What do bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, skin issues, asthma, even migraines all have in common?
All of these signs, symptoms and diseases can all stem from compromised digestion, what is commonly called leaky gut. Can oil pulling help heal a leaky gut?
Leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability, occurs when foreign ‘stuff’ that shouldn’t get into our blood (like bacteria, fungi, parasites, even incompletely digested food) is absorbed through the lining of our small intestine into the bloodstream.
Once in the bloodstream, our immune systems jump into action to fight ‘the invaders’, and that’s good..
Yet as is common with leaky gut, the ‘under attack’ response happens every day, which causes chronic systemic inflammation, which is the underlying cause of almost every common disease, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, MS, Alzheimer’s, and on and on.
Like gum disease, leaky gut is another huge ‘elephant in the living room’ silent epidemic in our culture that is gaining some attention in the alternative healthy lifestyle media recently.
Why the incidence of leaky gut has skyrocketed over the recent years and how to unwind this destructive situation is a major current focus for the holistic medical community. Bottom line, the functional medical community is finding that Hippocrates’ quote from 2500 years ago still stands true today… “All disease begins in the gut.”
So what does oral health have to do with healing a leaky gut?
We’d like to bring to light a number of ways that what’s going on in our mouth plays a primary role in the health of our bellies. But to really address this question, we’re going to have to take a deep dive into the many interrelated systems within our bodies. So hang on!
The mouth is the beginning of the gut.
Simply put, the mouth is the beginning of the gut. Like we discuss quite often in articles like ‘how to balance your oral flora’, the mouth is the beginning of the entire digestive tract, the headwaters of the digestive river that runs head to tail through each of us.
Recent research on the human micro biome also strongly points to the fact that our ‘oral flora’, the micro biome in our mouths, plays a large role in determining the health of the micro biome in our bellies. Incidentally, research has also shown that this ‘river’ goes both ways. So the health of our gut micro biome also directly impacts the health of our oral flora too.
We have two ‘brains’…
One of the major points of focus in the functional medical community on how to heal leaky gut has brought to light the fact that we essentially have two ‘brains’ in our bodies.
In addition to the one between our ears, each of us has an enteric nervous system, or gut brain, that orchestrates all things related to digesting food, absorbing nutrition, removing waste, and mounting an immune response (80% of our immune system is in our gut), among many other duties.
The gut and the head are connected.
Problems arise when the communication between the brain between our ears and our enteric nervous system becomes compromised. Imagine what happens if the phone lines to the 911 emergency call center go down in a city? People need help but there’s no way to call for help. Fires burn while the fire department sits waiting for the call to jump to action.
This is exactly what happens between our brains and our enteric nervous system if the communication system breaks down. Our gut brain and head are connected via a major communication pathway called the vagus nerve. Functional medical practitioners have identified that maintaining and reestablishing what is called the ‘gut/brain axis’ via the vagus nerve plays a major role in healing leaky gut.
Our cultural understanding is correct that the brain is ‘command central’ for our bodies. However, if the line of communication between the brain and the gut becomes compromised, the brain can’t provide the direction and support to the gut to take corrective action to maintain healthy digestion. And like everywhere, communication goes both ways. So if the gut/brain axis is not functioning well, our bellies can’t effectively alert ‘central command’ that trouble is brewing in the gut.
How to re-establish communication between the brain and gut.
Functional medicine has realized that there are several actions we can take to restore a healthy communication via the gut/brain axis. It’s all about stimulating the vagus nerve. But how do we ‘tickle’/activate a major nerve that wanders from the brain down through the entire torso?
One of the tools functional medicine has identified to re-establish the gut/brain connection is gargling. Gargling? That’s it?!? Kind of. It turns out that deep gargling awakens the vagus nerve and helps reconnect the communication between the brain and enteric nervous system.
This is where oil pulling comes in.
If you’ve ever tried oil pulling, you know that swishing oil around your mouth for 15-20 minutes is a major workout for the muscles in the lower face, jaw, neck and throat.
If you haven’t experienced the feeling we’re referring to here about how demanding oil pulling is, you may want to add this technique to your toolkit within the whole strategy of oil pulling. At times, swish with more vigor, sometimes much more.
The most common mistake we find with people practicing oil pulling is being a bit ‘lazy’ with the activity.
Passively swishing oil around the mouth may help some things like whitening your teeth naturally and some detox, but if you really want to activate and maximize the whole being benefit of oil pulling, the swishing must be vigorous. I mean vigorous like you have to take breaks and rest during the oil pulling because your face and throat muscles are screaming at you.
When we oil pull, we consider it similar to an interval workout where you sprint, then walk, then sprint again, and walk again, taking turns between the vigorous activity and a calmer rest period in between. That way, you’re not trying to ‘power swish’ for 15 minutes. But within that time, you have swished the oil around your mouth vigorously for several ‘rounds’. This calm/vigorous interval style allows for you to strongly activate the region. It’s a natural rhythm, the yin and yang of the whole practice.
(In the spirit of clarity, what we mean by ‘vigor’ doesn’t necessarily mean fast. Trying to oil pull with fast, sprint like movement isn’t the goal. Big, muscularly demanding movements, working until the muscles required are fatigue, this is what we mean when we suggest you try a more vigorous approach to oil pulling.)
Do you gargle while oil pulling?
If gargling activates the vagus nerve which helps reconnect gut/brain communication which helps heal leaky gut, then should we be gargling during oil pulling? No. True gargling where you have water in your mouth and tilt the head back and exhale through the water in your open mouth is not oil pulling.
However, it’s not so much the activity of gargling itself that stimulates the vagus nerve but simply stimulating the region via vigorous activity. That’s why it’s so important to increase the vigor while oil pulling and to activate the musculature of the throat and not just ‘swish’ through the teeth.
How to avoid another common oil pulling mistake…
When most of us first start oil pulling we think that it’s ‘just’ swishing oil between your teeth. And while swishing the oil from within the mouth ‘forward’ through the teeth and back is part of oil pulling, this tends to be what I do during my ‘rest’ periods between the vigorous workout segments.
There’s another action we can apply while oil pulling that we must learn if we want to stimulate the vagus nerve to help heal leaky gut.
Using the musculature of the back of the throat, we can draw the oil from the front of the mouth toward the back of the throat, then release this pressure and the oil comes back to the front of the mouth. This activation of the muscles of the throat and neck region is what stimulates the vagus nerve similar to gargling. I find it helpful if I drop my chin a bit and elongate my neck to activate these muscles.
If you have trouble wrapping your head around how to activate this ‘beyond the basics’ level of oil pulling, here’s a video we made years ago called ‘Mouth Probiotics’ that shares a similar strategy using saliva. Incidentally, if you have ANY oral health issues (tooth decay, signs of gum disease like bleeding gums, etc), learning how to swish your saliva can make a HUGE impact on your oral health.
Would you like to hear about other ways a healthy mouth supports a healthy gut?
Interestingly, there are other ways we can activate the vagus nerve to help restore gut/brain axis communication to heal a leaky gut, many of them related to the mouth as well. Want to hear more? Just say so in the comments and we’ll share more ways how the mouth plays a central role in creating and maintaining the health of the entire digestive system.
Did you find this information helpful? Have you tried oil pulling? What was your experience? Please share with us in the comments so we can all learn from one another.
Helpful, Related Resources:
What is Oil Pulling? [article]
Does Flossing Really Lower My Risk of Heart Attack? [article}
The Connection Between Gum Disease, Mercury and Alzheimer’s [expert interview]
How to Balance Your Oral Flora [article]