Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) with some pretty uncomfortable symptoms. It doesn’t currently have a cure. While prescription medications can help, they sometimes come with pretty unwelcome side effects.

Some folks who experience this disease may turn to alternative medicine for relief. But is there any evidence that any essential oils can be effective for Crohn’s? We found out.

While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with your healthcare provider before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

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More than half a million people in the United States have Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s can affect anyone, but it’s more likely to develop in your 20s or if you smoke regularly. Symptoms of Crohn’s include diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fatigue. Researchers aren’t sure what causes it, but stress and certain foods seem to trigger symptoms.

If you have Crohn’s, you’ll experience periods where your intestinal inflammation flares up and times when it’s in remission. Medications (like corticosteroids, aminosalicylates, and immunosuppressants) can help. But they might not be able to clear all of your symptoms. Some patients look for alternative treatments, too, including essential oils.

Essential oils are extracted from the flowers, roots, stems, leaves, and other parts of plants. When you inhale a scent, it triggers a powerful emotional response. The essential oil molecules can also travel into your lungs and bloodstream and then to organs and other tissues. You can also absorb them through your skin.

One report in a nursing journal suggests that aromatherapy could relieve symptoms like:

  • pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • stress
  • insomnia

Here’s some of what scientists have learned about essential oils and Crohn’s so far.

Artemisia absinthium (aka wormwood) sounds like something you’d find in a potion book. Is this shrubby plant a magical treatment for Crohn’s? No. But there is some research that suggests wormwood’s more effective than a placebo in achieving remission.

There are two small, older studies that gave Crohn’s patients wormwood powder to ingest. In each study, the majority of patients who took wormwood experienced remission. Keep in mind that this study didn’t involve essential oils, but it does show promise that this plant could be useful in managing Crohn’s.

Patchouli oil comes from the Pogostemon cablin plant’s leaves. Love it or hate it, you can find fragrant patchouli pretty much everywhere from cosmetics to meditation. But does it actually work?

Turns out, there’s some evidence behind this trend. Animal research supports claims that patchouli is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and beneficial for digestive ailments like ulcers and colitis.

Who doesn’t love peppermint? If you’ve ever popped a mint or sipped some peppermint tea to settle an upset stomach, you’re not alone. It’s a common herbal remedy for digestive problems, and there’s even some research to back it up.

Studies suggest that peppermint oil may help ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This isn’t the same disease as Crohn’s or other inflammatory bowel diseases, but they do share similarities. Peppermint’s potential anti-inflammatory properties could be helpful for folks with Crohn’s.

In a 2018 study, researchers gave menthol (a compound in peppermint) to rats with colitis. The treatment improved weight gain, ulcers, oxidative stress, and inflammation. This is promising, but again, the menthol used in this study wasn’t in the form of an essential oil. We need more research before we know whether peppermint oil is safe and effective.

You may know frankincense as one of the famed Wise Men’s gifts, or as that woodsy-smelling stick of incense your free-spirited friend burns. Made from the wood and resin of the Boswellia tree, frankincense is a traditional Ayurvedic remedy used for inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s.

There’s not much scientific research on whether it can help with Crohn’s, though. Here’s what we know.

  • In a study of 102 patients with Crohn’s, Boswellia serrata extract induced remission better than the drug mesalazine.
  • Another study of 82 patients found that frankincense capsules were no more effective than placebo pills at maintaining remission.
  • In a study of lab-created intestinal cells, applying frankincense extract seemed to protect the intestinal barrier from inflammatory damage.

Could it be good for more than a delicious caprese salad? Basil is a traditional remedy for digestive ailments, but there’s very little research on the use of basil essential oil to treat gastrointestinal disorders.

There’s evidence that basil essential oil can have an anti-inflammatory effect in rats when it’s taken orally. Since Crohn’s is an inflammatory illness, it’s possible that basil could have some benefit. Plus, in a 2018 study of mice, scientists found that basil extract had antioxidant and anti-inflammatory impacts on gastric ulcers caused by aspirin.

PSA: Despite these promising results, many healthcare professionals caution against ingesting essential oils because it could lead to serious side effects. Always talk with your doctor before trying it to understand the risks.

There’s just not enough research to outline a dosage and protocol for using essential oils to relieve Crohn’s symptoms. While some options like basil and peppermint are common and safe food ingredients, the quality and effect of extracts can vary widely.

Talk with your doctor before adding an essential oil to your treatment plan. They can help you find out the right dosing and recommend a trusted brand if they think you could benefit from.

Reminder: Essential oils aren’t a product that the FDA keeps a close eye on for quality or effectiveness. Using essential oils can come with risks. They can catch fire, they may be toxic if you swallow them, and they can cause allergic reactions, skin irritation, and eye injury. Never ingest essential oils without direction from your doctor.

Along with the potential side effects, another drawback to ingesting essential oils is that they may lose their antioxidant properties before they get to you small intestine. (That’s where they would be most effective in treating Crohn’s symptoms.) Also, what’s inside your essential oils will vary depending on where plants were grown, how the oils were extracted, and more.

We really need more research on the specific components of essential oils before there’s a clear understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of these oils.

There isn’t as much evidence behind complementary therapies compared to more conventional treatments. But some therapies are of particular interest to people with Crohn’s.

  • Probiotics. Some studies suggest these friendly bacteria may be able to improve digestive health.
  • Turmeric. There’s evidence that this spice can help ease inflammatory diseases.
  • Aloe vera juice. This soothing sip may also be anti-inflammatory and is traditionally used to heal wounds.
  • Cannabis. The compounds in this plant may help control nausea and improve appetite.
  • Acupuncture. Studies suggest this type of traditional medicine could help.

Some scientists believe essential oils are a promising alternative treatment. But there isn’t enough research yet behind essential oils and Crohn’s disease to know whether it’s safe or effective. Always check with your doctor before using this alternative therapy.