practice of oil pulling has also been all the rage lately, due to claims of its ability to whiten teeth and remove toxins. However, this coconut oil phenomenon may be just a fad.

Since the earliest times of the traditional Hindu medicinal system, Ayurveda, it has been believed that oil pulling – swishing, holding, or gargling oil in the mouth – builds plaque resistance, promotes saliva flow, dislodges oral bacteria, and moisturizes gums. The ancient practice has been undergoing a phenomenal resurgence lately, with even some celebrities crawling onboard.

In an interview for Into the Gloss, Shailene Woodley, star of The Fault in Our Stars, said:

“You can do something called ‘oil pulling’ where you swish coconut or sesame oil in your mouth when you wake up and spit it out. It’s amazing! It really makes your teeth whiter, because the plaque on your teeth is not water soluble, it’s fat-soluble. So the lipids have to dissolve in fats, which is why oil works in your mouth.”

Even some doctors are all for the coconut oil trend. According to The Commercial Appeal, New York dermatologist Janet H. Prystowsky is an advocate of removing makeup with coconut oil and is especially intrigued by its effects on dermatitis and hair health. Chiropractic nutritionist Gary Yaeger claims oil pulling, while not a replacement for brushing and flossing, has aided him in overcoming bad breath.

However, there is very little actual research supporting any theories about the effects of coconut oil on oral health and practically none to support any other supposed benefits of coconut oil use. According to an article by the Cleveland Clinic, there is not much evidence actually supporting the claim that pulling coconut oil reduces plaque buildup.

Lyla Blake-Gumbs, MD, says:

“[While there] is some evidence that oil-pulling could be helpful in reducing the plaque index and the bacterial burden in the mouth… there is no research to corroborate all of these other health claims.You can make the stretch that oral health can support systematic health – that there are benefits downstream… But to date there is no scientific research that oil-pulling is a direct mechanism of action for these other conditions. And no current evidence suggests that improving oral hygiene alone will improve diabetes or other chronic conditions.”

While it is currently unclear if pulling and other coconut oil related treatments really provide all the promised health benefits, many practitioners swear by it. If you have had a positive or negative health experience with pulling coconut or other oils, let us know – you may just verify or debunk the coconut oil trend.

[Image via POPxo]