Digestive issues such as nausea, heartburn, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping can be highly uncomfortable and feel embarrassing.
A person’s gut health is determined by a variety of factors including diet, genetics, weight, age, and other lifestyle factors. Some of those factors like genetics are out of our control, though thankfully there are steps you can take to support your overall digestive health and alleviate digestive issues.
THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
The digestive system actively breaks down food and absorbs nutrients that then get absorbed into the bloodstream. These nutrients are what the body uses to produce energy, keep your body healthy, and grow new cells in the body.
A national survey of more than 2,000 US adults found that 72% of people "have experienced at least one of the following gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms a few times a month or more: diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach pain, frequent bowel movements, unexplained weight-loss and non-specific GI discomfort.”¹
Studies have also found a direct link between the health of the digestive system and overall brain health. This is called the gut-brain axis and consists of bidirectional communication between the central nervous system (the brain) and the enteric nervous system (located in the gut).
The gut-brain axis (GBA) consists of bidirectional communication between the central and the enteric nervous system, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. Recent advances in research have described the importance of gut microbiota in influencing these interactions. Simply put, the health of one can either positively or adversely affect the health of the other.
A Harvard Health study found that,
“The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach's juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That's because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.”
Because your brain health impacts your gut health and vice versa, essential oils can support your digestive system on multiple levels.
TOP ESSENTIAL OILS FOR STOMACH ACHES & INDIGESTION
Essential oils for stomach pain are most effective when inhaled or used topically.
For topical application, mix 3-4 drops of pure essential oil into one tablespoon (15 ml) of carrier oil like coconut oil or jojoba oil. Gently massage the blend onto your abdomen. For aromatic use, diffuse 6-12 drops of essential oil depending on the size of your diffuser and breathe deeply of the aroma.
The following oils may help relieve digestive issues such as bloating, gas, abdominal cramping, or nausea:
When in doubt, reach for ginger essential oil for your stomach woes. Ginger has been used for centuries to stimulate the digestive system, which helps to encourage the breakdown of food and gastric motility, thus helping to prevent and alleviate constipation. Ginger is also helpful at relieving bloating, heartburn, stomach cramps, and nausea.²
One of the top essential oils shown in clinical studies to be effective at relieving nausea is peppermint. Peppermint essential oil has even been studied as a helpful dietary supplement to help relieve issues such as irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive issues. Peppermint oil also reduces spasms in the colon, relaxes the muscles of your intestines, and can help alleviate bloating, gassiness, and heartburn.³
This spicy essential oil comes from the same family as ginger and has been found to be a promising anti-nausea agent. It is also helpful at relieving stomach aches and indigestion.⁴
Rich in antioxidants, lemon essential oil helps to fight inflammation that often leads to chronic issues such as IBS or leaky gut. Lemon also calms the digestive system, reduces nausea, and encourages digestive movement, which helps to prevent constipation.⁵
Fennel has laxative properties that may help to prevent and relieve constipation. It also helps to relax the digestive tract, which prevents and soothes nausea.⁶
Clove essential oil has traditionally been used to relieve stomach cramps, calm indigestion, and relieve acid reflux that leads to heartburn. It can also help to relieve symptoms associated with the accumulation of gas in the stomach, such as bloating, abdominal pressure, and flatulence.⁷
While there is some evidence that using some essential oils internally may have some health benefits, the safety and efficacy of doing so has not been clearly defined. Until more studies have been published and safety parameters determined, it’s best to stick with using essential oils topically and aromatically. If you are interested in using essential oils internally it is highly recommended to first speak with a certified clinical aromatherapist trained in the safe use of using oils internally. There are many more safety issues to consider when ingesting essential oils.
Using essential oils topically and aromatically has a long history of effectively alleviating many digestive complaints. Have fun experimenting with oils to find which ones work best to support your digestive health!
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THE AMPERSAND TEAM
“New Survey Reveals More than Half of Americans Are Living with Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Not Seeking Care from a Doctor.” News Center, 6 Nov. 2013, https://news.abbvie.com/news/new-survey-reveals-more-than-half-americans-are-living-with-gastrointestinal-symptoms-and-not-seeking-care-from-doctor.htm.
Stea, Susanna, et al. “Essential Oils for Complementary Treatment of Surgical Patients: State of the Art.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : ECAM, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3953654/.
Ford, Alexander C, et al. “Effect of Fibre, Antispasmodics, and Peppermint Oil in the Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” The BMJ, British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 14 Nov. 2008, https://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2313.
Anesthesia, From the *Department of. “Aromatherapy as Treatment for Postoperative Nausea: A... : Anesthesia & Analgesia.” LWW, https://journals.lww.com/anesthesia-analgesia/Fulltext/2013/09000/Aromatherapy_as_Treatment_for_Postoperative.10.aspx.
Safajou F, Soltani N, Taghizadeh M, Amouzeshi Z, Sandrous M. The Effect of Combined Inhalation Aromatherapy with Lemon and Peppermint on Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy: A Double-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trial. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2020 Sep 1;25(5):401-406. doi: 10.4103/ijnmr.IJNMR_11_19. PMID: 33344211; PMCID: PMC7737842.
Badgujar SB, Patel VV, Bandivdekar AH. Foeniculum vulgare Mill: a review of its botany, phytochemistry, pharmacology, contemporary application, and toxicology. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:842674. doi: 10.1155/2014/842674. Epub 2014 Aug 3. PMID: 25162032; PMCID: PMC4137549.
Santin JR, Lemos M, Klein-Júnior LC, Machado ID, Costa P, de Oliveira AP, Tilia C, de Souza JP, de Sousa JP, Bastos JK, de Andrade SF. Gastroprotective activity of essential oil of the Syzygium aromaticum and its major component eugenol in different animal models. Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2011 Feb;383(2):149-58. doi: 10.1007/s00210-010-0582-x. Epub 2010 Dec 8. PMID: 21140134.