Oil-Pulling 2: the missing link for inflammation?

So the other great difference I have noticed as well as an increase in productive viral activity, and warmer body temperature, is far less inflammation in my back and joints. After my pregnancy all my joints were painful and stiff- I couldn’t bend down, had to implement a complex series of movements in order to get down onto the floor and get up again. I sprained my right wrist pushing the pram and had to wear a support, then my left wrist suddenly flared up. It was tender to the touch and at night I had to rest it on a pillow. If I knocked it accidentally, the shooting pain was enough to take my breath away. I felt about ninety years old.

I knew the problems were probably related to my thyroid and adrenals. I wasn’t the only one- in fact amongst my small circle of friends in Holland there were a few of us suffering from unusual aches and pains, stiff joints and decreased flexibility. My problems were historic. At the age of 24 I’d injured my sacroiliac joint and slipped a disc in a gym accident. I spent the next few months in agony, mostly lying on a mattress on the floor with a bag of frozen peas under my pelvis. I had to give up work. I tried every treatment going- physio, chiropractic, osteopathy, massage, acupuncture, rehabilitative exercise, yoga- but at most I received only temporary benefit. It seemed as though a pocket of inflammation had set up residence in my lower spine- initiated by injury but sustained by a lifetime of weak adrenal function, which causes muscle instability in the pelvis.

back painOver the next fifteen years I learned to deal with the pain but was enslaved to its whims: every time I wore a pair of shoes with a different heel size I suffered the consequences. At night I slept with a cushion under my hips, and if I accidentally rolled onto my back in the night, the next day I was crippled with stiffness. I always had pain upon waking, and because it made me feel so vulnerable, I carried my body as if it were a board, inflexible and tight. On a holiday in Greece, a bumpy ride on a scooter triggered such a bad episode I couldn’t walk for the rest of the week and had to have physio from a burly Croatian man who spoke no English and cracked me as if I were a fortune cookie. Basically, to misquote Orwell, if I imagined a picture of the future, it was of a boot stamping on a human back- forever.

When I started oil-pulling, I had no real expectations. After all there are very few health interventions I’ve not done and been disappointed by. Over my lifetime I’ve spent probably tens of thousands of pounds on alternative treatments and supplements. I’ve never shied away from self-experimentation- from liver cleanses to fasts to urine therapy (oh yeah) I’ve done it all- so that my clients would know what worked (not much of it) and didn’t work (most of it). I never expected that one of the most powerful self-help measures would also be the cheapest.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, within a few days of starting oil-pulling, several things occurred. My dizziness vanished, my anxiety diminished and my back and joint pain just seemed to melt away. I felt flexible for the first time in years… I did several downward dog poses to celebrate and it felt easy! Five months in and it’s still working. In the mornings I roll out of bed without even thinking about it, and if I want to sleep on my back, then I can. I reckon I’ll be oil-pulling for the rest of my life; it’s part of my routine now. I never miss a day and I always do it first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything else (to eliminate the bacteria that accumulate in the mouth overnight). Fife book SO how is it done? (see Bruce Fife’s book if you want to be more of a geek about it :-))

  1. Take a small mouthful of an unrefined oil into your mouth (most unrefined oils should be refrigerated after opening as they are vulnerable to heat and light). You need to leave room for the saliva that will build as you swish or ‘pull’ the oil, so don’t take a huge mouthful of oil. I prefer extra virgin olive and seem to get the best results with this, but you could also try sunflower or virgin coconut oil.
  2. Swill it gently around the gums and teeth, ‘pull’ it from the front to the back and side to side. Don’t be very vigorous otherwise your mouth will get tired.
  3. If you’re a beginner, aim just to get used to sensation of having oil in your mouth, which for some can feel unpleasant. Do something else while pulling, like get dressed or take a shower. I get little O out of bed and feed him while I’m doing these… he’s got used to me mumbling away to him in oil-pullese.
  4. Aim to do it for 10 minutes and over a week or so, build up to 20 minutes.
  5. The oil should be a white or yellowish colour when you spit it out. This is due to the emulsification with saliva.
  6. Rinse your mouth out thoroughly with something like warm salt water, or cold water with something antibacterial added, such as lemon juice, tea tree oil or grapefruit seed extract (Citricidal).

And that’s it! If you’re going to do it however, please do commit to doing it for at least a couple of months, as although you may experience immediate benefits, some take longer to emerge. Also you may need to prepare yourself for some detox symptoms- whether that’s a cold, skin break-outs, or even brief ‘retracing’ of old health issues (however these tend to be less intense than their original manifestation, and usually pass swiftly).

Why Feeling Bad Has Never Felt So Good

When I was a child I had pretty terrible health. As a baby and toddler, I got every cold going, then when I was four, I caught whooping cough and the outcome was pretty severe: I couldn’t keep much down and I lost a lot of weight. After that I had a few chest and throat infections- bronchitis, tonsillitis, and seemingly endless coughs that went on and on. That was the pattern of things until I reached adulthood- but then when I hit 30 and developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I stopped getting colds altogether. I felt constantly rundown and ill with burning eyes, sore throat and unremitting fatigue, but nothing ever came of it. I remember describing my symptoms to my Dr as a ‘trapped cold’ because that was how it presented itself. Little did I realise at the time that that was going to be my state of health for the next six years.

Over time I began to look upon others who had colds as lucky. The idea of being able to produce a nice hot temperature, or expel all that pernicious viral activity in the form of rivers of mucous and sneezing, struck me as a testament to the miraculous, regenerative powers of the human body. When people I knew moaned about their condition and suppressed their wonderful colds with Night Nurse or (even worse) antibiotics, I felt like shaking them. How come our stupid allopathic medical model persists in suppressing the body’s natural response to infection when all the medical evidence suggests otherwise? (To this day I try not to suppress little O’s temperature if he’s running one, unless it prevents him from sleeping.)?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

When I started to recover from the CFS, I frequently used oxygen therapies to mobilise my cells to throw off their viral and bacterial load. The result was sometimes a cold, maybe once a year- but it was still a feeble and anaemic thing, and I never felt much better afterwards.

Since I’ve been oil-pulling however, I have had two of the most terrific colds. I mean, these guys deserve their own walk-on part in a medical drama. Not for 15 years or more have I had colds like this: full-on, two-week long snot-fests, all the colours of the rainbow. One morning coming back from play group, I could barely walk in a straight line from all the sneezing. And did I complain? Of course I did. It felt great to be one of the In Crowd.sneeze.article

Sorry, TMI? Well, there’s a point to my graphic illustration. Before oil-pulling I was just too stagnant and cold to produce an acute viral illness. Oil-pulling seems to improve immune function by reducing the burden of bacterial toxins on the lymphatic system, thereby allowing it to work more effectively. Bruce Fife claims that it ‘draws toxins out of the bloodstream through the mucous membranes of the mouth.’ The doctor who brought the practice to Western medics from Ayurvedic tradition, was a Dr F Karach; apparently he believed that oil-pulling could heal both chronic and acute diseases, everything from migraines and PMS to allergies, heart disease and beyond (he claimed oil-pulling healed his own chronic blood disease of 15 years’ standing).

Given how cheap and simple this technique is, such claims must- understandably- seem fantastical, if not downright fraudulent. But don’t just take my word for it. There are hundreds of testimonials online, and Bruce Fife’s book on the practice contains a tonne more. I have my own testimonial too- of 15 years of chronic back (and latterly joint) pain dramatically improved by about 75% in a matter of days- about which, more later – as well as instructions about how to do the technique yourself.

An update- finally

I realise with hideous embarrassment that it’s been 17 months since I last updated this blog, and that whatever readership I may have amassed has probably dwindled away to approximately zero since I signed off. I was hoping to return to something akin to ‘work’ this time last year, but events took a surprising and not altogether welcome turn after the birth of my son.

Little O was born healthy and well (albeit 2 weeks late) in October, but I didn’t fare so well, needing several emergency operations after haemorrhaging 5 litres of blood (which is apparently all the blood in your body). Finally they did a procedure called Uterine Artery Embolisation, which cuts off the main arterial blood supply to the womb. If that hadn’t worked, the next stop was a hysterectomy, which would have plunged me into early menopause. The whole experience was- as one would expect- deeply traumatic, surreal and painful, and losing my agency in a process that is supposed to be personal, intimate and life-enhancing is something I’m not sure I shall ever come to terms with.

After a week’s stay in hospital I returned home and promptly developed a suspected uterine infection, so back I went for another five days, where they pumped my body so full of antibiotics even little O developed a nasty reaction (through my milk). While all this was happening, my partner got through to the first round of interviews for a job in Amsterdam. Shortly after I returned home for the second and final time, he flew out to meet the company.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we flew out to Holland at the end of 2012, and began our year living the peculiar existence of ex-pats: never truly blending into Dutch life, but observing it from the outside, disconnected by language, custom and the easy refuge of shared cultural references. We lived in the beautiful city of Haarlem, which, like its larger cousin, is threaded with canals, and crowned by a stunning 16th century Grote Kerk which sits in a large cobbled square. In Spring and Summer the square is always alive with the sounds and smells of cheese and fish markets, and people eating ices and drinking beer.Grote-Kerk-Haarlem

It was an amazing city to live in and particularly so during the long 2013 summer, which was stunning and hot. I made some friends, who also had babies the same age, and those of us lucky enough not to have to work met up for coffee, went for walks and to the beach. I made friends from as far as Kenya, the US and Romania, but I never got to know any Dutch people. The Dutch can be friendly and helpful when they want to be, but they can also be extremely judgmental and critical. More than once a stranger took it upon themselves to criticise my parenting – an attitude I found hard to deal with as a reserved Brit. They’ll do something like help you onto a bus with your pushchair, but push you out of the way when they want to get past.

Outwardly we were living a privileged and secure life. We rented a large two-storey house, had money to spend on meals and clothes when we wanted. In private however, we were struggling. My partner quickly realised his job was a poisoned chalice: the stress of the workload, coupled with a dysfunctional management structure and demoralised staff made a toxic combination, and he began to lose sleep and his mood rapidly deteriorated. As a new mum cut adrift from family and all that was familiar, I developed acute anxiety- and this was dramatically amplified when O began to show symptoms of yeast overgrowth. He seemed permanently constipated and chronically prone to a nasty yeast rash. It didn’t help that I struggled physically at times- my joints and back were constantly inflamed and painful. I could hardly bend to lift O out of his cot. I sprained both wrists pushing the pram and they refused to heal. Worryingly my adrenals seemed very weak and I became frequently dizzy and fatigued. It was hard to confide in anyone, simply because I didn’t know how to describe what was wrong with me. I suspected my thyroid and adrenals were tanking in the downward phase of postpartum thyroiditis that affects around 5% of women after pregnancy (though I suspect this is a massive under-estimate). I went to see the GP who tested me for the usual TSH but not much else (TSH is a poor indicator of actual thyroid function; tests need to measure actual conversion of T4 into T3 within the cell: http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/tsh-why-its-useless/). He was also a mine of misinformation. He told me I should not take Ibuprofen to manage my pain, since it is contraindicated in breastfeeding (it isn’t). When I took my permanently constipated (but exclusively breastfed) son of five months to him he advised giving him mashed-up fruit ‘with a bit of biscuit’ to make it appealing (really? Biscuits at under six months?!). But then when my periods returned, so scant as to be abnormal, he told me that the procedure I’d undergone to stop the haemorrhage had nothing to do with it. No one told me that I wouldn’t really have periods anymore, or that my chances of ever getting pregnant again and carrying another child safely to term would be at best dicey, at worst dangerous. In a small study of women who became pregnant after the procedure, a third of them miscarried. And worldwide the number of women who’ve successfully gone on to deliver a baby after UFE is only about a hundred.

BUT. And this is the point. If this had happened to me fifty years ago, I’d very likely be dead, and O with me. It’s scary to think how close I might have come.DSC_0713

And now, the majority of my pain has receded, like the rest of that bad dream. It didn’t disappear by magic, although the technique that I discovered to treat it- an ancient technique that costs pennies and may just be one of the most powerful adjuncts to health I’ve ever discovered- worked like a charm. That technique is oil-pulling, and the story of this little gem has to wait until next time…..olive oil

Waking up to butter

Mmm, butterSo apparently the news that butter is not the demonised yellow monster it’s been made out to be is spreading (scuse the pun) to all corners this week. We’ve had Zoe Harcombe persuading ‘Reveal’ magazine readers about the benefits of some fat-soluble vitamins in butter, avocadoes and steak, plus she’s kickstarted an admirable backlash against Denmark’s silly sat fat tax on her I Can\’t Believe They\’d Tax Butter Facebook page (please join by the way!). Then last Friday, who piped up in defence of the Good Stuff but Jeremy Hardy on Radio 4′s The News Quiz, saying it was always better to cook with butter rather than marge, which let’s face it, is only one molecule away from a plastic bag (ok, I said that last bit)!