Essential Oils for IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be debilitating, affecting between 25 and 45 million people in the USA. Learn about the symptoms of IBS and how managing stress and boosting our serotonin levels are intrinsic to maintaining good gut health. We look at the gut-brain connection to develop your understanding of just how important it is to managing IBS symptoms. Calming stress with oils like Lavender, Sweet Orange, and Basil can settle symptoms for many people. 

We look at the properties of foods like Peppermint and Ginger, which are used worldwide to reduce the symptoms of cramping and gas. Join us as we make massage oils, abdomen lotions, diffusers, and inhalation blends to create products to help us reduce symptoms using essential oils for IBS.

What is IBS - Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, commonly known as IBS, is a relatively common condition that affects the digestive system.

IBS causes physical symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Alternating between constipation and diarrhea is a common symptom and often points towards IBS being the culprit.

The symptoms associated with IBS tend to fluctuate and can come and go over time. Sometimes the symptoms can last for days, weeks, or months.

IBS is usually a lifelong problem. It can be a very frustrating condition to live with and can significantly impact your everyday life, especially if you are trotting off to the loo every so often throughout the day.

IBS can make going out in public a stressful anticipatory experience, and some people start to avoid such situations because of their IBS and the issues it brings.

There is no known cure yet for IBS, so it is a condition that must be managed. Much of the management of IBS centers around dietary and nutritional changes and medicines used to help control the symptoms.

The exact cause of IBS and why it develops is unknown. However, it has been linked to a few possible reasons:

    • Food passes through your gut too quickly or too slowly, and conditions like Leaky Gut Syndrome.
    • Oversensitive nerves in your stomach and the overstimulation of these. 
    • Stress, anxiety, and worry
    • Genetics and family history of IBS.

Symptoms of IBS

The most common irritable bowel syndrome symptoms tend to be:

    • Stomach pain, abdominal spasms, or cramps are usually worse after eating and tend to improve after pooping.
    • Bloating, where your stomach may feel uncomfortably full and swollen, and your clothes may feel tighter.
    • Having diarrhea is a more watery poop; sometimes, it feels like you need to poop quite suddenly.
    • Struggling with constipation is where you may strain when pooping, and it can also feel like you cannot empty your bowels fully and still feel the need to poop or feel pressure in your colon.

Less common symptoms of IBS:

    • Flatulence or passing gas
    • Passing mucus from your bottom
    • Tiredness, a lack of energy, and a general feeling of lethargy.
    • Feeling nauseous or sick
    • Backache, usually in the lower back
    • Problems have a wee, like needing to pee often, sudden urges to pee, and feeling like you cannot empty your bladder.
    • Bowel incontinence, not always being able to control when you poop.

IBS Symptoms can fluctuate, so there may be days when your symptoms are better than others and days when they are worse. Days, where they worsen significantly are generally called 'flare-ups.' It should be noted that IBS flare-ups can happen for no apparent reason.

However, certain foods may trigger many flare-ups; spicy, fatty foods are usually the most at fault. Drinks like alcohol or caffeine can cause triggers. Equally, stress and anxiety can be triggers in their own right. Worrying and getting anxious about situations can often send you straight to the loo.

We can use essential oils to address the symptoms of IBS that we find the most distressing or problematic. 

The Benefits of Using Essential Oils For IBS

Essential oils and their chemical constituents and properties offer us natural remedies and alternatives to control and relieve some symptoms of IBS rather than pharmaceutical or chemical options. Many people prefer to turn to more natural IBS symptom relief these days.

Soothing IBS symptoms naturally may be different for everyone, and you may not experience the same symptoms as the person next to you or the one after that. Using essential oils allows you to target your symptoms and develop products and essential oil blends that suit you.

Peppermint is widely recommended for digestive upsets worldwide, but I find the commercial peppermint capsules too harsh, and my system cannot cope with their strength. However, I am well versed in using oils like peppermint essential oil to reduce IBS-related stress with essential oils significantly.

Holistic IBS Management

Understanding your symptoms and triggers is vital to utilizing essential oils successfully.

However, we don't just want to address the symptom; we want to approach it holistically and look at it from the mind-body-spirit perspective. What is underlying the symptoms? Often emotional disruption and life's upheavals can go hand in hand with IBS… as does stress.

Consider your mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being when designing essential oil blends for IBS.

Reducing IBS-related stress with essential oils is well within your grasp.

The Importance Of Managing Stress and Boosting Serotonin in IBS

When looking for a quick fix for your immediate IBS symptoms, it can be a bit of an eye-roller when someone tells you to manage your stress. I'm going to say it anyway, but I'm also going to explain to you why.

Managing and reducing your stress levels can improve your IBS-related symptoms. 

Let's Talk About How Stress Can Affect Your IBS

We all know that stress can impact not only our mental well-being but also our physical well-being. It is well-researched that stress can cause changes to our body, affect our hormone levels, interfere with nerve signaling, and even diminish the healthy levels of our gut bacteria. All these stress-induced changes in our body can contribute to IBS and its related symptoms.

Here are some ways that stress can affect us physically and how it contributes to our IBS symptoms.

Our perception of pain - stress affecting the nerve signaling can lead to higher pain sensitivity in our bowels, especially the colon and the rectum. This heightened sensitivity leads to the perception of experiencing more acute abdominal pain.

Brain battles - Parts of our brain that are usually associated with attention experience a change when we are stressed, and our brains become more focused on the physical sensations in our body than usual. We have a greater consciousness of our pain. 

The long and short of this is - more stress = a more excellent perception of pain.

The point I want to educate you about today is your gut health and the importance of gut bacteria. Gut bacteria is like one giant brain and is a fascinating subject, the Gut-Brain connection. I highly recommend learning about if you are living with chronic stress or illness; we look at this shortly. 

When we are stressed, these are some of the ways that it can impact us physically:

Diminishes our healthy gut bacteria: Stress, particularly chronic stress, can affect our levels of beneficial gut bacteria and how it all interacts with our nervous and immune systems.

Switches our immune system on: Stress can activate our immune system, and if we are experiencing a chronic system, our whole system stays activated. That's only sometimes good because it behaves like it is responding to an allergic reaction. Also, we have pain receptor cells that get activated, which can increase our sensitivity to pain with IBS.

Secretes hormones: When we are stressed, we can experience hormonal changes. One of these changes is releasing a corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). This release affects the changes in our healthy gut bacteria and how our immune systems respond, and this snowball effect takes its toll on our IBS symptoms.

You can see that while we like to THINK that our stress is not having too much of an impact on us - (probably, because it can seem complicated to change it) - that in reality, our stress may be directly contributing to the exacerbation of our IBS-related symptoms.

There are many different ways to manage your stress; you can find some ideas here to get you started. 

Stress and IBS: The Gut-Brain Link, Causes, & Management

3 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress When You Have IBS

The Fundamental Importance of The Gut-Brain Connection

As we can see from above, the changes brought about by stress upon our bodily systems are features of 'The Gut-Brain Connection.' Highlighting the two-way link between our brain and our bowels. Understanding how this works can be key in regaining control over your IBS symptoms.

Simply put, this two-way link comprises various elements, including the vagus nerve and the millions of neurons that surround our gut. Our Vagus nerve is the longest in our bodies running from our brain, through our face, thorax, and down to our abdomen, connecting, quite literally, our brain and our digestive system.

I was first introduced to the subject of healthy gut bacteria by Dr. Micheal Mosley and his book The Clever Guts Diet. Don't let the idea of it being a diet put you off; there is much to learn about the importance of your gut to your immune system and vice versa.

He describes the healthy gut bacteria and neurons as a 'second brain.' Deeply complex and, evidently, busily interacting with our actual brains. Our brain constantly sends signals to our digestive system to control our functions. Then the 'Gut Brain' sends signals back to our brains.

In IBS, the signals between our gut 'brain' and our actual brain can become disrupted; this disruption can sometimes be perceived in our bodies as pain. This gut-brain connection, also known as the Gut-Brain Axis, lies at the core and heart of IBS. The symptoms, such as diarrhea, constipation, and the pain you experience through IBS, are happening because of a glitch in the messaging between your gut and brain. Possibly, brought about because of stress, among other things.

Therefore, it makes perfect sense to try and reduce our stress and look after this internal 'Gut-Brain.'

How can I do that, I hear you ask?

Firstly, to reduce your stress, we can use essential oils to help us with this. Secondly, boost your serotonin levels. 

Serotonin and IBS

Serotonin is one of the four 'Happy Hormones' our body produces. It involves around 300 different processes and acts as a hormone and a neurotransmitter.

Serotonin deficiencies are strongly associated with depression and anxiety (although it is unclear if the depression causes weakness or vice versa). For instance, SSRI antidepressant medications are designed to block your brain's serotonin reabsorption. Keeping more Serotonin in your system will elevate your mood and make you feel 'happier.'

However, I want to address how much of an impact your gut health has on your serotonin levels. Research shows that 95% of our Serotonin is produced in the gut. Therefore, those living with digestive issues like IBS have a much higher chance that their serotonin production may be disrupted.

It stands to reason that boosting our serotonin levels when living with IBS is a positive place to start taking control of what is happening inside our bodies.

Serotonin helps move food through our digestive system and eliminate our body's waste. When our levels of Serotonin are depleted, we may end up with constipation, and when they go into overdrive, we may have diarrhea. Maintaining a healthy balance of serotonin production is key.

Research suggests several ways to support Serotonin through food. 

    1. Boosting our gut bacteria with probiotics
    2. Eating foods with tryptophan
    3. Exercising
    4. Sunning ourselves

For full details on boosting your Serotonin levels naturally with these strategies, please visit Amy Myers, MD, for her in-depth article Serotonin & The Gut: The Gut-Brain Axis.

However, we are here to look at which essential oils we can use to help boost our serotonin levels. 

Essential Oils to Boost Serotonin Levels

Here we need to look at essential oils whose chemical constituents have anxiolytic or anxiety-reducing properties. Reducing anxiety and introducing those Happy Hormones, Dopamine, Oxytocin, Endorphins, and Serotonin, benefits us in many ways, including our IBS symptoms.

If you feel that your IBS symptoms affect your serotonin levels, this is an excellent point to start from.

My Top Three Serotonin Boosters

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Used the world over to relax and reduce anxiety, it barely needs any introduction. Inhaling essential oils like Lavender can elevate our mood, and its properties help boost the levels of desired happy hormones, including Serotonin, as studied by Fung (2021).

Safety: Do not use in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Sweet Orange (Citrus sinensis L)

The same study above included the effects of Sweet Orange essential oil, and its properties were found to reduce anxiety, allowing those happy hormones to flow more efficiently within us.

Safety: Do not use in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

It is widely used across the aromatherapy world for aiding in reducing anxiety. A 2019 study by Sentari (2019) studied how Basil essential oil affected depression (in mice). It was revealed to interact with their levels of Serotonin.

Safety: Do not use in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

These can help address what could be part of the core issues of IBS, but what about addressing some of the more distressing symptoms that people with IBS experience?

The Best Essential Oils For IBS

For some people, we don't immediately think of Aromatherapy for digestive health matters, but it certainly has its place.

There is a wealth of evidence about essential oils and IBS research. Utilizing this research and drawing upon these studies enables us to make informed recommendations for the best essential oils for gut health and reducing IBS symptoms.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Peppermint has been used for centuries for digestive upsets and calming our entire digestive system, especially in Ayurvedic medicine.

It is probably the most researched essential oil used to ease IBS symptoms, relieve spasms, and reduce the abdominal pain and discomfort felt, especially from having excess gas.

Allammar (2017) concluded, 'Peppermint essential oil was shown to be a safe and effective therapy for pain and global symptoms in adults with IBS.'

Many people with IBS have tried using peppermint oil capsules as an alternative remedy to proprietary medications, as there are no associated side effects.

As a fresh or dried herb, it makes a beautiful cup of tea to relieve IBS.


    • Not suitable for use in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy 
    • Avoid use on children under 6 years of age since one of its primary constituents; menthol, slows respiration.

Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

Spearmint is closely related to peppermint and has been the subject of plenty of research Mahboubi (2021) found that Spearmint's "properties such as digestive, analgesic and antispasmodic effects synergistically act and reduce the flatulence severity in the stomach." Making it a perfect pairing for those experiencing these IBS symptoms.


    • Not suitable for use in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
    • Avoid use on children under 6 years of age since one of its primary constituents; menthol, slows respiration.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Ginger is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine to settle the digestive tract and relieve excess gas and flatulence.

Zhang (2020) found that 'Ginger and ginger extract could relieve intestinal hypersensitivity,' which he concluded could reduce the bouts of IBS-related diarrhea.

With its many health benefits, we highly recommend it as an essential oil to integrate into your routine for reducing IBS symptoms.

Safety: Do not use in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Portincasa (2016) ran a trial mixing Curcumin and Fennel essential oil and found it to have "significantly improved symptoms and quality of life in IBS patients over 30 days".

Chemical constituents in Fennel essential oil have antispasmodic (reduces spasms) and carminative (reduces flatulence) effects upon our body, making it an ideal choice for reducing the symptoms associated with IBS.


    • Please do not use it in pregnancy at all.
    • Please do not use it on children under 5 years of age.

Lemon (Citrus limon L (Burm.) F. )

Lemon essential oil is lovely when you feel nauseous. I use it personally, inhaling it directly to cut through nausea on the spot. It is highly effective and one worth a try.

It is used in Ayurvedic medicine to soothe heartburn.

Where there is an intestinal inflammation, the work, and research of Zhao (2022), albeit in mice, bodes promising for future research to be undertaken with Lemon essential oil and its role in reducing intestinal inflammation and its role in IBS symptoms.

Lemon is one of those 'feel good' citrus oils that make you want to smile, help lift your mood, and make you feel better.


    • Please do not use it in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
    • Please do not use it on children under 2 years of age.

How To Use Essential Oils For IBS

Turning to Aromatherapy to help reduce your IBS symptoms gives you a range of modalities to tailor to your needs.

You may want topical applications, like massage oils or lotions, for IBS relief, or perhaps you are on the run all day and like the idea of inhaling the essential oils throughout the day. Equally, after a hard day, you might want to flop into a bath laden with essential oils and relax.

I am a bath girl and have one every single day. Therefore, it is easy for me to use it as my medium to deliver my essential oil 'dose' for the day, especially as a Bath Oil. I appreciate that this is not to everyone's taste, and many of you don't even have a bath.

Products like massage oils and body lotions are great because you can massage them into your abdomen, which can bring some relief in itself. You can tailor them to suit your needs, so for instance, if you are likely to need to use a massage oil or lotion throughout the day, you might want plump for the 'drier' carrier oils, like grapeseed and avocado, that sink into your skin fast and are less likely to stain your clothing. But this is only sometimes easy to do when you are on the go.

This is where necklace diffusers or aroma pendants can be invaluable, you can even sit in a meeting, and no one would know what it is doing for you. Very discrete, so perfect for relaxing if you are anxious or nervous and worrying about needing the loo.

Aroma pendants are also perfect for traveling, especially on planes and trains, where the worry and anxiety of suddenly needing the loo can be utterly paralyzing.

If you have more control over your work/home environment - it could be worth investing in an essential oil diffuser to permeate the air with all the essential oils you need to bring you IBS relief.

Whatever your needs and preferences, you will find something here. 

Our Favorite Recipes with Essential Oils For IBS

Massage Oil

Perfect if you have been struggling with IBS symptoms all day, you can just come home and give yourself a much-needed gentle massage with this beautiful oil. I have also chosen 'drier' oils to be suitable for daytime use.

For a 100ml /3.38 fl oz bottle of massage oil 

Optional - Preservative - Follow the individual manufacturer's guidelines.

Our Favorite IBS Massage Oil Essential Oil Blend 

Combine all the ingredients and decant, using a funnel, into a dark amber glass bottle. Cap tightly. For safety reasons, label clearly and accurately with all components and the date.


    • Please do not use it in pregnancy.
    • Please do not use it on children under 6 years of age.

How to Use:

    1. Warm the oil gently in your hands, then rub gently into your abdomen and lower back in clockwise motions. 
    2. Please do not use it more than 8 times in 24 hours.
    3. Please be cautious as it can oil stain your clothing. Wipe off any excess to reduce the chances of this.
    4. This massage oil can also be used as a Bath Oil, using 5ml or one teaspoon in warm bath water.

We like this video that shows you how to do a very gentle abdominal massage from Dr. DiNezza - Gut Microbiome Queen - Massage for Bloating, IBS, SIBO, IBD: Mayan Abdominal Massage.

Abdomen Cream

Sometimes we want something quick and time-saving, so we use a premade lotion base here. Buy something with natural ingredients, unscented and organic, if possible. If you can't manage that - unscented will do. Nourishing for your skin, relaxing for your mind, and a treat for your IBS symptoms.

For a 100ml /3.38 fl oz bottle of Abdomen Lotion. 

    • 80 ml /2.70 fl oz of Body Lotion base
    • 15 ml of Rosewater or Spring water
    • 5ml of Rosehip Carrier Oil
    • 60 drops of Essential Oil blend (3% dilution rate - for adults)

Optional - Preservative - Follow the individual manufacturer's guidelines.

Our Favorite IBS Abdomen Cream Essential Oil Blend 

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Add you're essential oil blend and combine well again. Decant, using a large funnel, into a dark amber glass bottle. Cap tightly. For safety reasons, label clearly and accurately with all ingredients and the date.

How to Use:

    1. Warm the lotion gently in your hands and then rub gently into your abdomen and lower back in clockwise motions. 
    2. Please do not use it more than 8 times in 24 hours.
    3. Adding a pump dispenser to the bottle may be easier for ease of use. Especially if your lotion base is quite thick and wants to avoid pouring from the bottle - you can always add more Rosewater/ spring water to make the lotion thinner.

Safety: Do not use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Stress Relief Diffuser Blend

This is a great one to turn to when you have control over your environment, either at work or home. Zesty, zingy, and one to rally you with its exuberance. Diffuse for an hour at a time and then have a break for an hour; you'll probably go nose blind after an hour anyway!

You will need to follow the manufacturer's guidelines for your diffuser. Some require diluting in a carrier oil, some in water, and some applying direct. Therefore, we have just focused on the essential oil blend itself.

Makes 5ml of Our Favorite IBS Diffuser Essential Oil Blend 

Method of Preparation:

    1. Combine all the ingredients and decant, using a funnel, into a dark amber glass bottle.
    2. Cap tightly.
    3. For safety reasons, label clearly and accurately with all components and the date.

How to Use:

    1. Follow the guidelines for your diffuser. 
    2. Diffuse for one hour and then have a break for an hour. 


    • Not for topical use.
    • Please do not use it with children under 6 years old, as Peppermint essential oil can slow their respiration rate. 
    • Keep out of the way of children and pets.
    • We recommend not using this essential oil diffuser blend in a home with cats or dogs.  

Please refer to these articles for using essential oil diffusers with pets safely:

How To Use Essential Oils In A Diffuser

Is Lemon Essential Oil Safe For Cats?

Is Peppermint Essential Oil Safe For Cats?

Oils On The Go- Inhalation Blend

This inhalation blend is perfect if you are on the go and need something with you throughout the day to help you manage the symptoms of IBS. Or, if, like me, you have a house full of cats and an essential oil diffuser is not the best option for you.

Makes 5ml of Our Favorite IBS Inhalation Essential Oil Blend 

Combine all the ingredients and decant, using a funnel, into a dark amber glass bottle. Cap tightly. For safety reasons, label clearly and accurately with all components and the date.

How to Use:

    1. You can inhale it directly from the bottle or dilute it in a carrier oil if you prefer a less intense scent.
    2. Alternatively, you can apply it to a felt pad in an aroma pendant and top up when the scent fades - bear in mind you might just be nose blind - so take it off for an hour and come back to it before you top it up. Perfect for when you are in meetings or traveling and feeling nervous about the prospect of needing the loo.

Of course, you can also use this in your essential oil diffuser. 


    • Not for children under six years old, as menthol in the peppermint slows respiration.
    • Please do not use it in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

What Can I Do Alongside Using Essential Oils for IBS?

Pay Attention To Your Diet

If you are suffering from IBS, taking control of your diet could be a critical factor in managing the symptoms of IBS. Cooking your food from scratch is recommended to help avoid unnecessary preservatives and additives. Not to mention the food itself is much fresher and better for you.

It is recommended by the NHS that you refrain from delaying or skipping meals or eating your food too quickly. They suggest that you avoid eating fatty, spicy, or processed foods and do not drink lots of alcohol or fizzy drinks. This in itself can offer significant IBS relief.

They also suggest that you eat at most three (80g) portions of fresh fruit daily; too much fruit can send you scurrying for the loo at the best times.

It is also recommended that you drink at most three cups of tea or coffee a day.

Keep A Food and Mood Diary

Keeping a diary of what you eat and noting any symptoms you experience can help define your potential triggers. Also, reporting if you are worried, anxious, or stressed can be eye-opening and informative.

Identifying the foods that are most likely to trigger you and the situations you face in daily life that are likely to contribute can inform your IBS management plan.

For instance, if you grab a Danish and a coffee on the way to work because it's all you have time for on those stressful mornings, then find yourself on the loo by lunchtime. You can identify three possible triggers: The Danish, the coffee, or the morning stress.

By elimination, you can work out which one, or all three of these, contribute to your IBS. It will assist you in identifying your triggers and help you to be able to avoid them in the future.   

Relaxation and Exercise

This is one of those paragraphs where we all know it, but we often roll our eyes at it.

Deep down, we know that exercise improves our well-being and helps us to relax. We know that relaxing relieves stress and anxiety and improves our overall health.

We often need help finding time in our busy lives to do that. Exercise where you can, even if it is just a little.

I'm the first to admit that 'loo time' is my thinking time. You're there anyway! Why not turn it into a mindfulness session or do some breathing exercises (if only to relieve the cramps)? Making the most of the time is what I'm saying.

Find some brief meditations on YouTube, download them to your phone, and play them when you have….well, nothing better to do!

I love The Honest Guys and use them myself all the time. Here is a three-minute meditation you can try next time you are stuck on the loo. Mindfulness - 3-Minute Meditation By The Honest Guys.

This is the perfect time to use an essential oil blend to encourage that relaxation and aid your 'mindfulness session.' It will set you up nicely to return to work or run those errands you desperately need to do, feeling more relaxed and less stressed. 

Improve Your Gut Health 

Talking of relaxing. Why not download the audiobook Clever Guts by Michael Mosley and listen to the wealth of information about the importance of good bacteria to your gut health?

Alternatively, check out the Clever Guts website and educate yourself on all the beautiful things you can do to help manage your IBS and rebuild your microbiome while away some, time stuck on the loo.

Learn the benefit of using probiotics; even the NHS suggests trying it for a month. You could take probiotic capsules or drinks, but it's easy to learn how to make fermented foods and your super-rich probiotic foods that are perfect for helping rebuild your gut microbiome. 

More Tips From The NHS

For other tips and tricks to relieve bloating, cramps, flatulence, diarrhea, and constipation, check out these General Tips to Relieve IBS Symptoms from the NHS.

The Final Word

We have had an excellent in-depth look at Irritable Bowel Syndrome and some of the things we can do to improve our symptoms, from managing stress to boosting our Serotonin in various ways.

Hopefully, now you have developed some understanding of the role that your gut flora and Serotonin play in attaining and maintaining good gut health and how that can affect our IBS symptoms for the better.

We have learned which essential oils have the best chemical constituents and properties to target your IBS symptoms with a raft of scientific evidence that backs it up. Not to mention the essential oils that we can use to help boost our serotonin levels, harnessing the properties and constituents of those to our benefit.

You can now appreciate that you can make various products from just a handful of essential oils that work together to relieve your IBS symptoms. No matter where your day is, you should find something to suit you, whether at home, work, or traveling.

You can tailor your essential oil blends specifically for your personal IBS symptoms, so what are you waiting for? Now that you know which essential oils for IBS you can utilize, get stuck in and have a go at making your own tailored IBS kit.

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