Essential oils are the pure essence of a plant. They are extracted from the seeds, roots, barks, stems, leaves, or flowers of a plant by a process of steam distillation. The oil that is extracted is very concentrated and potent.
The oils give plants their unique scent, but they also protect plants from disease and predators, as well as assisting with the pollination process that ensures their survival. They aren’t only helpful for plants though, they can bring us plenty of benefits too. They have been used in cooking, in beauty therapies, and in medicines for many years. Essential oils are also widely used in aromatherapy practices, as once inhaled, they can easily reach the limbic system of the brain which controls emotion, and mood, via the smell receptors in the nose. This makes them very useful for bringing about benefits in relation to altering mood and stress levels. Some oils have been proven to be useful for depression and anxiety, and other mood disorders.
There are over 3000 known essential oils, and their composition varies depending on how they are harvested, what time of year it is, and how they are processed. This all impacts on the purity and potency of an oil. Generally, the purer the oil, the more potent the benefits. Oils can be used alone or as part of a blend, depending on the desired benefits of the user.
How essential oils can be used
Essential oils are absorbed quickly by the smell receptors in the nose and travel to the limbic system of the brain, which controls mood, emotion, and memory. This is why oils are so popular in aromatherapy. Some oils are used for boosting mood and some are used for calming purposes, among many other things. Oils can be put into a diffuser so they disperse in a room, or they can be inhaled directly from a handkerchief or from the bottle. If you mix them with water, they make a good room or linen spray. They are also effective for cleaning household surfaces, especially if they are citrus-based. They not only cut through grime, but they will leave your house smelling lovely too. Use them on to clean showers, toilets, and worktops.
Many oils have a long history of use in cooking or baking. As well as giving food added taste and aroma, they can provide many health benefits, in a very concentrated dose.
Taking an oil as a supplement gives you a very concentrated dose of benefits, but always be sure to follow instructions on dosage, as some oils can be highly toxic in large amounts. Natural does not mean safe, and the active compounds in essential oils can act just like those in a drug. Seek advice of a suitably qualified professional before taking any oils internally. You can use oils instead of dried herbs and spices in cooking, or you can add them to milk, smoothies, and soups. Remember that a little oil goes a long way though, so start off using a small amount.
Essential oils can easily penetrate the skin. They are widely used in massage for this reason, and when diluted with a carrier oil, they can be dispersed in the body more easily and bring about considerable local or systemic benefits. Always do a patch test on the skin of your upper arm to check for sensitivity, and start with a small amount of oil at first. Never apply oil to the ears or near the eyes, or to any areas of sensitive or broken skin. Remember, too, that some oils can increase sensitivity to the sun, so use them with caution. This is especially true of citrus based oils.
Try adding a few drops of oil to your bath, to a hot or cold compress, or to your favourite body lotion.
The digestive system
The digestive system consists of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. When food enters the mouth, it passes through the digestive tract. Bacteria in the digestive tract help with digestion, as do the nervous and circulatory systems.
Digestion breaks down the food we eat into essential nutrients, which the body needs for energy, growth, and cell repair. Foods and liquids are converted into smaller molecules of nutrients before being absorbed into the blood which carries them into the body’s cells. These molecules are broken down further into carbohydrates, protein, fats, and vitamins.
Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and fibre which are found in many foods. Carbohydrates are classed as either simple or complex, depending on their structure. Simple carbohydrates include sugars which occur naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products, as well as added sugars which are added during the manufacturing process. Complex carbohydrates are the starches and fibre which are found in whole-grain breads and cereals, starchy vegetables, and legumes.
Foods such as meat, eggs, and beans are rich in dietary protein that the body digests into smaller molecules called amino acids. The body absorbs amino acids through the small intestine into the blood, which then carries into the body’s cells.
Fat molecules are a rich source of energy for the body and they also help the body absorb vitamins. Oils, such as corn, canola, olive, safflower, soybean, and sunflower, are examples of healthy fats. The oils which are used to make baked goods and processed snack foods are unhealthy fats. When the body breaks fats down, they become fatty acids and glycerol.
Water-soluble vitamins include all the B vitamins and vitamin C. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. Each vitamin has a different role to play in maintaining health. The body stores fat-soluble vitamins in the liver and fatty tissues, whereas the body does not easily store water-soluble vitamins and flushes out any excess in the urine.
How does digestion work?
Digestion begins in the mouth with chewing and ends in the small intestine. As food passes through the digestive tract, it mixes with the digestive juices, which breaks food down into small molecules. The body then absorbs these small molecules through the walls of the small intestine, where they then pass into the bloodstream, which delivers them to the rest of the body. Waste products of digestion pass through the large intestine and out of the body as solid matter called stool.
How does food move through the GI tract?
There is a layer of smooth muscle that allows the walls of the digestive organs to move. This movement is the action which propels food and liquid through the digestive tract.
When you swallow, food pushes down into the oesophagus, which is a muscular tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach. A sphincter between the oesophagus and the stomach controls how liquid and food passes into the stomach.
The stomach stores the swallowed food and liquid and mixes the food and liquid with the digestive juices. The broken down food and drink becomes a liquid called chyme, which is emptied into the small intestine.
The muscles of the small intestine mix the food with digestive juices from the pancreas, liver, and intestine. The walls of the small intestine absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. The blood then delivers the nutrients to the rest of the body.
The waste products of the digestive process, such as undigested bits of food and older cells from the lining of the digestive tract. The waste products are pushed into the large intestine. The large intestine absorbs the water and any remaining nutrients and changes the waste from liquid into a hard stool.
When the digestive system is working well, you feel energetic, and in good health. But when there’s a problem, you will feel tired, bloated, and out of sorts.
Constipation is a common condition that can affects people of any age. Constipation occurs when you aren’t passing stools regularly or you feel like you’re unable to completely empty your bowel.
Constipation can also cause your bowel movements to be hard and lumpy, as well as unusually large or small.
Many people only suffer from constipation for a short time, but sometimes, it can become a chronic condition that can cause pain and discomfort and which can seriously affect quality of life.
Normal bowel habits vary from person to person. Some people go to the toilet more than once a day, whereas others may only go every three or four days.
It may also feel more difficult to pass stools and you may feel unable to empty your bowel completely.
Other symptoms of constipation can include stomach cramps, feeling bloated, nausea, and loss of appetite.
What causes constipation?
Sometimes it’s not clear what the exact cause is, but there are factors that are known to contribute to it:
not eating enough dietary fibre, such as fruit, vegetables, and cereals
changes in your routine or lifestyle, such as a change in your eating habits
ignoring the urge to go to the toilet
side effects of some medications
not drinking enough fluids
anxiety or depression
Treatments for constipation
Treatment for constipation usually depends on the cause, how long you’ve had it and how bad your symptoms are.
In a lot of cases, it’s possible to relieve symptoms simply by making dietary and lifestyle changes. Here are some tips on how to beat constipation:
Increase your intake of fibre
Try to eat at least 18-30g of fibre a day, including plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, and cereals.
Add some bulk to your diet such as wheat bran
This will help to make stools softer and easier to pass.
Drink plenty of water, and other sugar-free fluids
Exercise more regularly
For example, by going for a daily walk or run. This will help to stimulate bowel movements.
If constipation is causing pain or discomfort, take a painkiller, such as paracetamol.
Don’t take medication such as codeine, as this has side effects which include constipation.
Always use the toilet when you feel the need- Delaying your toilet visits can contribute to constipation.
Try resting your feet on a low stool while going to the toilet
This can make passing stools easier.
Ask your GP to review medication you’re taking, as it may be causing constipation.
These might be prescribed by your doctor if lifestyle changes don’t help. Laxatives are a type of medicine that help you pass stools more easily. There are different kinds of laxative and each one will have a different effect on your digestive system.
These are usually the first ones that your doctor will try. These help your stools to hold onto fluid so they won’t out and be hard to pass. These laxatives all make your stools softer so they should be easier to pass. When you take this type of laxative, you must drink plenty of fluids, and make sure you don’t take them before going to bed. It will usually be two to three days before you feel the effects of this kind of laxative.
If your stools are still hard after you’ve taken a bulk-forming laxative, your doctor might prescribe an osmotic laxative instead. Osmotic laxatives increase the total amount of fluid in your bowels. This softens your stools and stimulates your body to pass them. As with bulk-forming laxatives, make sure you drink enough fluids when you take these. It will usually be two to three days before you feel the effects of these laxatives.
If your stools are soft, but you have difficulty passing them, your doctor may prescribe a laxative to stimulate your bowel. This type of laxative stimulates the muscles that line your digestive tract, which helps them to move stools and waste products along your large intestine more easily.
These laxatives are usually only used as a short-term measure, and they start to work within 6 to 12 hours of taking them.
How long do you need to use laxatives for?
If you’ve had constipation for a short time, your doctor will probably tell you to stop taking the laxative once your stools are soft and you can visit the toilet easily.
However, if your constipation is caused by an existing medical condition or a medicine you’re taking, you may have to take laxatives for much longer, possibly many months or even years, to manage the effects caused by your condition or the medication you are on.
If you’ve been taking laxatives for some time, you should gradually reduce your dose, rather than coming off them straight away. This can take several months, then your body’s normal bowel function should be restored.
There are many essential oils that are good for the digestive system and that can relieve the symptoms of constipation. Mix the oil you choose with a carrier oil such as coconut oil in a 1-2 drop of essential oil to a tablespoon of carrier oil ratio. The solution should then be massaged into the abdomen. Focus on the known acupressure point for easing digestive problems; which is 2 inches or so under the belly button.
Aside from topical application and massage, you can add up to 10 drops of your chosen oil to a warm bath. The combination of the oil and warm water will both soothe the digestive system and promote regular bowel movements. Here are the best essential oils for constipation:
This herb is associated with cooking and it’s a known memory booster, but rosemary oil has also been used in a wide variety of digestive remedies for centuries. It is thought to help calm and soothe the digestive system and it relieves bloating and constipation.
Sweet Basil Oil
Basil is most often thought of for its use in cuisine, but the oil also has a long history of use in herbal medicine too. It is considered a useful herb for digestive disorders, and its essential oil can be useful in preparations for constipation relief.
Lemon essential oil is well known for its pleasant and fresh scent. Lemon oil is considered to be one of the most effective oils for constipation. It also has plenty of other applications, including as a household cleaner and insect repellent.
The benefits of citrus oils just keep coming, and orange oil is no exception. The oil provides similar benefits to the digestive system and it can help to relieve constipation.
Fennel is not one of the most well-known oils, but it’s probably most closely associated with its culinary uses. Mixing fennel with peppermint oil is an excellent remedy for the relief of constipation. Massage it into the abdomen, but dilute it with a carrier oil first.
Whether used alone or with small amounts of other complementary oils, peppermint is one of the most popular alternative remedies for digestive problems and is one of the most well researched natural remedies for bloating. It has been shown in studies to be useful in relieving the symptoms of IBS and relaxing the digestive system in general.
Rose oil not only smells gorgeous, it’s also a wonderfully soothing remedy for constipation when massaged topically on the abdominal area.
Black Pepper Oil
Black pepper is most well-known for seasoning food, but the oil is also useful. It is very effective for constipation when massaged into the abdomen.
Marjoram is most often used to season stews and meats, but it has also been used for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes. Constipation is just one of the many ills that its thought to treat.
Ginger is one of the best known natural remedies for digestive complaints. It’s very effective for nausea and motion sickness, and when applied topically to the abdomen and massaged in, it can treat constipation.