Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the large intestine (colon). The condition causes inflammation in the colon that leads to ulcers, which produce mucus and pus and can cause painful symptoms. If you have UC, you may be taking medication and adhering to a special diet to alleviate symptoms and reduce flare-ups. Many people with UC also use at-home remedies in conjunction with traditional medications to manage the condition.
Essential oils make use of natural plant extracts for their health benefits. Essential oils and plants and herbs in their crude form may help manage inflammation from ulcerative colitis.
What Is Ulcerative Colitis?
Ulcerative colitis is one of the primary forms of inflammatory bowel disease.
An estimated 3 million people in the United States live with IBD. Most people with UC are diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 40 years old, but the condition can affect people of any age.
There is no cure for ulcerative colitis, so treatments focus on managing symptoms and reducing flare-ups.
Symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:
- Abdominal cramping and pain
- Bloody stool
- Frequent urge to have a bowel movement
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
What causes UC is not fully understood. Genetics, environmental factors, and abnormal immune responses are all potential causes. Some research suggests that a viral or bacterial infection may be responsible for the development and progression of the disease in some people.
Essential Oils for UC Symptoms
Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts derived from the roots, stems, leaves, and flowers of plants. These extracts contain many therapeutic properties that may provide some relief for certain health conditions.
Many essential oils have anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties that may benefit people living with ulcerative colitis. Use of these essential oils or herbs may provide people living with UC with much-needed symptom relief.
Turmeric is a popular spice often used in cooking and has been used for thousands of years for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticancer properties. It can also be purchased and used in the form of essential oil.
Curcumin—the active ingredient in turmeric—has strong anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce UC symptoms.
One study has found that patients with mild-to-moderate UC who took a combination of mesalamine (a common medication to treat UC) and 3,000 milligrams of curcumin each day achieved remission (symptom relief) faster than the group given placebos (substances with no therapeutic effect).
Numerous studies have been done on the effects of ginger on gastrointestinal disorders such as UC, and for good reason. Ginger has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is commonly used to reduce nausea, bloating, and gas, and improve digestion.
Lavender has a long history of treating many health conditions, including digestive disorders. It is also widely used to soothe anxiety and promote sleep.
Many people with UC experience sleep issues, such as having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Lavender oil is effective at improving sleep quality. One study found that lavender not only helped people fall asleep but also enhanced the quality of their sleep. Participants reported waking up feeling more refreshed.
Adding lavender essential oil to a warm bath or spraying some on your linens may help you get a good night’s sleep despite your UC pain.
Myrrh essential oil is made from resin extracted from the Commiphora myrrha tree. Traditionally used to treat inflammatory diseases due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, myrrh essential oil may be helpful in reducing UC-related inflammation.
A cell culture study showed that the combination of myrrh, charcoal, coffee, and chamomile extract may have some benefit in treating IBD due to the combined ingredients’ anti-inflammatory properties.
Peppermint oil has been used for centuries to help relieve symptoms of gastrointestinal ailments.
Peppermint is known to have antispasmodic (relieving spasms of involuntary muscles) and anti-inflammatory effects in the gastrointestinal tract. Research shows it effectively reduces cramping and pain. Peppermint oil is also effective at reducing nausea.
Peppermint oil can be diffused for use in aromatherapy or can be purchased as a dietary supplement. If you opt for peppermint as a supplement, look for enteric-coated tablets to aid in absorption.
Using Essential Oils for Inflammation
There are a few different ways to use essential oils for inflammation, including:
- Bath: Add a few drops of your preferred essential oil to your bathwater to enjoy the aroma and potential health benefits.
- Diffusion: A diffuser dispenses a mist of essential oil particles into the air, and inhaling the scent may help reduce some UC symptoms. If you don’t have a diffuser, you can dilute the essential oil in water in a spray bottle and spritz the oil onto your linens or into the air in your home.
- Massage: Dilute essential oils with a carrier oil (such as olive oil or sunflower oil) and apply it directly to the affected area. Gently massage the essential oil/carrier oil combination onto your stomach, for example, to help reduce abdominal cramping and pain.
Most essential oils should not be swallowed, but dietary supplements can be consumed in capsule form. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before adding essential oils or any herbs to your treatment plan.
A Word From Verywell
Though there is no cure for ulcerative colitis, there are ways to manage the condition and improve your quality of life. In addition to dietary changes and taking prescription medications recommended by your healthcare provider, complementary therapies such as essential oil use can help reduce painful symptoms and the incidence of flare-ups. Many essential oils have anti-inflammatory properties that can help manage the condition, while others have calming and soothing properties to help reduce stress and anxiety and improve sleep.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do essential oils for ulcerative colitis provide immediate relief?
Whether an essential oil provides immediate relief depends on the type of oil you are using and the symptom and/or condition you are trying to treat. Lavender, for example, may help soothe anxiety and help you fall asleep quickly. Whereas peppermint essential oil may require repeated use in order to soothe the digestive tract and reduce painful UC symptoms. In many cases, you may notice improved symptoms after using the essential oil over a period of time.
What are the best anti-inflammatory essential oils?
Many essential oils have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body. The most powerful anti-inflammatory essential oils include:
- Tea tree