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stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis)

Parts of this were taken with permission from Essential Oils Overview and Reference Guide, published by: The Family Tree, 2008


see also diarrheadysentery, flu,  food poisoning.

Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the mucous membranes of the digestive tract.  The most common subset is viral gastroenteritis or known commonly as the stomach flu. As the name implies this is a viral infection and can come from a variety of viruses including adenovirus, astrovirus, caliciviruses, norovirus and rotavirus. The latter two being common among children while caliciviruses is a more common infectious agent among adults. None of these virus strains are related to those responsible for the common cold or flu (influenza) that affect the respiratory system.

Symptoms appear rapidly after contacting the infection, usually with 4 to 48 hours.  Symptoms usually will include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Fever and headache may also occur but symptoms will usually differ from respiratory influenza (the flu) which typically will include high fever, muscle aches, fatigue and respiratory congestion.

As with any viral infection antibiotics will not help. The greatest danger for many, especially children and those with weakened immune systems, is that because of diarrhea and vomiting the body can become dehydrated. This should be monitored closely.

Also note the stomach flu is not to be confused with influenza or the bronchial flu that includes a number of serious strains (West Nile, Swine, Bird, H1N1 and H3N2). See flu.


A quick note on the terms associated with digestive tract infections.

Common medical terms
  Gastroenteritis is the general term for infection (bacterial, viral, parasitical or toxins) that leads to inflammation of the mucous membrane of the digestive tract.
  Dysentery, a subset of gastroenteritis, primarily affecting the colon. Infection is commonly from parasites but can also be bacterial, viral or toxic. Most common are amoebic, giardia and cryptosporidium that all come from protozoans (single cell parasites).
  Gastritis, a subset of gastroenteritis, is specifically inflammation of tissue in the stomach.
  Diarrhea is a common symptom of various forms of gastroenteritis. Some use this term interchangeably with dysentery.
Common lay terms
  Food poisoning can lead to gastroenteritis and primarily describes what and how the infectious agents come into the body.
  Stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) is a subset of gastroenteritis caused by a viral infection from a number of viruses (but unrelated to those that cause the common cold and flu).
  Traveler’s diarrhea (Montezuma’s revenge) is the lay term used for gastroenteritis (bacterial or viral) common to folks traveling to new areas and exposed to new infectious agents.


Oils, blends & products recommended:

Oils & Blends: 

Pain/discomfort: Digestive Blend, Fennel, Ginger, Peppermint, Sandalwood

Antiviral: Basil, Cassia, Cinnamon, Clove, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Frankincense, Helichrysum, Lemon, Lemongrass, Marjoram, Melaleuca, Melissa, Myrrh, Protective Blend, Oregano, Thyme

Essential oils based products: GI Cleansing Formula, Probiotic Defense Formula

Suggested protocols:

Add 4 drops each Digestive Blend® and Frankincense in a capsule and take 2 - 3 times daily. (or add oils to a swallow of water or juice and drink.)

Additional help for pain and discomfort:

Topically apply 3 - 4 drops Digestive Blend® to the lower stomach area.  For children and babies apply topically and dilute with a carrier oil. For infants the oils will be effective when applied diluted to the bottoms of the feet.

Ginger and Peppermint are also good to settle upset stomachs.

Alternatives for the viral infection:

Some recommend 4 drops Oregano, 4 drops Thyme in a capsule.  Fill remainder with fractionated coconut oil. 2 - 3 times daily.  Other oils listed above as antiviral can be used in a similar way.

Experiences and Testimonials of others

Lauren - I am new to essential oils and have a few questions about oils preventing the stomach bug/flu. I have had the stomach bug 3 times in 6 weeks. 2 times it was stomach pains with the runs and 1 time it was stomach pains, runs and high fever (102.5). Earlier this week after having the stomach flu twice I started feeling the itchy throat and burning eyes that are all tell tale signs for me that I am getting a head cold. I took 3 capsules a day with a mixture of Peppermint, Protective Blend, Lemon, Melaleuca, Oregano, Lavender and Frankincense. I also took 10,000 IUs of Vit D, 2,000 vit C and 2 probiotics 3 times a day till I felt no symptoms and happily the cold never came. I lost my voice and had a little cough but no fever or cold. A few days later (yesterday) I got the stomach flu, this time with a high fever. I know that oils can boost your immune system to fight of colds but can it also boost it to fight off stomach bugs? I have food allergies and have always been sensitive to foods. I wonder if there is something I can do with the oils to heal something in my digestive tract that is prone to this stomach bug. Could it have anything to do with my liver?

Jan -  Digestive Blend is your best bet for anything stomach related. You can take a capsule and or put it on topically around your navel. Also a drop under your tongue and if you don't like the taste, just chase it with 4 oz water or more. You can add a little Peppermint to the capsule. I would do about 3 to 4 drops of Digestive Blend with 3 drops of Peppermint and add some Lemon, 1 or 2 drops. (I always fill the capsule up with fractionated coconut oil after putting the oils in). You might even want to add a drop of Melaleuca.

Lisa - We just got done with the stomach flu here.  My daughter had a high temperature, sharp stomach pains, diarrhea, and vomiting. We did the following:

  She took GI Cleansing Formula because we wanted to clean all the bad bacteria out of her digestive system.

  She took Detoxifying Blend because it gives support for the colon and liver both of which are part of the digestive system.

  She took 2 probiotics to repopulate her digestive system with good bacteria.

  She took a full capsule of Frankincense to reduce inflammation and begin healing.

  She took a capsule of 8 drops Digestive Blend with 3 drops Helichrysum because this is recommended for colitis.

We did all of the above together 4 times/day.  Twice a day with this she took a capsule of 4 drops each of Clove, Geranium, Rosemary, Grapefruit. This is recommended to take with Detoxifying Blend for added liver support. We layered all the oils of the Massage Blend therapy along with Thyme and Melissa every hour along her spine the first day and 3 times the 2nd day. This was to draw the virus/bacteria out of her body.

She drank as much as she could everyday. Whenever the stomach pains got really bad, we put Digestive Blend and Ginger or Helichrysum on the naval area where it hurt.  We did this for 2 days. We tried Peppermint, but it didn't work.  After 2 days it was gone.  She began to eat again and we continued the regime of GI Cleansing Formula, Detoxifying Blend, probiotics, Frankincense, Digestive Blend/Helichrysum, along with the Clove etc. in a capsule to ensure that the foods didn't cause a reoccurrence and to give her digestive system extra support as it got used to real foods again.  

I would play this one, by ear.  Because my daughter can't eat a lot of carbs because of her asthma, we stayed on the above for 4 more days before gradually reducing this by 1 set of pills a day because proteins are more complex and harder to digest. She also took HCl pills with each meal to increase the acid in her stomach to ensure digestion was as complete as it could get. I hope this helps.  It worked real well for my daughter.

Carol - Lavender rubbed on your stomach 3 drops of Digestive Blend in your tea.


Steiner - So I am new to using the oils (almost a month now) and need to share a big success this week with using them.  My poor husband for 6 days now (started last Saturday night) had a major stomach flu!  Couldn't eat hardly anything but the BRAT diet when he felt up to eating anything at all, was off of work for most of the week, and was alternating over the counter medicine to help him without much relief.  Anytime I would offer him oils he would just say that smelling oils makes him more nauseous and he was not going to use them.  Finally he went to the doctor today who replied that there was a major flu going around and gave him yet another stronger prescription type medicine.

Here is where the success comes in: I used the oils all week long on myself and 3 kids.  Protective Blend every day on their feet for my kids as well as an oil of their choice in the morning and at night. Usually Grounding Blend in the morning and Lavender at night.  Sunday my oldest felt "queasy" so I gave him a capsule of 3 drops Peppermint/3 drops Lemon and rubbed Peppermint on his stomach and he felt much better. Anytime  I felt "queasy" I took a capsule of Digest Zen and an Protective Blend throat drop also drinking my Lemon water through out the day.

The way we were staying healthy we thought my husband originally had food poisoning, however food poisoning does not last 6 days.  We continue to be healthy while he is almost recovered.  This is probably the first time the flu has entered our home and it wasn't shared by all!  It was very nice not to feel sick and have sick kids as well. The moral of my story is use your oils!

Kathy - I had a similar experience, but my family is all open to it, so instead of us losing a week of our lives, we all just had some slight discomfort, telling us it was time for more Digestive Blend.  I love (...)!  My little girl started to get a bad respiratory gunk, but I added Respiratory Blend and Protective Blend to her saline nebulizer and it was gone within hours.  I know we all could go on and on!


Lori - A couple of weeks ago I had out of town guests staying at my house. One night I woke up with that sickening feeling in my stomach and though "oh no, I'm getting the stomach flu!"  I fought it off for a few minutes and then remembered that I had (...)'s Ginger essential oil.  I put some on my stomach, abdomen and rubbed some on my neck.  I also inhaled what was on my hands.  Within 10 minutes I felt good enough to go back to sleep.  I slept all night (never getting sick!). The next morning I still felt a bit queasy so I put some Ginger in a capsule with olive oil and headed off to work.  I worked all day (without getting sick!), came home, took one more capsule and believe it or not I never got sick to my stomach! Ginger is one totally awesome essential oil.  Our home will never be without this oil.

John - I didn't even know that (...) had Ginger.  My mom used to give us candied Ginger if we felt sick to our stomach's.  I've used the Digestive Blend a lot with great results.  I think I will get Ginger also though.


Samara - My 14 month old has been sick all night with a fever.  He's been vomiting and has diarrhea.  What would you suggest?

Pat - Peppermint will control the fever and the stomach. Because he is so young you might want to use a carrier oil when you put it on his skin. The forehead and back of the neck for the fever and the tummy and a drop in a cup of water for the upset tummy. Cassia or Cinnamon will help with the diarrhea but you will absolutely need a carrier oil, and you would rub it on the bottom of his tummy. If you have (...) oils, Digestive Blend will be good and is not so hot as the other oils.

Samara - I tried the Digestive Blend and wow!  I rubbed it on his belly and within 20 minutes he wanted to eat!  A little later I gave him a drop in some water.  He let go of a lot of gas and then he really felt like eating. His diarrhea is almost gone.


Ann - My daughter has had diarrhea off and on since Monday.  I have been using Digestive Blend and Peppermint topically on her feet and tummy, and was wondering if Digestive Blend would be ok to give her internally, she is 15.  Would that help?

Brooke – Yes - If she can stand it - We had the flu bug last week, and I used a couple of drops of Digestive Blend under their tongue three times a day, and then had them drink water with Peppermint in it.  But I also rubbed Lemongrass and Ginger on their abdomen - and it helped a ton!  It is a really nasty flu bug going around!

Maree - I would also try Clove.... internally.  That really helped my family’s issues a few weeks ago.


Cami - My 2 year old has been sick for the last 5 days. She is either throwing up or has diarrhea. Monday she was throwing up. Tuesday she threw up once but had diarrhea all day. Wednesday diarrhea all day. Thursday she threw up a little. Then today she has thrown up twice. Can't really keep anything down again and has had diarrhea. She will drink and she acts like herself when she isn't throwing up. I am just wondering if there is something I can give her that will help her stomach calm down and just help get rid of this bug that we can't seem to get rid of!

Leah - Sounds like my baby this past week, except the throwing up hasn't been that intense. Definitely has the diarrhea. He's mostly breastfed. The oils I've been using on him (he's 10 months old) are Grounding Blend on the bottom of his feet, Basil around his ears - as he seems to have an irritation or infection, Frankincense on his head or neck, and Digestive Blend on his belly button. I think the Digestive Blend plays the biggest part in not throwing up.

Sandi - Sounds like my daughter last week (5 years old). Ginger worked best for her. Stopped things (both ends) right in their tracks. Couple drops of Ginger in FCO and rubbed on her lower abdomen. Then she liked to smell the Peppermint because it masked the smell of the Ginger, which she doesn't like. It usually worked for about 12 hours before she's start feeling nauseous and then I'd reapply.

Protocols folks recommend for children



Diet and Nutritional complements to essential oils


What Science & Research are saying

Herbal remedies for dyspepsia: Peppermint seems effective.

Prescrire Int. 2008 Jun;17(95):121-3. [No authors listed]


(1) Functional dyspepsia is extremely common, yet few if any treatments have been shown to be effective. This review examines the potential benefits and risks of using herbal products in treating symptoms of dyspepsia. (2) About forty plants have been approved in France in the composition of products traditionally used for dyspepsia. (3) The clinical efficacy of most of these plants has not been assessed. Some essential oils can cause severe adverse effects, including seizures. Herbal teas appear to be safe when used appropriately. (4) A few randomised controlled clinical trials suggest that Peppermint essential oil is effective in reducing abdominal pain, flatulence and diarrhea in patients with "irritable bowel syndrome". Peppermint tea, containing essential oil, has no known adverse effects. (5) There is no sound reason to discourage patients from using herbal teas made from plants such as Lemon balm, German Chamomile or star anise.



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NOTE: The advice shared in this site has not been evaluated by the FDA. The products and methods recommended are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease, nor is it intended to replace proper medical help. As members offer or look for answers, kindly understand that essential oils work to help to bring the body into balance - thus helping the body's natural defenses to restore homeostasis. Essential oils are not used to "treat" medical problems.