As the bulk of food waste passes through the large intestine, much of the water contained in it is reabsorbed through the intestinal walls, so that the final state of the faeces is moderately soft withoutbeing watery. Disruptions of the normal passage of food through the large and small intestines will disturb this pattern. Too slow a passage through the gut (as in diets which are lacking in fibre)allows a greater amount of water to be absorbed, leading to constipation and hard faeces. Too fast a passage will not allow enough water to be absorbed, and gives rise to diarrhoea.

Too rapid a passage of food through the intestines is most often due to an inflammation of the intestines, though the causes of inflammation may be various. Viruses and bacteria, irritant drugs, poisons, and allergic reactions are among the commonest. The muscles of the intestinal wall become over-active when irritated, and this too, adds to the problem of diarrhoea, as the increased peristalsis propels the food mass faster through the gut.

The intestines are influenced in their functioning by the endocrine and nervous systems, and anything - such as shock, fear, anxiety or continued stress - that disturbs either of these two systems, will often result in diarrhoea.

Some essential oils are useful in helping diarrhoea because of their calming and soothing effect on the intestinal lining, some because they have an antispasmodic action on the intestinal muscles, some because of their astringent properties and yet others because they calm the nervous system, and allay fear and anxiety. In many cases, of course, these actions overlap in one oil. The choice of essential oil for helping with any case of diarrhoea will, therefore, depend on identifying the cause of the diarrhoea. Camomile, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Neroli and Peppermint are among the most effective antispasmodic oils, and are all used to allay attacks of diarrhoea.

Of these. Eucalyptus might be the best choice if there is any suspicion that a viral infection is the cause of the diarrhoea, as it is one of the most potent anti-viral agents in aromatherapy. Camomile is an anti-allergic oil, and would be my first choice if a food allergy was involved.

When diarrhoea is provoked by fear, anxiety or stress, whether in the short term or long term. Camomile, Lavender or Neroli will help. Neroli is especially helpful for the prevention of diarrhoea in stressful circumstances which a person fears may provoke an upset tummy. The very fear of having diarrhoea is often enough to bring on an attack of diarrhoea, and in these situations bathing with Neroli, massaging the abdomen with a blend that includes Neroli, and inhaling it shortly before the feared event, will all help to soothe both the fears and the intestine. I am thinking here particularly of situations such as exams, interviews, auditions and other short-term stressful occasions. Sometimes diarrhoea becomes persistent in people who are anxious, fearful or stressed over a period of time. Here, we should obviously be trying to help the underlying stress, as well as giving immediate help with the diarrhoea.

Most attacks of diarrhoea will clear up within a day or two, but anything that persists for longer than a few days must be investigated in order to be sure that there is no serious disorder of the intestine. Prolonged diarrhoea is also dangerous because of the risk of dehydration from the loss of water - especially if there is also vomiting. This is particularly so in young children, who risk becom­ing dehydrated much faster than adults, and must be treated without delay.

During any attack of diarrhoea, plenty of water should be given, and little or no food. The water is essential, as we have seen, to prevent any risk of dehydration, and food will delay the healing process by adding to the bulk of waste matter in the intestines, and giving invading organisms the kind of environment in which they can multiply. Most people suffering from diarrhoea will not feel like eating, in any case.

Sometimes warming and carminative essential oils, such as Benzoin, Ginger, Fennel or Black Pepper are used to relieve the pain in diarrhoea. Massaged gently over the abdomen, these can be helpful in easing the griping pains caused by spasmodic contraction of the intestinal muscles. See also Witch Hazel.

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