Essential oil of aniseed (Pimpinella anisum) is not usually among those that we select when requiring an uplifting, antidepressive effect. We might think instead of essential oils such as lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), bergamot (Citrus bergamia) and sandalwood (Santalum spp.), all of which have shown beneficial effects in clinical trials on mood parameters such as anxiety and depression (Sánchez-Vidaña et al, 2017).
Yet a recent clinical trial conducted in Iran found that essential oil of aniseed, which as a medicinal plant has long been important in traditional Persian medicine, showed promising results in alleviating the symptoms of mild to moderate depression in patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (Mosaffa-Jahrom et al, 2017).
IBS is characterized by abdominal pain and altered bowel habits, and depending on the diagnostic criteria employed, affects about 11% of the population globally (Canavan et al, 2014).
Psychological problems such as anxiety and depression are common in those with IBS, and occur in about 30% of cases of functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID) (Van Oudenhove et al, 2016). The frequent comorbidity (co-occurrence) of IBS and depression are a reflection of the gut-brain axis.
The gut–brain axis is a bidirectional communication system between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. The gut–brain axis is central to the regulation of gastrointestinal secretion, digestion, absorption and motility; in the control of appetite and metabolism; and in the modulation of mucosal immunity (Washabau & Day, 2013).
Integral to the gut-brain axis are the gastrointestinal microbiota (gut bacteria). Gut bacteria both produce and respond to the same neurochemicals that regulate mental-emotional processes including cognition, memory and mood: serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, acetylcholine and melatonin. Through synthesizing tryptophan, gut bacteria are the source of approximately 95% of the body’s serotonin, which in turn modulates gastrointestinal function (Carpenter, 2012).
Altered levels of serotonin are thought to play a role in numerous disorders of the central nervous system including anxiety and depression. At the same time, recent studies indicate that abnormalities in serotonin signalling play a crucial role in the pathophysiology of gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS. Serotonin directly and indirectly impacts intestinal motor and secretory function, and abnormalities may cause either constipation or diarrhea (Crowell, 2004).
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, 120 participants with mild to moderate depression according to the Beck Depression Inventory–II total scores were divided into three groups of equal size and received enteric-coated capsules of anise oil (AnisEncap), peppermint oil (Colpermin) or a placebo on a daily basis before each meal for 4 weeks. The results at the end of the trial and week 6 follow-up demonstrated that anise oil significantly improved depression in patients suffering from IBS in comparison to the active control and placebo (Mosaffa-Jahrom et al, 2017).
The authors of this study provide an interesting commentary from the perspective of traditional Perso-Arabic Unani medicine: “Depression is an ailment related to imbalance of psychic faculty (Quwwat-e-nafsaniya) and preponderance of black bile [melancholy temperament]. Quwwat-e-nafsaniya obtains its matter from spirit of the heart (Rooh-e-haivaniya). Anise oil is a proper tonic for heart and spirit of the heart. According to traditional Persian medicine treatment procedures, depression has cold nature and the spirit is almost motionless in this mental disorder. Anise oil is warm enough to heat the spirit and elevate the mood (Mofarrih). Therefore, the treatment approach should be focused on strengthening of psychic faculty and/or purifying excess black bile.”
The same clinical trial found that aniseed essential oil improved symptoms of IBS including abdominal discomfort and pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and gastroesophageal reflux compared to the control and placebo (Mosaffa-Jahrom et al, 2016).
This finding is in keeping with aniseed’s well-established reputation, both as an essential oil and herb (Figure 1), as a soothing remedy for gastrointestinal complaints, and is further supported by in vitro evidence for the antispasmodic and relaxant effects of the hydroalcoholic (tincture) of the seed (Tirapelli et al, 2007).
Figure 1. Anise seeds by Thamizhpparithi Maari
Aniseed essential oil’s capacity to simultaneously address both the psychological and physiological symptoms of IBS - both depression and gastrointestinal dysfunction - suggests that it is an aromatic body-mind medicine that addresses the gut-brain axis.
Although the clinical trial conducted by Mosaffa-Jahrom and team involved the administration of aniseed essential orally via enteric-coated capsules, clinical research involving the application of caraway (Carum carvi) oil poultices to the abdomen, at a 2% concentration in olive oil, supports the effectiveness of relieving IBS through transdermal administration (Lauche et al, 2015).
For adults free of skin disorders, I would recommend a blend of the following essential oils diluted at a 5% concentration in a base oil for application to the abdomen.
30% Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum) (9 drops)
30% Caraway (Carum carvi) (9 drops)
20% Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) (6 drops)
20% Sweet orange (Citrus × sinensis) (6 drops)
Apply 1-2 times per day for a period of up to 3 months.
Contraindicated during pregnancy and breastfeeding; in cases of endometriosis, estrogen-dependent cancer, cardiac fibrillation and G6PD deficiency; and for children under 5 yrs. Potentially carcinogenic and may inhibit blood clotting due to the aniseed essential oil constituent estragole.
Let us know about your experience once you try the blend.
To your aromatic success!
Guest Post By:
Gabriel Mojay LicAc,CertEd,FIFPA
Canavan C, West J, Card T (2014). The epidemiology of irritable bowel syndrome. Clin Epidemiol. 2014; 6:71–80.
Carpenter S (2012). That gut feeling. Monitor on Psychology. 2012 Sept; 43(8):50.
Crowell MD (2004). Role of serotonin in the pathophysiology of the irritable bowel syndrome. Br J Pharmacol. 2004 Apr; 141(8):1285–1293.
Lauche R, Janzen A, Lüdtke R, Cramer H, Dobos G, Langhorst J (2015). Efficacy of caraway oil poultices in treating irritable bowel syndrome – A randomized controlled cross-over trial. Digestion, 92:22-31.
Maari, T. Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/
Mosaffa-Jahromi M, Lankarani KB, Pasalar M, Afsharypuor S, Tamaddon AM (2016). Efficacy and safety of enteric coated capsules of anise oil to treat irritable bowel syndrome. J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Dec 24; 194:937-946.
Mosaffa-Jahromi M, Tamaddon AM, Afsharypuor S, Salehi A, Seradj SH, Pasalar M, Jafari P, Lankarani KB (2017). Effectiveness of anise oil for treatment of mild to moderate depression in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: A randomized active and placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Jan; 22(1):41-46.
Sánchez-Vidaña DI, Ngai SP, He W, Chow JK, Lau BW, Tsang HW (2017). The effectiveness of aromatherapy for depressive symptoms: A systematic review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017; 2017:5869315.
Tirapelli CR, de Andrade CR, Cassano AO, De Souza FA, Ambrosio SR, da Costa FB, de Oliveira AM (204). Antispasmodic and relaxant effects of the hydroalcoholic extract of Pimpinella anisum (Apiaceae) on rat anococcygeus smooth muscle. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 Mar 1; 110(1):23-9.
Van Oudenhove L, Crowell MD, Drossman DA, Halpert AD, Keefer L, Lackner JM, Murphy TB, Naliboff BD, Levy RL (2016). Biopsychosocial aspects of functional gastrointestinal disorders: how central and environmental processes contribute to the development and expression of functional gastrointestinal disorders. Gastroenterology 2016; 150:1355-1367, e2.
Washabau R, Day M (2013). Canine & Feline Gastroenterology. St. Louis, Mo: Elsevier Saunders.