To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Clinical Aromatherapy,” by Jane Buckle, Ph.D., R.N., in the September 2010 issue. Article summary: Aromatherapy has many faces, including clinical aromatherapy. This type of aromatherapy can be used to great effect by massage therapists trained in the specific protocols related to clinical aromatherapy.

by Taras Raggio

To my client, Patricia M., it was a speed bump she could not get over. That’s how she described the constant pain riveting through her chest and upper and lower abdomen. “Sometimes I was so easily devastated by the burning sensation, the simplest task seemed daunting,” says Patricia, 56.

We’ve all had feelings like this, and if this sounds like a music recording worthy of a Grammy award, you may be like Patricia who is among the 40 percent of adults who suffer from digestive problems each year, largely due to changes that occur in their digestive tracts because of age.

The digestive process

The purpose of the digestive system is to get nutrients into the body via the blood. To get into the blood, nutrients need to pass through cells. The process of digestion breaks food into smaller and smaller pieces until the food is separated into its component nutrient molecules: amino acids, monosaccharides, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals (which are mostly just single atoms, like Na+, K+, and Ca++), and a few other types of molecules, such as phytochemicals. 

The breakdown starts once food enters the mouth and is chewed and swallowed. When food enters the stomach, a chemical process occurs, breaking down the food by enzymes, most of which pertain to protein extraction. Once food has been broken down in the stomach, it passes to the small intestine, where specialized enzymes and helpful bacteria further the breakdown process.

In the small intestine, the useful particles are absorbed into the bloodstream where they are used by the body. The remaining elements are ultimately expelled through the large intestine as waste. Anything that doesn’t get broken into small enough pieces, such as fiber, passes through and goes out the other end providing little nutritional value.

Toxic buildup

Living in the modern world, the human body is subject to toxins and chemicals it was not designed to deal with. Processed sugar, flour and other grains, as well as preservatives found in most foods, cannot be properly broken down during the digestive process. Their residue becomes mucus that covers the interior of the intestines and ultimately hardens and blocks proper nutrient, vitamin and mineral absorption.

Over time, this buildup becomes thicker, inhibiting the body’s ability to extract the important elements of food and causing a lower energy level and metabolic rate due to a deficiency in nutrient and vitamin absorption into the bloodstream. Constipation can also increase the levels of toxins in your body, and puts you at greater risk of health problems, including diseases and life-threatening illnesses.

Natural cleansing

One of the simplest and most gentle ways to ease constipation is through abdominal massage using essential oils1.The abdominal massage technique helps to stimulate the colon and get the stagnant build up moving again. A documented study by A.G. Klauser and colleagues in the Department of Gastroenterology, University of Munich, Germany, used abdominal massage on nine constipated patients (68 +/- 5 years, five female, colonic transit greater than 60 h) and in seven healthy male volunteers (27 +/- 1.2 years) in a control phase and during a three-week treatment phase with nine sessions.2 The clinical study produced very good results and the technique was successfully used for several years.

There are a wide range of essential oils a massage therapist can use that may help clients with digestive concerns.

• An essential oil, such as black pepper (Piper nigrum), is used to help a sluggish digestive system and will soothe the smooth muscle of the gut. It also helps to stimulate the kidneys.

• Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is good for such conditions as colic, flatulence, loss of appetite, nausea and travel sickness.

• Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) has often been associated with counterbalancing alcohol poisoning and can be taken internally in the form of fennel tea or massaged onto the affected areas. Fennel also has many general uses relating to the liver, gall bladder and digestive complaints and can help with colic, constipation, gout, flatulence, hiccoughs and nausea.

• Marjoram (Origanum majorana) reduces colicky, intestinal cramps and strengthens peristalsis.

• Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi) helps eliminate toxins and stimulates the lymph glands, and after exercise it helps reduce aching and stiffness and may help ease the discomforts of constipation.

• Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum) is most useful as a systemic stimulant and a general tonic specifically for the circulatory and digestive system and may be used in flatulent dyspepsia (painful indigestion) and colic.

• Chamomile (German/Blue) (Matricaria recutita) is used in many European cultures for its pleasant tasting tea and often is consumed as an after dinner beverage to prevent indigestion. In Germany, for example, chamomile is licensed as an over-the-counter drug for intestinal spasms and inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.

Other important information

The liver, kidneys and gallbladder all serve important roles in the digestive system and can become clogged with unwanted buildup. It is important to flush these parts of the digestive system as well. Essential oils, such as basil (Ocimum basilicum), lemon (Citrus limon), geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) and ginger (Zingiber officinale), play a major role in detoxifying key organs in the body.

It is suggested that anyone older than age 18 needs at least one internal cleansing per year for proper digestive health. Before using any essential oil for either internal or external cleansing, it is wise to review precautions and contradictions.

Taras Raggio is owner of Taras Essential Aroma,


1. Buckle, Jane. 2003. Clinical Aromatherapy. One of the simplest and most gentle ways to ease constipation is through abdominal massage using essential oils. 20: 310.

2. Klauser A, Flaschentrager J, Gehrke A et al. 1992. Abdominal wall massage: effect of colonic function in health volunteers and in patients with chronic constipation.