Essential oils for digestive problems have a long history in traditional medicine and are used to relieve the discomfort associated with constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach cramps and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The benefit of using of essential oils as digestive aids is that they can relieve a wide range of symptoms. Essential oils for digestion that have scientifically proven benefits are peppermint, pepper basil, fennel, oregano, and ginger.
The safe ways to use essential oils to relieve digestive complaints are by inhaling an essential oil in the form of aromatherapy or by applying the oil topically, such as in a massage oil. Both oregano and peppermint oil for digestion products are available commercially as enteric-coated capsules.
Essential Oils for Constipation
Constipation is difficulty emptying the bowels and is commonly associated with hardened stools. Constipation leaves you feeling uncomfortable and can result in abdominal pain. Most home remedies for constipation and IBS include peppermint essential oil, which is often considered the best essential oil for constipation as it helps relieve several symptoms. However, what essential oil is good for constipation may be in fact a combination of oils. For example, aromatherapy combines peppermint essential oil with several oils for effective constipation relief.
Peppermint Oil for Constipation
Of the essential oils used for digestion complaints, peppermint essential oil has undergone the most scientific investigation. Peppermint essential oil capsules have proven to be effective for constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and stomach cramps associated with irritable bowel syndrome.1,2
Scientific research has shown that an aromatherapy abdominal massage using peppermint essential oil, lemon essential oil, and rosemary essential oil was effective in relieving constipation among the elderly. The essential oil combination proved to be better than a regular abdominal massage, and effects lasted up to two weeks after the massage therapy ceased.3 Consult a doctor before using essential oils for constipation in children.
Essential Oils for Diarrhea
Most people use the term diarrhea to refer to loose stools, but the clinical definition is more than three bowel movements in a day. Diarrhea can be caused by a range of infectious agents, such as viruses and bacteria, digestive disorders such as IBS, food poisoning, or as a side effect of some prescription drugs.4 What essential oil is good for diarrhea will depend on the symptoms and severity of diarrhea. The best essential oil for diarrhea will be one that has antispasmodic and antimicrobial properties and the ability to reduce bowel inflammation. In traditional remedies, the essential oils diarrhea responds to are green pepper basil, ginger, and peppermint.
Peppermint Oil for Diarrhea
Peppermint essential oil has long been used as a natural remedy for diarrhea.5 Regarding scientific research on diarrhea, essential oil treatment uses peppermint in the form of enteric-coated capsules.6 Peppermint oil and its active ingredient L-menthol, act by soothing the muscles of the small bowel and regulating stool transit time in people suffering from diarrhea-predominant IBS.5
Note: Essential oils in enteric-coated capsules are specially prepared to prevent the oils from being released directly into the stomach. The ingestion of non-enteric coated essential oils can cause heartburn, further exacerbating digestive problems and therefore is not recommended.7
Ginger Oil for Diarrhea
Ginger has been used for centuries as one of the top essential oils for digestion problems. Ginger essential oil acts by regulating the movement of the intestines. Promising scientific research with animal test subjects shows that ginger essential oil may help regulate the flow of food through the gut.8
Pepper Basil Oil for Diarrhea
Pepper basil essential oil (Ocimum selloi) has potential to be one of the effective digestive essential oils. Pepper basil acts in a similar way as peppermint and ginger essential oils, by reducing gut spasms. Although research has yet to be conducted on human subjects, so far, scientific research has demonstrated that green pepper basil essential oil significantly reduced diarrhea episodes in animal test subjects.9
Essential Oils for Gas and Bloating
Good essential oils for bloating are those that aid the movement of digestive gases through the system. Effective essential oils for gas help to relieve the discomfort associated with bloating. Essential oils such as fennel and peppermint offer a natural remedy for the symptoms of gas and bloating. Essential oils for flatulence can be prepared in the form of massage oil. To prepare a recipe using essential oil for gas pain or flatulence, add one drop of either fennel or peppermint oil to ten drops of a good carrier oil like coconut or argan. Gently massage on the abdomen using a circular motion.
Fennel for Gas
A scientific study on fennel and bloating symptoms suggested that fennel essential oil is an effective natural remedy. The study found that anethole, the active component of fennel essential oil, has a carminative and antispasmodic effect that relaxes the smooth muscles of the intestines.10 Another study with IBS patients showed that fennel essential oil decreased abdominal pain.11
Peppermint Oil Flatulence
Scientific research suggests that you can use peppermint oil for bloating. Using peppermint oil for gas may be effective because it helps relax the smooth muscles of the intestines, so that painful digestive gases can pass through more quickly. In one study, 57 patients with IBS were given enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules. After four weeks of treatment, 75% of the patients experienced a reduction in abdominal bloating and the passage of gas.12
Oil of Oregano Gas and Bloating
Oregano essential oil has an anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory effect and has been used in ancient China, Egypt, and Greece as a digestive aid. Oregano essential oil is said to relieve gas and bloating by soothing the motion of the intestines. Scientists are beginning to explore the effects of oregano essential oil on colitis (inflammation of the lining of the colon) in animal models with positive preliminary results.13
Essential Oils for Stomach Cramps
Essential oils good for upset stomach help to control the symptoms of digestive stress. The effective essential oils for upset stomach are those that have antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antiemetic (anti-nausea) effects on the colon and gastric lining, thus reducing symptoms such as cramps, pain nausea and vomiting. Using essential oils for stomach pain can relieve the build-up of painful gas in the intestines. Essential oils for stomach ache can also control irregular movements of the intestines. For those who wonder what essential oils are good for upset stomach symptoms, peppermint and fennel essential oils are often at the top of the list. Peppermint essential oil helps to calm the muscles of the stomach while fennel essential oil promotes the elimination of gas from the digestive system.
Peppermint Oil for Stomach
As a general digestive aid, peppermint for stomach pain has been used for years.2 You can use peppermint oil for stomach cramps and other symptoms of stomach distress. In scientific research, the use of peppermint oil for stomach problems has mostly been in the area of IBS.1 Using peppermint oil for stomach ache symptoms is an effective remedy because it reduces stomach motility (spontaneous movement) and relaxes the gall bladder.14
For those who are interested in how to use peppermint for stomach ache symptoms, one of the best methods is as an aromatherapy massage. The massage oil can be prepared by mixing 2 drops of peppermint essential oil with 10 drops of carrier oil, such as jojoba oil. Massage the stomach gently with the oil using a circular motion.
Essential Oils for IBS
Scientific research on essential oils for irritable bowel syndrome has offered promising results, particularly with peppermint oil.5 The research suggests that enteric-coated peppermint oil is well tolerated and has few adverse effects. Peppermint essential oil may reduce the symptoms of IBS by relaxing the muscles of the small intestines and gall bladder and regulating the movement of the small intestines.5,14
Peppermint Essential Oil for IBS
One study on 72 patients with moderate to severe IBS has demonstrated that peppermint essential oil in the form of enteric-coated capsules has successfully reduced IBS symptoms. The researchers compared a group of IBS patients taking the enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules with a group of IBS patients taking a placebo and found that the experimental group taking the peppermint oil capsules experienced a greater improvement in their IBS symptoms.6
Note: Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use peppermint essential oil without first consulting a health care provider. Anyone who has a gallbladder disorder, a blocked bile duct, or who takes heartburn medication should not take peppermint essential oil without first consulting a healthcare provider.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Merat, S., et al., (2010). The Effect of Enteric-Coated, Delayed-Release Peppermint Oil on Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 55(5), 1385. DOI: 1007/s10620-009-0854-9
- Robb-Nicholson, C. (2009, July 1). By the way doctor: What can you tell me about peppermint oil? Harvard Women’s Health Watch. Retrieved May 21, 2017 from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/By-the-way-doctor-What-can-you-tell-me-about-peppermint-oil – View reference
- Kim, M. A., Sakong, J. K., Kim, E. J., Kim, E. H., & Kim, E. H. (2005). Effect of Aromatherapy Massage for the Relief of Constipation in the Elderly. Journal of Korean Academic Nursing, 35(1), 56-64. https://synapse.koreamed.org/DOIx.php?id=10.4040/jkan.2005.35.1.56
- Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Diarrhea. Symptoms and causes. Retrieved on May 25, 2017 at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diarrhea/symptoms-causes/dxc-20232937 – View reference
- Cash, B., Epstein, M. S., & Shah, S. M. (2016). A novel delivery system of peppermint oil is an effective therapy for irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Digestive Disease and Sciences, 61, 560–571. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4729798/pdf/10620_2015_Article_3858.pdf
- Alam, M. S., et al. (2013). Efficacy of Peppermint oil in diarrhea predominant IBS – a double blind randomized placebo – controlled study. Mymensingh Medical Journal, 22(1), 27-30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23416804
- University of Maryland Medical Center. (2014). Peppermint. Retrieved on May 21, 2017 from http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/peppermint – View reference
- Ghayur, M. N. & Gilani, A. H. (2005). Pharmacological basis for the medicinal use of ginger in gastrointestinal disorders. Digestive Disease and Sciences, 50(10), 1889-1897. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16187193
- Franca, C. S. (2008). Analgesic and antidiarrheal properties of Ocimum selloi essential oil in mice. Fitoterapia,79(7-8), 569-573. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fitote.2008.06.002
- Portincasa, P., et al. (2016). Curcumin and Fennel Essential Oil Improve Symptoms and Quality of Life in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease, 25(2), 151-157. http://www.jgld.ro/wp/y2016/n2/a6.pdf
- Amjad, H., & Jafary, H. A. (2000). Foeniculum vulgare therapy in irritable bowel syndrome. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 95, 2491. doi:1111/j.1572-0241.2000.02633.x
- Cappello, G., Spezzaferro, M., Grossi, L., Manzoli, L., & Marzio, L. (2007). Peppermint oil (Mintoil) in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a prospective double blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Digestive and Liver Disease, 39(6), 530-536. DOI:1016/j.dld.2007.02.006
- Dundar, E., et al. (2008). The effects of intra-rectal and intra-peritoneal application of Origanum onites L. essential oil on 2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulfonic acid-induced colitis in the rat. Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology, 59(6), 399-408. DOI:1016/j.etp.2007.11.009
- Goerg, K. J. & Spilker, T. (2003). Effect of peppermint oil and caraway oil on gastrointestinal motility in healthy volunteers: a pharmacodynamic study using simultaneous determination of gastric and gall-bladder emptying and orocaecal transit time. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 17(3), 445-451. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12562459