How Can Essential Oils Help IBS?
In this post, I am aiming to get into more details about which essential oils help IBS sufferers to ease their symptoms.
In doing my research I have found claims (and also some scientific research) that essential oils have demonstrated positive results in managing the symptoms of some health issues.
What is Aromatherapy?
Although the use of essential oils for different purposes can be traced back centuries, the term aromatherapy (or Essential Oil therapy) originated in Europe in the early 1900 and has been in use since then, as treatment for different types of diseases.
Aromatherapy aims to improve an individual psychological and physical well-being, by using extracted aromatic essences from flowers, roots, leaves, fruit etc. and mix them with other substances to create essential oils.
How can essential oils help to improve illnesses and diseases?
The fragrance of oils used in aromatherapy is believed to stimulate the nerves in the nose, these nerves then send signals to the brain. This coupled with the oils’ interaction with different enzymes in the body can result in stimulating changes in the systems inside your body or have a calming effect on your mind.
Some oils are thought to have healing properties and in vitro testing has found that some essential oils have antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Other oils (like peppermint) can be used for various health conditions and can be taken orally.
Aromatherapy is commonly used to help the following conditions:
- Minor burns on the skin
- Some infections
- Stress and Depression
- Blood Pressure
- Asthma and other respiratory conditions
- Digestive issues
Are all essential oils natural or are some that are synthetic (artificial)?
Most oils used in aromatherapy are organic and natural, but there are some that are manufactured artificially; these synthetic oils are called ‘fragrance oils’. Fragrance oils are used in various types of body and bath products, they can cause allergic reactions and are not considered to be as effective as their organic counterparts by aromatherapists. So, when you buy essential oils or partake in aromatherapy treatment, make sure that your therapist is using all natural essential oils and not synthetic ones.
What Essential Oils can help IBS sufferers?
These are some of the essential oils that can potentially help IBS symptoms:
Peppermint oil: a wonderful essential oil that helps with digestion issues. This oil is perfect to improve GI cramps and inflammation.
Frankincense oil: helps with inflammation and has shown encouraging results for conditions caused or maintained by inflammation.
Lavender oil: has antibacterial and calming properties and can help to relax and sleep better.
Anise oil: has anti-spasmodic and antiseptic properties. It helps to improve pain, cramps, bloating caused by IBS.
Fennel oil: has a sweet aroma similar to anise. It help to relieve the digestive system from gassiness, acid indigestion, cramps and constipation.
Ginger oil: excellent for soothing and balancing the digestive system. If rubbed on the lower back, it can help to stimulate a sluggish colon (large intestine).
Dr Oz and essential oils benefits
Dr Oz has also dedicated an article on his site about the positive effects of essential oils and with regards to peppermint oil, he says that “it may ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. One of the few essential oils that can be ingested, small doses of peppermint oil can be mixed with water to help relieve indigestion.”
How do you take them or apply them?
There are three basic portals through which essential oils can enter the body: topically, by inhalation and by ingestion.
Be careful because the majority of oils should never be used undiluted on the skin and even more important most of them cannot be safely ingested.
There are different methods of treating IBS with essential oils. Some oils, like peppermint and lavender oil, can be mixed with a carrier oil and applied on top of the abdomen until absorbed, to relieve symptoms like cramping and bloating.
Food grade peppermint essential oil can also be ingested, with a dispersant drink or in enteric coated capsules, to alleviate IBS symptoms.
To relief stress and relax, some essential oils can be inhaled through a diffuser.
The use of most essential oils while pregnant or lactating may not be safe (always consult your health practitioner if not sure).
Is it safe to ingest essential oils?
Although this is not usually recommended by traditional health practitioners, some people have found it effective to ingest small doses of essential oil into their body to improve IBS symptoms.
If you want to ingest essential oils, please seek guidance from a qualified practitioner, as most oils can be toxic if ingested.
A part from consulting a professional, before using and especially ingesting any essential oil, check that the essential oil is certified as GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) by the FDA and also make sure that you don’t have any sensitivity or allergies to that oil; this can be done by rubbing onto the skin a drop of essential oil, that has been mixed with a carrier oil such as sweet almond, coconut, olive or jojoba. If after a few hours nothing has happened (no redness, burning or itchy sensation) than you may be ok.
The most common ingested essential oil is peppermint oil, which can be swallowed in enteric coated capsules. Peppermint essential oil has been found to help both adults and children in treating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Can Essential Oils be added to Food?
There are some essential oils which claim to be suitable for adding and enhancing flavours of your food. Before adding essential oils on your food or drinks it is important to verify that they are food grade.
Oregano, basil, ginger and peppermint oils are often utilised by people to add more flavour to their recipes. You can also add a tiny amount of orange, lavender or peppermint oil in homemade chocolate.
What can you say to those that are sceptical in using essential oils as a cure?
A lot of people can testify that essential oils have helped them to feel better and cured some illnesses, but unfortunately there has been very limited research performed in support of aromatherapy.
This is due to various reasons, including the following:
- Research and studies are expensive. Drug research is funded by the very rich pharmaceutical industry. This industry cannot profit as much from natural plant substances, therefore no interest in researching it.
- Different climate and other geographical influences can impact the chemistry of plants and flowers, therefore making it difficult to standardise each essential oil characteristics.
- Difficulty in creating reliable double-blind testing based on the smell of the essential oils.
Some promising results have been observed in a report published in the Journal BMJ (British Medical Journal). A research was conducted on 400 patients with IBS and it was reported that peppermint oil was more effective than placebo in the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
The majority of the medical professionals have insufficient evidence to support aromatherapy, as a way of curing illnesses and diseases and most believe that any improvement in relaxation and clarity of mind, may have come from the placebo effect and not from physiological effect.
Personally I think that we have available in nature most things to heal ourselves, saying that I also think that aromatherapy, like other complementary medicine, should not be used as an alternative to traditional medicine, but in a lot of cases it could be used in conjunction. One does not have to exclude the other.
I have successfully been using peppermint essential oil to help me with my IBS symptoms and I also believe that aromatherapy has some positive effects on mental and emotional health, from anxiety relief to sleep aid, which are some factors that can influence IBS symptoms. I often burn on my diffuser some lavender and mandarin oils to help relaxing.
It would be great to see more study and researches done.
What do you think, can essential oils help IBS symptoms ? Please leave comments below and as usual, this is my research and experience, please seek the opinion of your health practitioner, before using essential oils.
Update September 2017
Since writing this article, and after investigating various essential oils brands, I have started to use the Digest Zen oil blend from doTerra*, which helps me with my digestive issues, when I eat the wrong food and get IBS symptoms. A friend of mine helped me to sign up as a Wellness Advocate, so that I could get my oils cheaper and help to spread the word about this fantastic oil.
As usual, please understand that this is my research and experience and you should always consult your health professional.
Until next time take good care.