Essential oils and many other natural, alternative remedies have been growing in popularity as people seek a more holistic approach to their health. While I’m a firm believer that diet can have a profound impact on our health – especially our digestive health – sometimes dietary strategies alone aren’t enough to get you the symptom relief you are desperate for.
I’ve received so many questions about this topic, so I’m happy to welcome an expert in the area of essential oils today to share some insight about how essential oils work and which ones might help you in your journey to better digestive health.
Marie Ruggles isn’t only an expert when it comes to essential oils, but she’s a fellow Registered Dietitian, and Certified Diabetes Educator. Thanks for offering up your wealth of knowledge on this important topic, Marie!
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils (EOs) are extracted from various parts of plants including the petals, leaves, and roots. Each drop contains up to 500 different compounds. EOs are different from the types of oils that you would cook with, mainly due to their chemical structure.
Safety of Essential Oils
Pure, high quality EOs can safely be used to support physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. As of this writing, there are over 26,000 published studies on essential oils which demonstrate many options for safely using them topically, through inhalation, and by ingestion. When assessing the safety of EOs, it’s important to consider the age of the person using the EO. In many cases, a different EO may be recommended for the same symptom based on whether it is being used in adults or children.
Risks of Essential Oils
Research is revealing that up to 75% of EOs on the market are altered in some way, which may compromise their safety. Not only are altered EOs less effective, but they may also pose a health risk. Before purchasing EOs, it is important to do your research on the company’s quality standards, product guarantees, and manufacturing practices.
Food Grade Essential Oils
The labeling of EOs as “food grade” is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. EO companies who closely adhere to purity and labeling guidelines will indicate which of their oils are considered safe for dietary use. While consuming essential oils may seem strange, it’s interesting to know that we have all most likely grown up consuming essential oils in the form of natural food flavourings which are commonly derived from plants.
Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils
Therapeutic grade essential oils are of higher quality and are more refined than food grade oils. EOs with deficient or imbalanced levels of critical compounds can be used by the perfume or food industry where aroma is the primary feature, but may not qualify for therapeutic grade status. It is best to use 100% pure therapeutic grade EOs for all applications. For internal applications, only use EOs indicated by their company as safe for dietary use. You can read more about adulterated essential oils here.
How to Use Essential Oils
The guiding principle behind essential oils is that plants are created to work in harmony with human physiology. EOs can be used in three ways to provide healthy digestive support and soothing comfort to the entire gastrointestinal system.
- Inhale. This can be done with a diffuser, or you can place 2-3 drops onto one palm, gently swirl the EO with the opposite palm, then inhale.
- Consume. Put 1-2 drops into a vegetarian gel capsule, or put 1 drop into an 8 oz. glass of water or tea.
- Topical. Simply rub 1-3 drops over the entire abdomen for digestive support.
Before applying any EO topically, it’s best to do a skin test on the forearm to check for sensitivity. If you don’t experience a reaction within 15 minutes, you should be safe! EOs do not contain any proteins, which is usually the part of a food or substance that triggers an allergic reaction. Whenever applying an EO to the skin, you can also activate the brain response to further support normal gut function. Simply inhale the EO aroma from your hand after applying it to your abdomen.
Essential Oils for Digestive Health
Providing digestive comfort and supporting normal gastrointestinal function are two of my personal favourite uses for EOs.There are several EOs that have been shown to help with upset stomach, calm spasms that disrupt normal motility, help alleviate nausea, provide calming support to the entire digestive system, and alleviate occasional gas and constipation. Here are a few everyday concerns and the oils to use for normalizing GI function:
Fennel, Ginger and Cardamom
Laxative support: Gently rub 1-3 drops clockwise over the abdomen.
Tarragon and Patchouli
Anti-spasmodic for normal bowel function: Apply over entire abdomen using soft massage strokes.
Lemon and Peppermint
Normalize acid balance: Drink 8 oz of water with 1 drop of either EO.
Peppermint, Ginger, Lavender, Basil and Anise
General stomach upset: Drink 8 oz of water with 1 drop of any oil, or apply 1-3 drops directly over the abdomen in a gentle massage.
Ginger, Peppermint and Fennel
Occasional gas: Drink 8 oz of water with 1 drop of any oil, or apply 1-3 drops directly over the abdomen in a gentle massage. It is safe to apply these EOs using both methods simultaneously.
Clove and Lemongrass
Control over-growth of unwanted sugars and other “guests” that may take up residence in your digestive track: Put 1 drop of each into a vegetarian capsule and take with food.
Wondering what else could affect your digestive health? FODMAP foods are some of the most common triggers when it comes to symptoms like gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea and constipation. Your first step is to learn more about the Low FODMAP Diet and understand if it’s something that will help you get relief and get clear on what to eat. Download my free eBook – Click here to get a copy emailed to you right away.
When to Use Essential Oils to Support Healthy Digestion
The best results are seen when you take action as soon as your system is giving you clues that something is up. Results may be enhanced by combining more than one EO; this creates a synergy that often leads to dramatic results.
Di-Gize® is an EO blend that I often recommend to cover all bases. It contains tarragon, ginger, peppermint, juniper, fennel, lemongrass, anise, and patchouli.
You can also combine 2 or 3 EO’s that all accomplish the same goal for more comprehensive action. Everyone is different and some experimentation may be required to determine which single EO or blend is just right for you.
Peppermint Oil for Digestive Upset
Peppermint is one of the most popular and effective EOs for symptoms of digestive distress. Its effects can be even stronger when combine with another EO that works on similar symptoms. For example, peppermint can be combined with basil to improve movement through the digestive tract. Peppermint can be helpful for:
- Abdominal spasms
- Upset stomach
- Bloating and feelings of “fullness”
Essential Oils and Stress
Whenever we talk about relieving and managing symptoms of digestive distress related to IBS, IBD and other digestive health conditions, it is important to talk about the effects of stress on the digestive system. The digestive system is intimately connected to our emotions, so developing strategies to effectively manage and reduce stress can indirectly reduce digestive symptoms as well.
EOs such as lavender can be helpful in achieving a state of relaxation to relieve stress. Cedarwood is another great oil to promote calm while also helping you to maintain focus. Put 3 drops onto your palm, gently rub with opposite palm three times in a circle, then cup over nose and inhale. Another option is to use a blend such as Stress Away® orTranquil®. Simply apply two to four drops to the neck (just like perfume) or on the wrists to experience the positive effects.