GAPS and essential oils

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 donnierayjones via / CC BY

Anyone who has gone through the GAPS diet knows that starting the diet is not the easiest thing you’ve ever done; it may have been the hardest.  The Introduction Diet can be brutal, in terms of how you feel when you are in the throes of detox to how you feel when your kids are in the throes of detox.  In our house, it usually involves lots and lots of crabbiness, some rashes and puking here or there.  Healing can be tough.

But what if there was a way to make it easier?

First, while die-off symptoms (also called a herxheimer reaction) are the sign that you are heading in the right direction, it can also become “too much of a good thing”.  Die-off symptoms are your body’s response to the massive amount of toxins being released from bad microbes in your system that are dying.  Too much of this “die-off” can be harmful to your body, which is why you add interventions in one-by-one, why you do detox baths, and why you slowly add in probiotics and fermented foods.

We’ve been doing GAPS now for over 1 1/2 years, with still more healing to go, which is the reason why we’re planning on doing the Intro diet again next month (for the third time around).  This time, though, I’ve added to my arsenal: essential oils.  And I’m excited to see how we can deal with some of the symptoms that we’re experiencing using essential oils.

Digestive healing is at the roots of the GAPS Protocol.  So, essential oils that we’re planning on using while on GAPS should also be used with digestive healing in mind.  Remember, any of the essential oils listed below are simply a recommendation based on what my family is using or planning on trying with the GAPS diet.

Essential oils to aid with digestion:

We use a blend of essential oils called DiGize (containing tarragon, ginger, peppermint, juniper, fennel, lemongrass, anise, and patchouli)  to aid with digestion and help with constipation.  For my boys, we rub it on their bellies in the morning and at night, plus any time that they complain of a stomach ache.  When their stomach is especially bad, or if they have a stomach bug, then we rub this blend on and then add a drop of diluted peppermint oil on top of that.  We always rub in a clockwise motion from the top of their abdomen to below their belly button and around again (following the natural movement of our digestion).

Ginger is another essential oil that can be used to aid with digestion and help with nausea.  This oil can be used topically, inhaled or ingested as needed.  Ginger tea, a staple of the Introduction Diet starting with stage one, is also very helpful.  Ginger tea really helped me get through our second round of Intro (see page 148 of the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome for easy directions on making ginger tea).

Here are some other oils that can be healing to the digestive tract, besides peppermint and ginger; many are included in the blend we use: fennel, caraway, lemongrass, clary sage, marjoram, nutmeg and patchouli.

Adding 1-2 drops of lemon oil to your water every morning has an alkalizing effect on your body and can be very cleansing.   We use essential oil blends that are formulated to help support liver and lymphatic detoxification and cleanse the liver of toxins.  These oils can be applied over the liver area or on the foot VitaFlex points.

As all these toxins are being released, you want to help to flush them from your body.  Making sure you are drinking adequate amounts of water (Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride recommends drinking 1 1/2 liters of water daily for an adult; I try to make sure we drink half of our body weight in ounces of water daily) helps to flush toxins from your system.  Also, adding lemon or orange oil to your water can be helpful.

As bad bacteria and fungi are dying, toxins are being released, and they are screaming for mercy.  Usually this screaming for mercy equals lots of sugar and carb cravings in you when you initially start the diet or are going through another round of detox.  Oils that can be effective with helping control sugar cravings include ocotea and dill.

Essential oils to aid with emotional difficulties:

It’s not an understatement to say that, as mentioned earlier, detoxing is not easy.  It will make you feel tired, emotional, crabby, sometimes elated that things are working one minute and down in the dumps the next.  How can you deal with this range of emotions that you may experience?

One thing is for sure: whether it is you, your child, or both of you on the GAPS diet, you will be feeling stressed.  Several oils can be tried to help relieve some of this stress.  One of my favorite essential oil blends called Stress Away contains: lavender, copaiba, lime, cedarwood, and ocotea. Not only can it help with what we commonly call “stress”, but it can also help with the stress of healing on your body.  I put it in a roller and wear it on my wrists, the back of my neck, in a diffuser necklace, diffuse it … Other oils that are calming include lavender and Roman chamomile.  They can be applied topically to the bottoms of their feet or diffused in the main room of the house or at bedtime.

Blends of essential oils high in sesquiterpenes, like frankincensemyrrh, and sandalwood, can have a balancing and calming effect on the emotions.  They work by affecting the limbic system of our brain, the seat of our emotions.  One oil that I was surprised with is a blend called Brain Power containing sandalwood, cedarwood, Melissa, frankincense, blue cypress, lavender, and helichrysum.   It is often a blend recommended for autistic children to help with focus, deep concentration and clarity; it contains oils high in sesquiterpenes.  What surprised me about it was that, while I expected my son to love it (and he does), I found so much mental clarity and focus from using it.  This can be very helpful when you are having “brain fog” from GAPS diet die-off.  We apply this blend on our feet, especially the big toe on both feet (this is the reflex point for the brain) and to the back of our necks upward toward the brain stem.  It also has a wonderful scent for inhalation.

To help with sleep, oils such as lavender and cedarwood can be applied topically and diffused near bedtime.  I’ve also noticed that since using essential oils my boys tend to sleep in an extra hour or two in the morning, sometimes almost until 9 a.m. (I have to check on them a couple times to make sure they’re still there!)  This extra rest means extra healing and happier boys.

Detox baths are essential on GAPS; they can also be a calming time to help aid with sleep.  Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride recommends alternating baths with Epsom salts, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and seaweed powder.  A favorite right now in our house is taking 1/2 cup (and working up to a cup) of baking soda with 4-6 drops of lavender and cedarwood oil in it for a detox bath.  It’s very calming and it definitely detoxes.  Baking soda is especially good if you are battling Candida (yeast overgrowth).

Supporting the immune system:

When your gut and digestion are compromised, your immune system is compromised.  It is estimated that around 80-85% of our immune system is found in the gut wall.  So naturally, it stands to reason that a GAPS person needs immune support while following the GAPS diet.

According to page 321 of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride recommends 10 things to help boost immunity:

  • Fresh animal fats and cholesterol-rich foods (particularly raw egg yolk)
  • Cold-pressed oils
  • Onions and garlic
  • Freshly pressed vegetable and fruit juices
  • Regular consumption of greens
  • Probiotic supplementation and fermented foods
  • Contact with animals
  • Swimming in unpolluted natural waters
  • Physical activity in the fresh air
  • Exposure to sunlight and sensible sunbathing

Other things that have helped us with building up our immune systems include drinking plenty of healing broths and taking elderberry syrup on a regular basis.  About a month ago I ran out of elderberry syrup; I had also just been bragging how the boys haven’t been sick in months. Wouldn’t you know, just a couple weeks ago my boys both came down with colds!  Thankfully, our essential oils helped pull them through quickly without anything more serious developing, but it helps me to realize the importance of immune-boosting foods like elderberries.

Oils that can help to boost the immune system include Thieves, a blend containing: cinnamon bark, clove, lemon, eucalyptus, and rosemary (it also has a wonderful cinnamon-y scent that’s great to diffuse!)  We find this helps support us through illness and can help to shorten the duration of time that we are sick.

All of the oils listed above work naturally along with your body to aid in the healing process, not work against it.  A GAPS body is already full of toxicity, so it’s comforting to know that you can use something to help you find some relief without adding even further to your toxic burden.

When using essential oils, I always recommend using a brand of oils that is pure and therapeutic grade.  Oils that are not of a therapeutic grade should NEVER be taken internally; many of them are not even safe to use topically on your skin because of the different additives, chemicals and toxins that may be included in them.  (More information about essential oils can be found here)

Also, it is helpful to have an essential oil desk reference when you are using essential oils, to assist you with choosing an oil, how to dilute it, whether it can be inhaled, used topically or taken internally.  Also, a desk reference (or a pocket reference, which I also love) will guide you in knowing which oils you should avoid for your particular health condition or to use with caution.  For example, certain oils are not recommended for persons with epilepsy; or another example is ginger: it has anticoagulant properties and can increase the risk of bleeding if you are also taking a blood thinner like Warfarin (Coumadin) or aspirin.

For assistance in either your GAPS journey or using essential oils, please feel free to reach out to me! I am more than happy to try to answer any questions that you may have.

To your smoothest trip through GAPS Intro ever! 

~ Alicia

Initially published September 17, 2014

I am not a medical doctor, and as such I do not diagnosis illness or prescribe treatments.  This information is for educational purposes only.

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