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 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. In fact, your microbiome is directly linked to your body weight and appetite.
The Gut and Immunity
The health of your gut is responsible for a vast majority of your immune function because a huge number of immune cells reside within it. Here’s the science from a groundbreaking 2008 report for those of you interested:
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 when it faces particular stimulations (this can happen over-and-over), or focusing 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 celiac disease or food allergy.
Are You Too Clean?
Our society is obsessed with cleanliness 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 bacterium 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.
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 too 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.
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. 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. This phenomenon is called the “brain-gut axis,” and the nervous system within the gut is often referred to as a “second brain” because it relies on the same types of neurons and neurotransmitters found in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord.
Researchers are interested in understanding how psychological or social stress might cause digestive problems. Essential oils, if you haven’t heard, can meet each of these needs – from promoting the health of the intestinal tract directly to cleaning up our cleaning products to supporting a normal stress response.
Top 6 Essential Oils for Gut Health
If you’re ready to be good to your gut, get these oils:
Thyme & Rose – In a study released earlier this year, researchers found the primary constituents of thyme and rose oil – thymol and geraniol, respectively – could be effective in promoting the body’s innate resistance to pathogens in the small intestine, with no concern for beneficial commensal colonic bacteria in the distal gut.
Cardamom – Helps maintain a normal inflammatory response and supports a calm gut lining. Cardamom is a soothing oil related to the ginger family. It has been associated with many digestive health benefits, including gastroprotective effects.
Peppermint – Cool and soothing, peppermint is one of the most popular oils for supporting digestion. It may also be helpful in SIBO and IBS, two of the most common disruptors of gut health.
Clove – As a top source of the compound eugenol, clove is an efficient tool for promoting the body’s innate resistance to microbes, particularly Candida albicans, the pathogen responsible for most human yeast infections. Oil of cloves or eugenol is commonly used by dentists because it promotes a healthy, normal inflammatory response in the mouth, which we know is connected to the gut. Clove oil, as well as cinnamon, basil, and nutmeg oils—each of which also contain eugenol—are a common ingredient in mouthwashes, toothpastes, soaps, insect repellents, perfumes, and foods.
Tea Tree & Oregano – A powerful duo, tea tree and oregano essential oils are great for promoting the body’s innate resistance to pathogens. This combo is effective for DIY cleaning solutions compared to harsher, synthetic or toxic over-the-counter antibacterial cleaning supplies. It promotes cleanliness without beaching away the good bacteria 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, likely connected to the estragole content. 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!