Constipation is a common problem, affecting more than 60 million Americans. Some problems that cause constipation may be simple and easy to treat, such as diet changes, or they may be more complex, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Though occasional constipation is bothersome, it is usually not serious. Some natural or home remedies have traditionally been used to treat constipation, including diet changes, exercise, and fiber supplements.
But, with the increased popularity and use of essential oils, many people are turning to these powerful plant extracts for relief from constipation and other digestive complaints.
Constipation is a common problem, affecting more than 60 million people in America. Some factors that cause constipation may be simple, such as a change in diet, lack of fluid intake, or lack of exercise, or the issues may be more complex, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases defines constipation as:
- having fewer than 3 bowel movements per week
- stools that are hard, dry, and difficult to pass
A person with constipation may notice that:
- bowel movements are not happening as often as they usually do
- the stool is difficult to pass, causing pain and straining
- the stomach hurts or is bloated
Changes in routine, diet, or fluid intake are often the cause of constipation, and it usually resolves on its own. Sometimes, however, constipation goes on for weeks, months, or longer. This is known as chronic constipation, and people who are experiencing this should see a doctor.
Essential oils have been used in medicine for centuries to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive problems. Treating constipation with essential oils is possible, but only certain oils used in the right way will help.
Essential oils are very concentrated, so they should never be used at full strength. In general, it is best to use essential oils by:
- diluting them with a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil, before putting them on the skin
- inhaling them through a diffuser designed for essential oils
- mixing them with an existing product, such as a body lotion
- applying them to a warm, wet washcloth to be used as a hot compress
Though essential oils are considered natural remedies, all oils are not safe for everyone. For maximum safety and benefit, consult a certified aromatherapist before using essential oils.
Accredited aromatherapists have specialist knowledge on the use and safety of oils and can recommend the best solution based on an individual’s symptoms and health history.
Researchers have found that the microscopic organisms that live in the gut may be connected to constipation. A study in SpringerPlus shows many people with ongoing constipation have differences in their gut bacteria when compared to healthy individuals.
The bacteria in the gut aid the function of the digestive system by helping to break down food and absorbing nutrients. When they are out of balance, problems such as constipation and diarrhea may occur.
Although the possible link between essential oils, bacteria and constipation requires more research, a study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that essential oils hold antibacterial properties.
Part of the oil’s function in the plant is to protect it from unwanted bacteria and fungi, which researchers believe could benefit the human digestive system as well.
Widely used in foods because of its flavor, ginger is also a widely-known remedy for nausea and digestive upset. Its benefits for digestive health been part of Chinese and Indian medicine for centuries.
Ginger essential oil is much more concentrated than the whole root. As such, it is best to use the oil for a warm, soothing compress on the stomach. Apply 2 drops to a towel soaked in hot water, being careful not to get the water temperature too hot.
Lie down and apply the towel directly to the abdomen for several minutes. Once the towel has cooled, massage the abdomen in a clockwise motion for 2 to 3 minutes.
Peppermint oil contains menthol, which is the component that gives it a “cooling” effect.
To relieve stomach discomfort and mild constipation, combine one drop of peppermint oil with 3 to 4 drops of a warmed carrier oil and massage the abdomen. Gently work the oil into the skin in the area of discomfort in a circular motion. For best results, a person should do this massage up to three times a day if no irritation is present.
When peppermint oil is combined with a carrier oil and rubbed directly on the skin, it can help relieve pain and relax muscles.
The menthol in peppermint can be irritating to some skin types, however. If anyone feels redness or burning, they should wash the oil off their skin and stop using it.
Never use peppermint oil on babies or children, as it can cause breathing problems.
An article published in BioMed Research International found that fennel helps with several different digestive ailments, including constipation. Specifically, it mentions “volatile components of fennel essential oil” as being some of the most potent parts of the plant.
Fennel oil may help get the intestines moving when added to an abdominal massage or inhaled through a diffuser. Mix 2 drops of fennel oil with a carrier oil and massage the belly in a circular clockwise motion.
Start with smaller circles around the navel, gradually increasing the size of the motions. For extra relief, add a few drops of fennel oil to a diffuser and breathe it in at the same time as performing the massage.
Lavender’s soothing properties have been used for centuries to help promote relaxation and calm.
Diffusing lavender can help a person relax and relieve stress, which may be helpful for digestive problems, such as stomach pain, gas, and constipation.
Diffuse lavender in the evening to help encourage relaxation of the body, including the intestines. Follow with an abdominal massage that incorporates diluted lavender essential oil.
Use chamomile alone or in combination with lavender to help relax the muscles in the abdominal area. This can help improve gut motility and provide relief from bloating and a sluggish bowel.
Dilute the oils with a carrier oil. Apply to two fingertips and massage the stomach area in a clockwise motion up to three times daily.
Other essential oils used together with abdominal massage may provide relief from constipation. A study in the Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing found that an abdominal massage using the essential oils of rosemary, lemon, and peppermint was significantly more effective than a massage alone at relieving constipation.
Occasional constipation can often be treated with home remedies, including essential oils. Constipation that is chronic or linked to other health issues may need more powerful treatment and guidance from a doctor.
People who have other health problems should discuss any home remedies, natural or otherwise, with a doctor.