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Aromatherapy & Irritable Bowel Syndrome

An aromatherapy approach to a client with IBS By Kate Mulliss

Before undertaking any aromatherapy massage we need to be clear about our client’s individual symptoms, expectations and treatment goals.  There are lots of great oils at our disposal to blend for the relief of stress and anxiety and a great number of oils that can be antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic.

As the symptoms of IBS are extremely individualistic, an aromatherapy session may focus around a number of treatment aims such as

  • stimulating digestion
  • reducing nausea
  • strengthening the immune system
  • soothing muscle spasms
  • promoting proper bowel movements

Appropriately applied abdominal massage – to either soothe or encourage peristaltic movements can also be very effective to help ease symptoms such as constipation, spasm and trapped wind.

While a particular blends may be effective at treating one troublesome symptom of IBS it may not be the solution to all IBS symptoms. Don’t underestimate essential oil blends to help with reducing emotional stress and anxiety, for promoting deep and restful sleep, or for balancing hormones and the positive effect that this can have on reducing the severity of some IBS symptoms.   

Useful IBS Oils:  Peppermint, Roman Chamomile, Sweet Marjoram, True Lavender

Oils that we often think of as good for digestive issues often come from seeds.  Such oils are generally rich in ethers and phenyl methyl ethers and, while they need to be blended carefully, they provide strong antispasmodic properties.  Most also have good analgesic properties due to their high monoterpene content.  Seed oils also impart a spicy or earthy aroma which can be mentally uplifting and comforting.

Seeds:  Anise, Cardamom, Coriander, Nutmeg, Sweet Fennel

Citrus oils high in monoterpenes are antimicrobial and assist with detoxification, so also make good choices to incorporate in blends for digestive issues.  In addition they add an uplifting quality to a blend making them ideal for low mood and depression.

Citrus:  Bergamot, Grapefruit, Mandarin, Sweet Orange

Oils extracted from roots and rhizomes contain sesquiterpenes which, while not found in large quantities are useful therapeutically due to their tonifying, sedating, anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic qualities. 

Roots & Rhizomes:  Ginger, Plai, Vetivert, Turmeric

Oils from resins are composed of complex combinations of functional groups, but they are generally regarded as being relaxing and grounding and recommended when stress, nervous exhaustion and nervous tension are an issue.

Resins:  Frankincense, Myrrh, Benzoin

As professional aromatherapists we acknowledge that our clients are unique individuals so the outcome of a treatment cannot be absolutely guaranteed.    IBS is a complex multifactorial condition for which there is no one correct blend or treatment sequence.   However, helping to release/reduce emotional stress and tension can in turn help unblock muscular tension – this is particularly pertinent to the musculature of the GI tract

Kate Mulliss

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Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils to restore balance to mind, body and spirit. Essential oils are natural essences extracted from a wide variety of plants. They can have many effects – antidepressant, sedative, analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory – which means that they can be used to support a wide range of needs, of both a physical and psychological nature.

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