When we say you are what you eat, it’s not just a quip or playful admonition. What enters your digestive system quite literally shapes your gut health. The digestive tract is a center of nutrition, of course, but also immunity and even neural processes. If the intestinal tract is faltering, the whole body suffers.
So, when we say that essential oils are good for gut health, it means they are good for whole body health, by proxy.
The tides of natural health could not have turned toward natural health at a more important time in our cultural history. Everything about our society is moving us further away from optimal health, shifting the balance of bacteria toward processed foods, dangerous antibiotic-resistant strains, and damaging our bodies from the inside out.
Protecting the core of our body is paramount to natural health, and essential oils are a key partner.
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Gut Health is The Cornerstone of Wellness
Raised on the belief that microbes are inherently bad, with products that proudly claim to kill “99.9%” of bacteria, our society seems to struggle with the idea that bacteria can be – and usually are – good for you. We house bacteria on our skin and all throughout our bodies. In fact, the NIH Human Microbiome Project has proven that the human body actually contains trillions of microorganisms; literally outnumbering human cells 10 to 1! And what most people don’t realize is that a major hub of microbial focus is in the gut.
It’s important to understand that bacteria are most frequently our allies, because the way we approach bacteria ultimately determines how successful our attempts at wellness can be. Without beneficial bacteria to balance the deleterious strains, we are susceptible to intestinal damage, illness, mental and emotional stress, and so much more.
Be sure you don’t discount the importance of gut health because it is responsible for a vast majority of your immune function! From a seminal 2008 report:
The gastrointestinal system plays a central role in immune system homeostasis. It is the main route of contact with the external environment and is overloaded every day with external stimuli, sometimes dangerous as pathogens (bacteria, protozoa, fungi, viruses) or toxic substances, in other cases very useful as food or commensal flora. The crucial position of the gastrointestinal system is testified by the huge amount of immune cells that reside within it.
Indeed, gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is the prominent part of mucosal-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) and represents almost 70% of the entire immune system; moreover, about 80% of plasma cells [mainly immunoglobulin A (IgA)-bearing cells] reside in GALT. GALT interacts strictly with gastrointestinal functions in a dynamic manner; for instance, by increasing intestinal permeability in replay to particular stimulations, or orientating the immune response towards luminal content, allowing either tolerance or elimination/degradation of luminal antigens, or sometimes provoking damage to the intestinal mucosa, such as in coeliac disease or food allergy. (1)
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The Anti-bacterial Problem That Hurts Gut Health
Before we dive into the Top 6 Essential Oils for Gut Health, we need to address the elephant in the room: our obsession with being “clean” and killing bacteria.
There is certainly a time and a place for antibacterial effects and even antibiotics. In fact, there are essential oils that carry these actions. Sound like a contradiction? It’s not. It’s not the act of eliminating a bacteria that’s the concern; it’s the lifestyle of being anti bacterial.
When we are anti-bacterial and out to destroy it haphazardly, we miss the mark in a big way.
Yet, we are interrupting healthy bacterial growth in every phase of life. Babies are increasingly born via C-section, which bypasses the mother’s birth canal and loses valuable transfers of beneficial bacteria from mother to baby. (2)
In childhood, children are plastered with antibacterial hand sanitizers while parents scrub the house with antibacterial wipes and sprays – all the while killing weaker bacterial strains and allowing the more dominant to resist the component and live on.
As young adults, we often become a little to free with “junk” foods, damaging beneficial intestinal bacteria. As older adults, we’ve spent a lifetime damaging and otherwise eliminating bacteria, and the effects begin to surface as GERD, leaky gut, IBS, and more.
Healing the gut is a topic to come, but for now let’s work to overcome the struggles that we’ve created for ourselves in this dangerously hygienic world!
Holistic Gut Health Solutions
With a shift in focus away from eliminating dangerous bacteria and toward strengthening good bacteria, holistic options are available to us.
Holistic refers to the body as a whole, which means we can take those first baby steps toward wellness from any area of our lives. Diet is a primary concern, improving the gut directly via the substances that come in contact with it – particularly in light of many meat sources relying on gross misuse of antibiotics that may be retained in the meat itself. (3) Cleaning supplies that do not harshly eliminate beneficial bacteria are also important, as well.
Believe it or not, even stress plays a role in gut health. A Harvard educational article describes this phenomenon as the “brain-gut axis,” explaining,
The enteric nervous system is sometimes referred to as a “second brain” because it relies on the same types of neurons and neurotransmitters that are found in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)… researchers are interested in understanding how psychological or social stress might cause digestive problems. (4)
Essential oils, if you haven’t heard, can meet each of these needs – from improving the intestinal tract directly to cleaning up our cleaning products to relieving stress. If you’re ready to be good to your gut, get these oils:
Each of their preparations and actions are different, but the overarching effects spell wellness for the gut. Here are some of the best ways to use these essential oils for gut health.
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Top 6 Essential Oils for Gut Health
- Thyme & Rose – In a study released earlier this year, researchers found that the primary constituents of thyme and rose oil – thymol and geraniol, respectively – “could be effective in suppressing pathogens in the small intestine, with no concern for beneficial commensal colonic bacteria in the distal gut.” (5)
- Cardamom – Both anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, cardamom is a soothing oil related to the ginger family. It has been associated with many digestive health benefits, including gastroprotective effects. (6)
- Peppermint – Cool and soothing, peppermint oil has been shown to improve IBS, one of the most common disruptors for gut health, when taken in a professional grade, enteric coated, commercial supplement. (7)
- Clove – As an oil with some of the most eugenol, clove is an efficient antimicrobial that can counter Candida albicans overgrowth. Its effects against the yeast are effective to the point that an over the counter internal preparation is being studied using clove oil. (8)
- Tea Tree & Oregano – A powerful duo, tea tree and oregano essential oils are the case-in-point for antibacterial as a beneficial component, compared against harsher, synthetic or toxic antibacterials. Use in DIY cleaners to help stop the spread of viral illnesses without attempting to bleach away the good with the bad.
- Fennel – Used as a digestive stimulant in whole-herb form, the essential oil retains some of the soothing components for the gut as an anti-spasmodic, likely connected to the estragole content. (9) This component is also found in fennel. Aromatherapy and diluted topical use are very popular, but since estragole has been monitored for potential toxicity internally some recommend against ingesting it.
BONUS: Not making the Top 6 Essential Oils for Gut Health list, don’t forget about Tarragon. It’s still a super healing oil that promotes gut health as well!
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