Oil pulling


I’ve previously discussed the issue of oral colonization by the bacterial species, Fusobacterium nucleatum. Recall that, while this microbe is present in the oral microbiomes of most people, in situations such as bleeding gums, gingivitis, and periodontitis, Fusobacterium can overgrow and become a dominant species. Curiously, multiple lines of evidence suggest that Fusobacterium that reaches the colon is a major cause of colon cancer. If, for example, Fusobacterium is implanted into the colon of a healthy mouse, it develops colon cancer. If a human colon cancer specimen is examined, very high levels of Fusobacterium are seen. If metastatic colon cancer tissue is recovered from, say, the liver, it likewise shows high levels of Fusobacterium. (The ultimate proof of such a cancer association would require implanting Fusobacterium into the normal colon of a human subject to see whether cancer develops—obviously, this will never be done.)

Fusobacterium is especially a problem for people with reduced stomach acid, hypochlorhydria or achlorhydria (lack or absence of stomach acid), situations due to autoimmune gastritis (often triggered by the gliadin protein of wheat), H. pylori gastritis, or stomach acid-blocking drugs. In people with intact stomach acid production, Fusobacterium colonizes the colon by transport through the bloodstream. But in people lacking stomach acid, Fusobacterium colonizes the stomach, duodenum, and colon via swallowing, also. Normally, stomach acid is a deterrent to the descent of oral microbes into the upper GI tract. Without stomach acid, oral microbes such as Fusobacterium freely colonize the entire length of GI tract. Accordingly, people without stomach acid have been shown to have much greater numbers of Fusobacterium in the GI tract. The combination of gingivitis/periodontitis and hypochlorhydria is therefore a potentially lethal duo.

Functional dentist Dr. Debbie Ozment from Oklahoma has been joining our Virtual Meetup conversations on my DrDavisInfiniteHealth Inner Circle. Dr. Ozment routinely studies the oral microbiome in her patients, looking for Fusobacterium as well as other pathogens such as Porphyromonas gingivalis (associated, by the way, with Alzheimer’s dementia, recoverable in brain tissue of people who die of dementia). She tells us that, when she identifies Fusobacterium in the mouth, she then looks at stool and commonly finds Fusobacterium colonizing the colon, also. In these cases, she uses various oral preparations for elimination of oral Fusobacterium and conventional antibiotics (e.g., metronidazole) to eradicate colonic Fusobacterium.

I bring this up to raise a question: Many people engage in the traditional Ayurvedic practice of “oil-pulling,” despite being skimpily validated in clinical studies. Some have argued that this practice works due to “saponification,’ i.e., the formation of soaps due to a reaction of fatty acids (especially lauric acid in coconut oil) in oils with various alkalis in saliva.  But an interesting series of observations were made recently: a variety of dietary short- and medium-chain fatty acids have major suppressive effects on oral pathogens. Among them:

  • Lauric acid in coconut oil—suppresses Streptococcus mutans, a major cause of dental decay. It also suppresses Candida albicans, also a contributor to dental decay and especially an issue for people taking steroids, oral or inhaled (“thrush”), or who include lots of sugars in their diet. (Fungi thrive on sugar.)
  • Myristic acid in coconut oil—moderately suppresses Candida albicans and the important oral pathogen, Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, a major cause of periodontitis (deep tissue infection that leads to tooth loss).
  • Butyric acid in ghee—dramatically suppresses Fusobacterium nucleatumPorphyromonas gingivalis, and to a lesser degree Streptococcus mutans.

A lifetime of consuming sugars and amylopectin A-containing grains favors pathogen proliferation. It also provokes proliferation of bacterial species that cause bad breath, such as Porphyromonas gingivalis, Tannerella forsythia and Treponema denticola. This explains why the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago was accompanied by 1) a major shift in the oral microbiome to favor pathogens such as S. mutans, and 2) an explosion in tooth decay that has plagued humans since grain consumption was adopted until modern dental hygiene practices were developed to manage oral dysbiosis.

But the modern practices of brushing teeth and regular dental visits are insufficient to eradicate the oral problems caused by the modern diet. In addition to breaking up bacterial/fungal biofilms with practices such as flossing, it may therefore help to include this practice of oil-pulling to compensate for the oral dysbiosis that many modern people have created. And doing so with coconut oil and ghee can be expected, given the current evidence, to introduce positive changes that include reductions in important oral pathogens such as Fusobacterium nucleatum that may lead to a reduction in potential for colonization of the colon and thereby colon cancer. Oil-pulling with selected oils is therefore a far healthier practice, given its selective ability to suppress oral pathogens, than gargling with mouthwashes that kill nearly everything, good and bad.