Potentially less than pleasant side effects of oil pulling with coconut oil – and update

*3/7/14:- Exploring alternate views of oil pulling

As with many health practices that become popular in society–and are therefore subject to becoming ‘fads’ and, in turn, corrupted in nature–I think it’s worth it to check out alternate views on oil pulling. White debateable, some concepts that have sparked my attention include the following:

–Oil pulling may be most effective when implemented as part of an Ayurvedic diet

–Issues involved in limited Western understanding of the Eastern Ayurvedic tradition from which oil pulling derives

–While oil pulling may be great at reducing bacteria present in the mouth, it may not be as ‘amazingly detoxing’ to the rest of the body as some (if not most) sources claim

Following my coconut oil pulling, I took a break, then started again with safflower oil and sesame oil. Both of these were fine–no problems whatsoever–and I can actually say I enjoyed doing it. However, I have since decided that I no longer ‘need’ to oil pull–and quite honestly, perhaps I (and many others out there) never needed to in the first place. My personal decision is based on the fact that I’m not convinced it yields many of these ‘benefits’ I’ve read about. Most importantly, I’ve been observant and feel as great when I don’t oil pull as when I do–so then what’s the point of doing it? So in this case I’m choosing to listen to my body and realize I most likely don’t need it (assuming anyone actually does?). In our quest to live healthy lives, it also helps to remember that just because something may be good and helpful doesn’t necessarily mean *you yourself* need to implement it. Would you take medicine when you’re healthy? Exactly. In the end, it was definitely a learning experience (which I suppose most things turn out to be 😉 ).

My experience has been an important reminder to OBSERVE AND LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If something doesn’t feel right, STOP! And that’s exactly what I did and hope others will consider doing too! And just as much as I enjoyed exploring oil pulling with other oils, I’m also listening to my body yet again and concluding that it’s something I can set aside. 🙂

*2/4/14 Update to the below, with further scientific insight on my experience*:

I’ve just stumbled upon a forum/thread where potential negatives of coconut oil are discussed and–lo and behold–it is mentioned that high MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) levels, which are present in coconut oil, may produce in some people an effect similar to a hangover. READ: EXACTLY what I experienced. The thread seems to have a Dr. replying to questions, and based on one of the answers given, it’s also stated that if you have a high carb diet and react negatively to coconut oil, you may be allergic to it. I’m not sure if my diet at the time was considered ‘high carb’, although I assume it was, since I was not–and still am not–on a strict diet (but do pay attention to what I eat).

The answers posted by the Doctor are understandably quite packed with scientific terms and explanations. It just goes to show that I’m not alone in having had a less than pleasant experience with larger amounts of coconut oil, and that others have also experienced the weird, intense hangover-like effect.

Forum link: http://www.carbohydratescankill.com/forums/general-questions/negative-about-coconut-oil

*7/22/13 Update to the below*:

The events listed below highlight my less-than-ideal reaction to oil pulling with coconut oil. I decided to make this post after noting an utter lack of information on such a drastic reaction, and therefore in hopes of letting others know of potential warning signs. It’s one thing to experience generally harmless, mild cleansing effects such as bowel movements, increased energy, vivid dreams, etc. than to be rendered practically dysfunctional.
Since then, I’ve had other instances involving coconut oil that have pretty much confirmed to me that I may indeed be allergic to this kind of oil. I’ve also taken up OP with safflower oil, which you can read about here.

The 2 events–which occurred months after coconut oil pulling–are as follows:

1. Coconut oil has been shown to be an effective treatment in reducing cellulite, and so I decided to try it out one evening as a ‘dry brushing’ scrub method on my thighs (seen in the linked article). As expected it made my skin super soft and I was very excited about continuing with it and seeing results. However, my plans were cut short. Why? Because the next morning, I woke up with a weird dizziness that sadly instantly felt all too familiar. The day prior had been a simple, typical day and so it didn’t take long at all for me to narrow it down to the exact culprit. Now, I do note that it was not the same extreme dizziness I experienced during oil pulling, but it was definitely worrisome and just felt downright unusual and unpleasant. I don’t get dizzy… ever! I’m a very healthy person and am in tune with my body, so that when things pop up like this, I definitely do pay attention (and think we all should! Our bodies are amazing at communicating with us =)).

This was the ‘last straw’ experience that made me say: OK, no more coconut oil for me. I loved this oil, really. I used it mostly for hair, face and my hands (I love growing my nails long and I noticed it helped made them strong!), and would also take spoonfuls of it. I never had any negative reaction to coconut oil until after the oil pulling. Or at least, I didn’t think I did, because the reaction I may have gotten may have been too small and not ‘unusual enough’ for me to notice. Also keeping in mind that oil pulling entails a larger quantity of oil than would other things like a few drops for your hair, nails, etc.–perhaps making it easier to miss some warning signs.

Which leads to #2:

2. My skin is definitely more on the sensitive, dry side. I can’t recount the times I’ve gotten rashes from wearing certain kinds of jewelry, and apparently I may also be allergic to certain materials like latex–if that’s the true source of the irritation. I would use latex gloves to wash dishes, and for quite a while, I had a tiny little rash on the knuckle on my right hand. It wasn’t itchy and it was small so that I’d usually forget about it–until I mentioned it to my dad and he believed it to be an allergy to latex. I couldn’t understand why I’d have this rash on the right hand but not the left–if indeed I am allergic–but I’ve been told that you don’t need to have it break out all over for you to show signs of an allergy. Given my sensitive skin, I just chalked it up to another small demonstration of my sensitiveness that would eventually go away (although when, I obviously didn’t know LOL)

I switched to latex-free gloves and for a while, I didn’t see much difference. Until… it dawned on me that I was still using coconut oil as a moisturizer for my hands and nails every night before going to bed. Could this be the source of my tiny, virtually harmless yet ever-persistent rash? It may have been indeed, because all I can say is that I haven’t had a rash since I stopped using coconut oil. Yes, I realize that it might simply be the switch to latex-free gloves, or it could also be the combined approach of changing the usage of both. All I know is that all the funky reactions are gone and I’d like to keep it that way. =) (Ironically, I’ve also discovered that latex-free gloves seem sturdier and last much longer than ‘regular’ gloves anyways, so that’s another unexpected yet welcomed *economical* win in this whirlwind of experiences!)

So there we have it. To add the cherry on top, a good friend of mine recently OP’ed with coconut oil and she couldn’t believe when I told her about what had happened to me. She definitely didn’t think it was a normal reaction nor a ‘cleansing reaction’ (LOL!).

Aside from coconut oil, the other oil that comes highly recommended is safflower oil. My brother has been doing it with this oil and has been loving it, which definitely makes me want to try it. And when I do, I shall update yet again!

 A better, safer alternative to coconut oil perhaps?

=)

3/28/13 original post:

A few months ago, I was looking up stuff on how to whiten your teeth, and I eventually stumbled upon a method known as ‘oil pulling.’ This is a simple, affordable method that basically requires taking some kind of vegetable oil–such as olive oil, sunflower oil, or coconut oil–and swishing it around in your mouth from 15-20 minutes (not gargling and no swallowing!). This is actually an ancient Ayurvedic method that is supposed to have great health benefits–only one of which is teeth whitening–and a method I thought would be worth checking out.

Although I’d known about oil pulling for a while, I’d never actually tried it until about a week ago. Since I had quite a violent reaction to oil pulling–or perhaps more accurately, to the oil I used–I wanted to do a post on it to warn others  to watch out for certain things. It’s my opinion that not enough has been said about its potentially harmful effects, and while I reiterate that I now realize I might have an allergy to a certain oil, I still feel it’s important enough to make a post for readers.

coconutoil

My experience entailed a total of 4 ‘sessions’ of oil pulling before my stomach reacted rather violently. I used coconut oil due to its many health benefits, and because it’s an oil I am very familiar with and use for other things (usually for my hands/nails, feet, and had experimented with it for my hair, though it’s not my favorite oil to use for my hair).

Ingesting oil is not at all weird or awkward for  me: I’ve been taking spoonfuls of olive oil since I was rather young, again due to health benefits. I would probably say that out of all the oils out there, olive oil is likely my favorite. So while coconut oil obviously has a different taste, I felt fine and not in the least intimidated by the idea of going through with it.

In the process, I would swish the coconut oil in my mouth for a little over 15 minutes. I experimented with different amounts of coconut oil, and I personally felt that a smaller teaspoon amount was better to use than a huge spoonful that I’d seen some people do/recommend. This huge spoonful quantity made little sense to me, especially seeing as after 15 minutes, your mouth’s saliva content increases and would therefore add to the coconut oil already in your mouth. I would rather not spit out anything during the process (seems pointless and wasteful to me), so I only tried a large spoonful once.

After the very first time, I felt a kind of ‘mucous’ lining/glob form and kinda ‘stick’ inside my throat, which I’d heard was probably one of the first ‘side effects’/benefits of the treatment. When I did it at night before bed, I did sometimes get the impression that it took me a while to fall asleep. That wasn’t so surprising to me seeing as coconut oil is projected to be an energy booster. Conversely, I did also experience profound, deep sleep after my 3rd treatment.

I did my 4th treatment in the morning, and felt great and very energized. I still hadn’t eaten anything when, a few hours later, I suddenly experienced a dizzying feeling that seemed to come from my stomach and moved up to my head. I’m not sure how, but I immediately attributed it to the coconut oil, especially since I hadn’t eaten anything to trigger that kind of reaction. Just going by the weird feeling in my throat and sudden distaste at the thought of anything coconut, I was convinced that was it. What followed was a brief vomiting session unlike any I’d ever experienced. I didn’t vomit any food; all that came out was clear in content, and while it’s never a pleasant experience, afterwards I want to say I felt… fine? I definitely bounced back faster from this than any other vomiting experience I’d had before, but it still wasn’t exactly a reaction I’d expected to have. I did some quick research and saw that nausea seemed a common reaction to oil pulling, but I wasn’t sure that vomiting fit into the nausea category either. So, I simply dismissed it as a semi-harmless, perhaps transitional reaction. However, I did decide to immediately stop oil pulling, since I didn’t want to risk being sick that upcoming week-end. I did wait several hours before eating to make sure my stomach was balanced again, and I was glad when that evening I was able to eat well and without any problems.

I believed the issue had resolved itself, but boy was I in for a big, and very painful, surprise.

I woke up the next day and as stated, did not oil-pull since I’d decided to put that on hold for a while. So by now it had technically been a day since I’d last oil-pulled.
I got up, felt fine, and had an apple with some almond butter.

About an hour later, I got the same tell-tale dizziness and this was followed by vomiting that lasted for hours. Basically the whole apple and almond butter I had found their way out of my body, and instead of feeling better after each vomiting session, I either felt just as bad, or worse. Vomiting sucks, but at least you usually feel better after getting rid of the offending elements, but this wasn’t the case here. It always felt like there was still more of it in my body, no matter how much I threw up. This was a gut-wrenching pain, where I thought my organs were minutes away from coming out of my body, and it hurt like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I basically wanted to die =( And I promise I’m not a drama queen, and generally have a pretty high pain threshold.

The proof of this intense reaction was made clear the next day, when I had actual cramps in my stomach muscles from the vomiting!!!! [Even my workouts don’t give me that kind of cramping!–what the…?!]

The vomiting had started at about 11am, and I’d thrown up several times between then and around 4pm or so. Even after throwing up, I maintained intense dizziness throughout the day, and I know this really worried me because it obviously affected my balance, performance, etc. All I could do was lay in bed and nap, trying to pass the time and hope my body would heal itself. I did get to a point where I worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep anything down, and because I had conflicted feelings of wanting to eat to keep myself energized somehow, but also had pretty  much lost taste for any foods whatsoever.

Later in the day, I ate a few pieces of raw vegetables so that I could try to get some energy and hopefully keep the food down. I drank a lot of water too to re-hydrate myself. It wasn’t until evening that I had some chicken noodle soup, and even then I was initially worried that I’d just end up throwing it all back up. Thankfully, the soup really helped and it seemed that my body was slowly starting to calm down.

The next day I made a point to only have certain foods, such as white toast and a glass of water with lemon for breakfast to limit acidic content in my stomach. I thankfully no longer threw up, but this second experience with intense vomiting was definitely frightening to me and enlightened me to the double-edged potency of oils. I do think I might either have an allergy to coconut oil, or that for some reason it doesn’t work well in my body in large quantities (since the small quantities I’ve had before never seemed to pose a problem).

The bottom line is that there can be adverse reactions, and it’s clearly not recommended to try the method unless you happen to be home for a given amount of time. I couldn’t imagine how horrible it would be to start this treatment, and either be at work or on the way to work, only to end up with a dangerous dizzy spell like the ones I had!!

While I am still curious about its reported benefits, I know that I’ll be taking a cautious approach to oil pulling when I try it a second time. But even that is a bit ironic for me to say, seeing as I followed the required steps the first time around. I’m not completely discarding the possibility that I may have accidentally swallowed a bit of oil as I OPed, but I’m not sure that that in itself would trigger vomiting. I also read that you’re supposed to do it on an empty stomach, which I did for sure on 2 occasions in the morning. I do feel that I’d allowed ample time in the evening for digestion, but perhaps something went wrong there? (although I note that nothing of what I ate in the evening was ever vomited).
If and when I do decide to try oil pulling again, I will be trying with olive oil (an oil I love and can never get tired of) and which I would hopefully have a better experience with.

I did also stumble upon a few things stating that a person’s blood type may dictate the kinds of oils they should use. If that is true, then it’s interesting seeing as my blood type of O+ is said to ‘dislike’ coconut oil and favor olive oil instead. But then again; I’ve also seen conflicting information saying that recent studies show that coconut oil works well with any blood type? A conundrum indeed: seems like information is ever-changing and that even studies themselves can leave you just as confused. Regardless of that being true or not, the blood issue may offer a potential explanation.

Clearly, my experience had to be halted to cater to my health. Overall, I had oil-pulled for 2 days, and was then sick for 2 days. I’ve definitely gathered experience to use for future reference, but if oil pulling isn’t something my body tolerates, then I definitely won’t be losing any sleep over it, nor is there a shortage of things people can do to enhance their health.
While I do think it’s a method worth trying out, I can only hope people are careful and watch for any negative signs, and stop as soon as these come up. I’d read things saying that ‘many people stop OP when they get nauseous and should just keep going.’ But I mean, can you blame them?! As I’ve said before, if that’s supposedly a ‘normal’ part of the process, than not only do you have to have the right time to do it, you also have to psychologically prepare yourself for some of the craziness that may come along with it. While it’s true that it might be worth it in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t mean that these side effects should be downplayed and/or overlooked.

Best +

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167 thoughts on “Potentially less than pleasant side effects of oil pulling with coconut oil – and update

    • I started oil pulling with organic coconut oil about two weeks ago. At first, I noticed only benefits, whiter teeth for a prettier smile. Now my gums are very sore, throat fees scratchy and I have a sinus headache, particularly around my eyes. I have been using coconut oil to cook with for a couple of years, and I also use on my skin after showering at night. I’ve never had problems using coconut oil in these ways. I intend to stop the oil pulling and see if these symptoms subside. My bet is that I’m having a negative reaction to the process of oil pulling. Too bad, I liked the bleaching effect on my teeth.
      On a side note, a friend of mine who tried oil pulling, developed sores in her mouth from the process. She quit, the sores healed, and so she tried again with the same results.
      We are all individuals with different chemistries and health issues, one persons medicine is another’s poison. People need to be mindful of this!

      • Hi Sandy,
        Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting! I hope you regain balance and feel better soon. It’s possible that coconut oil was fine for us (and maybe others too) in certain relatively smaller quantities, but that oil pulling is just too much–for whatever reason(s)? In any case, your closing statement is right on point!
        Wishing you all the best!

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience and opening this conversation. I started oil pulling last week using the 1 tablespoon for 20 minutes instructions. I couldn’t do it. I gagged and had to give up. The next day, Friday, I tried again with 1/2 the amount and was able to swish for 20 minutes. I loved the clean feel of my teeth and mouth…like having just gone to the dentist. I did this again on Saturday and Sunday and by Monday, I was sick. I didn’t think anything about it possibly being because of the oil pulling. Tuesday, I was so ill I couldn’t go to work. I was coughing and weak. Wednesday, I was wheezing and felt burning in my chest/lungs. I tried to go in on Thursday, but had to come home early because the coughing was painful and making me weak. Today is Friday.

    I remembered reading something about not ingesting the oil from the oil pull and wondered what the consequences were, thinking that some of it might have slipped down my throat, so I looked it up and found an article about recurring lipoid pneumonia. I hadn’t seen any reference to this before but now I’m wondering if this might be the case with me. Of course, I continued to do the oil pulling this whole time, even this morning, not even suspecting that it might be the cause of feeling this way. I actually thought that it might make me better. Excerpt from the article:
    http://docstore.ingenta.com/cgi-bin/ds_deliver/1/u/d/ISIS/81735525.1/iuatld/ijtld/2014/00000018/00000002/art00025/D4C5C7557616C7321431120787F5D89410CF18B3E2.pdf?link=http://www.ingentaconnect.com/error/delivery&format=pdf

    I will definitely be going to the doctor on Monday if I’m not better but was wondering if anyone else experienced this and what they did?

      • Hi Sirene,
        I am better now, thanks, but it took awhile and unfortunately, I stopped oil pulling. What does having amalgam fillings do if you’re oil pulling? I was thinking about trying again and using a different oil, but I probably do have those fillings, so if there is an issue, please let me know!

        Many thanks!

      • Hi there,
        I have no idea about amalgam fillings–someone made a comment regarding this but I personally doubt there’s a link.
        I think you could definitely try using another oil like sesame, safflower or even olive oil.
        All the best,

      • Hi, Sirene37, Kindly note your reaction could be because coconut oil is not recommended as a part of the ayurvedic practise of Kavala Gandusha (Oil pulling) , due to its anabolic properties. Sesame oil is the recommended oil as per ayurvevda from where this practise originates..Also the time taken to swish in your mouth is not 20 minutes as per the texts..but it specifies below,
        “Kavala is the swishing of warm (not hot) sesame oil or water (yes, water can be used too as well as other substances for specific treatments/reasons*) in your mouth until tears develop in the eyes and the nose runs (not 20 minutes as every web site and blog tells you, the liquefying of the kapha is what is happening at this point and that will differ for every individual. The tearing and runny nose is the definitive sign of proper treatment time.”

        The best thing is- Go to an ayurvedic doctor who will tell you which oil will suit you on examination, but coconut oil won’t be a choice here. The doctor or vaidya will also recommend some dietary changes along with this oil pulling practise.
        Please note don’t go by the fad and what is in but refer to an ayurvedic doctor and get the correct info. 🙂

    • I oil pulled with organic coconut oil for 2 times a day for about 5 days. Since yesterday I’ve had a sore throat and congestion and I wonder if some of the loosened bacteria slipped down my throat along with some of the oil residue. I thought about the oil pulling and noticed after each 10 min period there was a residue that stayed in the back of my throat. One possible benefit of oil pulling for me — my teeth feel cleaner.

      • Hello,
        Yes it seems that many users feel their teeth are cleaner from oil pulling, although myself I am not sure I could tell a huge difference. Either way hopefully your throat is back to normal and that it was a minor nuisance!
        Cheers & best 🙂

  2. I have a coconut allergy, and it was years before I had to cut coconut oil out of my diet because I didn’t seem to react to it. I’m no expert, but it seems allergens can build up in the body over time. If you have skin problems, coconut derivatives (they run rampant in shampoos, soaps and moisturizers) could be making things worse.

    • Hello,
      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your experience and insight. It is true that coconut derivatives are pretty common in many products, for better or worse…
      Thanks and best!

  3. Sounds like either u are allergic or got a tainted batch of coconut oil. All the symptoms u described are exactly what i felt when i had food poisoning once.
    I started oil pulling with coconut oil to improve my gum health. I was shocked and surprised to discover that not only did it give me more energy (i had chronic fatigue) but it also eliminated my acid reflux, eliminated tartar and my gums got alot better. It also curbed my appetite and my chronic sinus congestion is no more… I can breathe better. I think it also affected my sense of smell and my taste buds. I can smell things better and foods taste richer.
    Though i have had no negative reaction to coconut oil i will be trying sesame seed oil and sunflower oil as well.

  4. I’ve been pulling with coconut for 12 days and I’m terribly ill. I developed extreme fatigue and tooth abscess were there we’re any. I’m in agonizing pain as I write this from an jaw infection. I do have amalgam filling and some crowns. I pulled this morning, salt water rinses, tea bags to hope to alleviate swelling. Please advise…!

    • Hi,
      Sorry to hear that! I wonder how soon after oil pulling did you start feeling sick? In any case, I would advise you to stop so that your body can bounce back, since it’s obviously having a reaction to it. If you wanted to continue, you might try again some other time, but as for your jaw infection you should get it checked out by a dentist and/or doctor asap.
      All the best!

  5. I found your blog after doing a search on becoming dizzy after applying Coconut oil. I was so relieved that I wasn’t having some sort of horrible health problem.

    After getting sunburned I applied coconut oil all over my skin, arms, legs, stomach and back, even my face and neck. I did this right before bedtime not thinking of the energy boost it could produce. I immediately felt dizzy. I did not sleep well, continued to feel “drunker than Cooter Brown,” and stayed so dizzy I had to hold on to the wall to walk. I had vivid, bazaar and frightening dreams.

    It took a good 12 hours for the feeling to subside.

    Two days later when I woke up, I used the coconut oil very sparingly on my legs where the burn was still bothering me. I had no problems at all that day. But the previous sensation was so unsettling, I am now very careful of how much oil I apply, ingest, and what time of day I do it.

    Thank you for posting this. There is very little information out there dealing with this phenomena. I love using coconut oil and would recommend it to others but only if they start with very little and give themselves time to see how their body will react.

    • Hi Cindy,
      Thanks for writing. That is indeed quite an experience, and also one that few of us would hear about! One of the great aspects of writing this blog post has been hearing about various interesting cases, which I’m thankful for and hope benefits others. I’m glad that you are feeling better and while we may appreciate coconut oil for a variety of reasons, it can’t hurt to be aware.
      All the best! 🙂

  6. I felt the exact same way you did even to the strange throwing up incident. I thought it was caused by oil pulling since I had Ben doing it on and off or a week. I always used to get a bad headache after oil pulling for a long time but never have I gotten this sick! My mom called and said she was sick and she had the exact same symptoms as me even the real painful vomiting. I’m guessing we have food poisoning since we both ate at the same restaurant. Idk so weird!

  7. Hi,
    Read your article and here are my opinions of the negative side effects you’ve experienced:

    1.) Make sure you are NOT swallowing the oil after doing the oil pulling as the enzymes promote the toxins to be released. So once you are done the oil is full of nasty toxins

    2.) You could have a coconut allergy?

    3.) Coconut oil pulling does leach into the bloodsteam some and can cause massive yeast/bacteria die off. Could the hang over be die off?

    4.) Make sure you are using a pure virgin coconut oil that is HEXANE FREE!

    5.) After pulling and spitting out in the trash, make certain to get a glass of salt water and swish that around in your mouth a good bit and spit down the sink – don’t swallow!

    When I started coconut oil pulling, it made DRAMATIC changes in my body. I had all over body aches and this simple detox provided instant relief after 30 straight mins of pulling! So, me personally, I’m listening to my body, and my body LOVES this detox!

    • Hi Wyatt,
      Thanks for sharing your tips!
      For sure it was not #1. As for the others, who knows which it is (or even a combination?).
      Glad to hear it’s working well for you!
      Cheers and best!

  8. Are you sure you didn’t just have a stomach bug? The oil pulling could have made it more intense with your body trying to get rid of it i.e vomiting. So actually it may have helped but felt worse..?

    • Hi there,
      No I’m not sure that it wasn’t a bug as you say… While it might be possible, either way it was scary enough (still the scariest experience I’ve EVER had) to make me give up coconut oil. My side effects were definitely not on par with what the majority of users seem to experience, thus prompting my post.
      Thanks and cheers! 😀

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