Constipation can affect us in different ways. It can mean having difficulty passing stools, having infrequent bowel movements, or not sufficiently cleaning of or emptying of stools. This can be accompanied by discomfort, pain, nausea, and feelings of malaise.
It can be caused by lifestyle factors, including inactivity; stress; poor nutrition, such as lack of fiber or liquid; tumors; pregnancy; thyroid, liver, or metabolic diseases or conditions; medications; or regular use of laxatives. This last one may seem counter-intuitive, but when the body becomes used to external laxatives, it may cease to find a way to continue emptying bowels on its own.
Typical remedies for constipation include laxatives, fibrous or bulk-forming foods and supplements, or muscle relaxants, which allow the bowels to relax and consequently to empty.
Essential oils (EOs) do not add fiber to the body, but support constipation relief in other ways, including incorporating into abdominal massage, supporting gastrointestinal function, and alleviating stress and other emotional blocks (Battaglia, 2003).
1. EOs In Abdominal Massage
Applying EOs to the abdominal area and massaging them into the body can allow the digestive tissues and organs to absorb the EOs and support digestive action. This consists of relaxing muscles and stimulating related organs, aiding in moving food down the digestive tract, and/or stimulating peristalsis, which are the muscle contractions that push food and waste from one end of the digestive tract to the other. EOs that can be incorporated into abdominal massage include marjoram Origanum majorana, rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis, black pepper Piper nigrum, and fennel Foeniculum vulgare (Battaglia, 2003).
In a study conducted on elderly patients, a group receiving aromatherapy massage with EOs of rosemary, lemon Citrus limonum, and peppermint Mentha piperita had improved and a higher number of bowel movements when compared to patients who received abdominal massage with no EOs (Kim, Sakong, Kim, Kim, & Kim, 2005).
When doing abdominal massage, it is best to follow the shape of the large intestine and the direction of flow of waste through it, which is in a clockwise direction moving from the right hip bone, rising slightly upwards, and moving towards the left hip bone, back down, and across. Hard pressure is not necessary, and in fact it is best to start with light pressure, so as to not cause any discomfort.
2. EOs Stimulate Gastrointestinal Function
EOs that stimulate gastrointestinal function can also be useful. Stimulation of gastrointestinal function can include support of indigestion, cramps, stomach and intestinal disorders, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea. EOs that support proper gastrointestinal function can often be beneficial for constipation relief.
For instance, Cinnamon bark Cinnamomum zeylanicum essential oil, which aids to relieve flatulence, can also aid in the relief of constipation (Battaglia, 2003). In addition, peppermint essential oil, which can aid in relieving stomach and intestinal disorders, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome, is also helpful in relieving constipation.
3. EOs Alleviate Stress & Emotional Blocks
Emotional issues such as stress, anxiety, or other psychological blocks can affect constipation. Thus, using EOs that help relieve these conditions can be beneficial to the relief of constipation.
A study conducted on 38 women attending college, aromatherapy massage using a combination of lemon, lavender Lavandula angustifolia, rosemary, and cypress Cupressus sempervirens EOs saw improvement in both constipation and stress relief (Chung & Choi, 2011).
Other EOs that help reduce stress and alleviate constipation include peppermint, cinnamon bark, and pine Pinus sylvestris.
It is important to note that any use of EOs to support the relief of constipation should be accompanied by other actions, such as increasing fluid intake, increasing consumption of fiber-rich and bulk-producing foods, limiting intake of fried, highly processed, and sugary foods and dairy, and increasing activity and movement, among others. The specific action should vary based on the level of severity and circumstances affecting or causing constipation. If persistent, seeking professional help is advised.
This article was originally published in the January 2018 issue of AromaCulture Magazine and has been adapted for use here with permission from the publisher.
Battaglia, S. (2003). The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy(2nd ed.). Brisbane, Australia: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy.
Chung, M. & Choi, E. (2011). A comparison between effects of aroma massage and meridian massage on constipation and stress in women college students. Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing, 41(1), 26-35. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4040/jkan.2011.41.1.26
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 Academy of Nursing, 35(1), 56-64. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.4040/jkan.2005.35.1.56