At the start of the new year, everyone wants to eat better and get healthy. Everywhere you turn, someone is cutting a food here or adding a meal plan there. Cheer yourself on; nutrients are important! But have you given much thought to your gut – the part of your body that determines what to do with all those good choices?
Few people realize that the gut is deeply connected with the nervous system, as a team working the command post of the body. Whether or not you have obvious gut issues (like stomach upset or trouble in the restroom), don’t overlook your health and diet history, lifestyle, and other factors that may have damaged the gut. Knowing how to heal your gut is a cornerstone of an anti-cancer lifestyle.
Identifying Damage to the Gut
Some of the most recognizable markers of damage to the gut are nearly impossible to ignore. Discomfort, diarrhea and/or constipation, bloating, outright pain. Sometimes this is in response to stress or a specific food. You know something “sets if off” and (hopefully) you do what you can to avoid these triggers.
But the state of your gut health isn’t always obvious. Bacterial balance, damage to the lining, and other weakness in the gut can manifest in ways that we don’t automatically connect. You might think your gut is in great shape, but your immune system is not at its best. Or you have trouble concentrating, or you have trouble with mood swings and emotional upset.
For the most part, practices to heal your gut are good for you even if you’re in perfect health. These can include probiotics, a gentle diet of real foods, and minimizing stress. Most essential oils will fall into this category, as well.
If you’re concerned about the possibility of damage to your gut, consider talking with your health care provider to rule out any serious issues or complications.
Gut Healing Efforts
At the center of gut health is the balance of bacteria that occupies the intestinal tract. With bacterial organisms comprising about 1-3% of our body’s mass and outnumbering our own cells 10:1, there’s no getting around the importance of the bacterial balance. It’s vital to team up with the friendly bacteria and work against the bad to heal your gut.
The microbe life is such an integral part of wellness that researchers have described it as an organ within an organ. The resulting levels of health (or disease) is considered the “gut-brain axis,” intertwined with central nervous system functions from cognitive function to stress and hormonal responses.
It’s time to let go of the bacteria-free ideal that commercials and product labels have told us to pursue. Gut healing efforts should, first and foremost, consider the importance of our microscopic partners in wellness. This is one of many reasons to incorporate essential oils in the healing process. These digestive oils are typically safe for the microbial balance when used properly.
Key Gut Issues Affected by Essential Oils
Especially with antibacterial oils, it’s important to use oils appropriately in order to promote healing and avoid overuse. While not every gut health concern is best addressed with essential oils, there are some that certainly align well. Here are four issues that are treated well with essential oils.
Our collective knowledge about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has grown substantially over the years. At one point, it was simply a catchall term or a lack of a diagnosis. Now, not only is it considered an official diagnosis for a specific condition, but estimates assume that more than 70% of those affected will never present it to their doctor. Lifestyle, diet, and medication are used for IBS management, and essential oils are up and coming as additional tools for coping. The most studied oil in this case is peppermint essential oil, usually in the form of enteric-coated capsules. A 2008 review of these studies found the oil to be just as effective as antispasmodic medication in many cases.
- SIBO & Dysbiosis
A state of dysbiosis is the term for a tilted balance in the gut’s microbial life. If it escalates far enough, a condition like SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) can ensue. When this happens, colonic bacteria move into the small intestine – not where they belong! This kind of imbalance can be connected with common gut issues like IBS.Treatments for symptoms that damage beneficial bacteria would only further the problem. That’s why it’s so important to always consider the balance of gut health when treating other issues. When essential oils are able to relive the symptoms of overgrowth without damaging the good bacteria, they become a powerful tool for healing.In 2009, a study evaluated multiple essential oils including caraway, lavender, and bitter orange for their effects on gut dysbiosis while still protecting beneficial bacteria in the body. As researchers continue to dive deep with essential oils to determine ideal combinations and doses, we can enjoy their gentle yet effective nature.
Not strictly the gut but still part of digestive tract wellness, GERD is a substantial problem, as evidenced by the thousands of dollars spent on antacids each year. With the esophagus and stomach being first stops along the digestive tract, GERD is one of the first indications of digestive upset.The more severe form of acid reflux − GERD − can be an indication of either an excess or deficiency of stomach acid, among other causes.GERD is heavily affected by food choices, lifestyle habits, and bacterial exposure or colonization. Protective essential oils can help manage detrimental microbes and heal or preserve the lining of the stomach. Culinary preparations that include essential oils are excellent choices in this case, introducing the oil to the stomach alongside the diet. Ginger essential oils, for example, was indicated for antioxidant boosting and protective effects when paired with turmeric essential oil. The increased antioxidant levels helped to protect the wall of the stomach, which is important for damage prevention when GERD is an issue.
Usually a symptom more than a standalone issue, nausea can be as mild as an annoying complication, to as strong as a debilitating condition. Thinking back to the last time you were nauseous, how much did scent affect how you felt?Inhaled essential oils take advantage of this direct line between scent and nausea, with multiple oils found to be effective for relief. Lemon essential oil, for example, tested well for individuals with morning sickness. Combinations of peppermint and ginger are usually effective, as well.
Using Essential Oils to Heal Your Gut
More than ever, we have an endless stream of information right at our fingertips, giving us access to information that can help us understand our bodies and ways to manage health. With that information comes a caution: that disease states are still serious conditions that should be approached with care and usually with the guidance of a physician.
The notation that natural products are “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease” may make us bristle, but it’s a reminder to take disease seriously. Approach essential oils with the care and respect that both they and your body deserve and seek guidance from qualified practitioners.
That being said, these essential oils have a growing record of efficacy and general safety and form an excellent base for efforts in healing the gut with essential oils.
- Cumin – Another oil used for IBS, cumin showed itself to be a powerful symptom reliever over the course of a four week trial. Cumin is not as commonly used as some of the other oils we’ve talked about today, which helps us to diversify the oils we use in healing efforts.
- Lavender – One of the most gentle and widely used oils, lavender is anti-inflammatory and a general healing oil. While there are certainly direct effects that lavender has on the gut, I love to talk about its effects on anxiety relief in relation to gut health. Could there be a connection between internal use of lavender calming the gut and therefore anxiety? It’s an age old chicken-and-egg scenario in which we all win!
- Thyme – Chemical components thymol and geraniol have been shown to be effective for SIBO while still retaining protective effects toward beneficial bacteria. Thyme can be used diluted into culinary and capsule preparations as a source of thymol, while geraniol can be found in many oils, including rose.
- Peppermint – Long known as a digestive aid in whole herb form, its essential oil properties are well-researched for IBS symptoms. Enteric-coated capsules are the primary mode of application for this remedy, and in one study it was paired with coriander and lemon balm for added benefits.
Immune, cognitive, emotional, and digestive issues all stem from the condition of the gut. Essential oils that protect and heal the digestive tract can be viewed as partners for whole-body wellness.
Remedies, medication, and diet and lifestyle should prioritize the bacterial balance in the gut above all else.
Essential oils can function as symptom relief, prevention, protection, and healing for your gut.
Certain pairings (blends) of essential oils work well together and can be beneficial to healing the gut. 5 of these combinations are:
1. Thyme & Rose
2. Cardamom & Clove
3. Peppermint & Ginger
4. Tea Tree & Oregano
5. Fennel & Tarragon