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The Truth About Essential Oils And Digestion
There is a lot of talk these days about essential oils. You see them listed as active ingredients in shampoos and skin creams, marketed as nutritional supplements, and for aromatherapy. One of the major benefits, according to proponents of essential oils, is digestive health. But how is this possible, when many essential oils are not safe for ingestion? Let’s explore the connection between these oils and people’s psychology, physiology and nutrition, and how it can lead to better digestion and improved health.
First, the Basics.
It is important to define exactly what essential oils are. This will help to understand how they can influence digestion and overall health. An essential oil is a type of natural oil product. It is obtained through a distillation process using a plant, root, flower, or some other natural main ingredient. The result of this process is a concentrated “essential” oil which contains the molecular “essence” of the item it came from.
Once distilled, this oil can then be used for manufacturing products or for health and nutrition-related purposes. There are some essential oils that are safe to ingest in small amounts (think a few drops). But there are many more intended for topical use or via diffusers for aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is a practice built on the idea that inhaling different scents can improve mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
Some popular essential oils are made from peppermint, frankincense, lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus, oregano and many more. Each of them has different benefits and applications.
Eucalyptus oil has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, making it useful for cleaning minor scrapes and cuts. It also shows anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities which help relive muscle and joint pain, as well as offers a pleasant scent, which can assist people in calming down. Similarly, lavender oil has a relaxing aroma and helps those who inhale it relax, get better sleep, and lower their levels of stress. Current research suggests that it does this by slowing down the activity of the central nervous system. It is not surprising then that lavender oil is one of the most popular essential oils. It is this oil that led to some interesting findings regarding how essential oils can impact digestive health.
Where do digestive problems fit into all this?
It’s a little complicated, but there is a logical connection here. When you feel stressed or anxious, it has a profound effect on all parts of your body’s nervous system. One of these is the parasympathetic system, which controls blood flow to the digestive organs and helps slow heart rate while the body digests food.
Proper digestion is essential for proper absorption of nutrients. You can eat healthy foods, but if your body is not digesting it properly, you will not get the benefits of those foods. Unfortunately, this is what happens when we feel stressed out all the time. Stress causes the parasympathetic system, (sometimes referred to as the “rest and digest” system) to shut down. This results in poorer digestion.
This is where lavender oil comes in. One study at the Institute of Medical Chemistry at the University of Vienna showed that lavender oils relaxing, sedative effects can be obtained through topical application or inhalation of lavender oil vapor. The effects could be felt quickly and the compounds remained in the body for up to 90 minutes.
We have established that stress results in poor digestion. It only stands to reason then that calming effects of lavender oil can help the parasympathetic system get back to work and digest your food more thoroughly. If you are calm and relaxed, your whole body functions better. Stress does serve a purpose. The “fight or flight” response is meant to protect you in truly dangerous situations. But day to day stress— a mild form of this response— is so common that it just wears your body down over time and degrades your physical and mental well-being.
Using essential oils, along with making necessary lifestyle changes, can significantly reduce your stress and improve your digestion, allowing you to get the maximum benefit of the nutrients you take in. It creates an upward spiral of positive momentum that leads to better overall health. Do some research on essential oils and their applications to see which ones might be most beneficial to you— although as we’ve shown here, lavender oil might be a great place to start.