Essential Oils for Constipation

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on January 5, 2018Written by Ana Gotter

Overview

Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts that are derived from plants. They’re extracted through either steaming or cold-pressing the plants.

Essential oils have been used in alternative medicine for thousands of years, and the Western world is finally starting to take notice. They can help to treat a wide array of ailments, including constipation.

Different essential oils can have different effects on the body, some of which can help to treat conditions like constipation. They may relax the body, for example, or encourage muscle contractions, making it easier for the digestive system to function properly.

Essential oils aren’t meant to be consumed, as some may be toxic. In addition, before applying to the skin, they should always be diluted in a carrier oil.

1. Ginger oil

Ginger is commonly used to improve digestion and reduce nausea, and it can also help treat constipation. It has digestive stimulatory effects that can increase gastric motility, preventing and treating constipation.

To relieve constipation with ginger oil, mix 3 to 5 drops of ginger oil with 1 ounce of carrier oil like coconut oil or grapeseed oil. Massage the mixture onto the abdomen. Do this two to three times a day as needed.

2. Fennel oil

Fennel seed is a powerful digestive stimulant that can act as a laxative when ingested, effectively treating constipation quickly.

Fennel essential oil is most effective as a digestive stimulant when mixed with a small amount of carrier oil and massaged onto the abdomen. Do this two to three times a day as needed.

3. Peppermint oil

Peppermint essential oil contains antispasmodic properties, which can relax the muscles in the digestive tract, making the bowels looser. This can help relieve constipation. One 2008 study was able to back this up, finding that peppermint oil successfully helped relieve constipation in some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Combine 2 drops of peppermint essential oil with 1 teaspoon of warmed carrier oil, like coconut or grapeseed oil. Massage it directly onto the abdomen and inhale the aroma. The massage will increase movement of the bowel, and the inhalation will help relax those muscles. Do this two to three times a day until your constipation is relieved. Studies have demonstrated that inhaling oils can be as effective as applying them directly to the skin.

4. Rosemary oil

Rosemary essential oil has a spasmolytic effect, meaning that it relaxes muscles and suppresses muscle spasms. Like peppermint oil, this can jump-start the digestive system and get things moving as needed.

Inhaling rosemary oil can have all the desired effects that you’d need, though some people also use it as a massage oil for aromatherapy benefits. You can mix the oil into a massage lotion, or you can add a few drops to an air diffuser to get the full benefits.

5. Lemon oil

Lemon essential oil is highly concentrated and contains a number of strong antioxidants that can improve digestion and simultaneously reduce inflammation. Both factors can allow the digestion process to run more smoothly and eliminate constipation. One study even found that using oils like lemon oil in aromatherapy massages improved digestion.

Mix lemon oil into a carrier oil, and massage it into the skin. You can also put lemon oil in an air diffuser and inhale the scent of the oil to achieve the desired results. Avoid exposure to sunlight when applying lemon essential oil.

Side effects and risks of using essential oils

Essential oils aren’t meant to be taken orally, and some are toxic. The effect of aromatherapy is experienced when inhaling the oils and massaging the diluted oils into the skin. Essential oils are generally very safe for the majority of the population to use.

The exception is essential oils that have menthol, like peppermint or spearmint oils. These are safe for adults to use, but can be dangerous for young children and infants to breathe in.

Pregnant and nursing women should also avoid essential oils as there’s not enough research to ensure they’re all safe.

The biggest risk for using essential oils is irritation or allergic reactions. Essential oils that are put on the skin may irritate those with sensitive skin.

To prevent this, never apply essential oil directly to the skin. You should always mix a few drops of an essential oil with a carrier oil of your choice — like coconut, sweet almond, or olive. Test to see if you’re allergic by applying the diluted oil to a small skin patch. If no reaction occurs in 24 to 48 hours, it should be safe for topical use.

Essential oils are generally safe for adults. They may have a more pronounced effect on children, however, so make sure to ask their pediatrician first. If you’re planning on using an air diffuser in your home, keep this in mind.

The takeaway

Essential oils are safe for the majority of the population to use, and can be an effective alternative treatment to constipation. Use the oils only as instructed for the best and safest results.

Choose brands carefully to ensure safe, pure products manufactured under optimum conditions.

If the essential oils or other home remedies don’t treat your constipation within three days, or if constipation is a chronic issue, make an appointment to see your doctor to find the underlying cause. If you’re experiencing severe abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting along with constipation, seek immediate medical care as these could be symptoms of a bowel obstruction.

While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with your doctor before you begin using essential oils and use caution when choosing a quality brand.

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