On occasion one must do strange things in the name of science. Sometimes it's necessary to challenge a few taboos to find useful information. There's hardly a body part with more taboos attached to it than the bung-hole. Oh yes, my friend. I'm going there. Let us discuss that place that our culture chooses not to think about. The "deep space" of our body. The rectum.
It's a pretty useful spot. Located in between the bowel and the anus, it is of course wonderfully useful for expelling feces. And because it is a highly vascularized area of tissue, it is also very useful for absorbing things into the bloodstream. Rectal suppositories of medicine have been used for centuries, and more recently it's come to my attention that essential oils can be administered systemically via this technique.
But Why? WHY!
Although inhaling essential oils is wonderfully effective for many people (see this article for more info on inhaling essential oils), inhalation of essential oils has a few drawbacks. Firstly, some people's lungs are too sensitive to tolerate nebulizing oils, but inhalation via aromatherapy diffusor does not provide a large enough dose to be significantly effective against a lung infection. In addition, nebulizing only delivers essential oils to the tissue of the lungs and not the body as a whole. Thus, it was suggested to me that I try another route of essential oil administration which would facilitate the delivery of essential oils throughout the entire body by a method that would not harm sensitive lungs: rectal suppositories.
Although this technique is relatively unknown in the U.S., it is more widely used in Europe. Administering essential oils via the rectum allows the oils to be quickly and easily absorbed into the blood stream via the highly vascularized tissue in the rectum. Compounds absorbed through the rectal tissue circulate throughout the body first before being metabolized (and partially deactivated) by the liver and kidneys . It is an especially effective route of administration for respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. This technique appealed to me because this systemic circulation via the blood is a treatment route most similar to the administration of IV antibiotics, the most effecive tool for combating CF lung infections. I have assisted several clients with the administration of rectal suppositories, and one client who could not tolerate nebulizing essential oils found rectal suppositories very effective at combatting her chronic drug-resistant lung infections.
So It Begins
I worked with a certified aromatherapist to make my first batch of suppositories for me . The first 10-day course consisted of a formula of five oils mixed in a base of cocoa butter, with approximately 5 drops of essential oils per suppository. We used thyme (chemotype thymol), rosemary (chemotype camphor), Eucalyptus citriodora, tea tree, and niaouli oils in equal parts. I used one suppository per night just before laying down in bed. At the time I began this first trial I was developing a fever in the evening in addition to my normal midday fever. Within three days of starting the suppositories, the PM fever was gone. By day seven I was feeling significantly less mucus in my lungs and my energy levels improved.
After finishing the 10-day course I waited five days before starting my second course. As expected, the PM fever began to return, my energy levels declined, and my mucus load increased slightly. My second trial included a new mixture of oils that included thyme (ct. thymol), niaouli, rosemary (ct. camphor), Eucalyptus citriodora, and oregano (replacing the tea tree). I did six days of this using a single dose of suppository per night. By day three my PM fever was gone and my energy improved once again. On day seven I decided to double the dose, using two suppositories per night. This improved my lung symptoms even more quickly. I used the double dose of this second batch for three days. I had decided to use 25% coconut oil and 75% cocoa butter as the carrier oil for this batch, which was a mistake because the melting point for coconut oil is so much lower (about 75 degrees Fahrenheit compared to 93 degrees for cocoa butter and 100 degrees for shea butter) that the suppositories began to get too soft at room temperature and were harder to insert. I had to keep them in the freezer to maintain their firmness.
I began the third batch of suppositories the following day. This time we used a mixture of 65% cocoa butter and 35% shea butter for the base oil, which resulted in a perfect consistency when kept in the refrigerator until insertion. We used 10 drops of essential oils per suppository, which included equal parts of rosemary (ct. camphor), lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), niaouli, tea tree oil, Eucalyptus citriodora, and oregano. I used this blend for seven days. Again, my mucus was reduced to the point where I no longer heard crackling on my breath when inhaling, not even in the morning. My mucus level throughout the day was so low that even with rigorous exercise (e.g. hiking up a long hill) my lungs remained open without shortness of breath or panting, and I hardly coughed or produced any mucus at all. The AM fever still remained (still controlled by acetaminophen or ibuprofen), however my energy no longer slumped midday.
Compared to nebulizing or diffusing essential oils, I believe suppositories are more effective at combating deep infections in the distal airways of the lungs. In addition, I think this is a better choice for people with asthma and hyper-reactive airways, or a history of pleural pain or lung collapses. Nebulizing essential oils can be hard on the respiratory mucosa and pleura, but suppositories are much much gentle in that regard. I can no longer nebulize essential oils due to my history of pleurisy and lung collapses. It seems that for both inhalation and suppositories of essential oils, continuous use (with periodic 1-2 week breaks) is critical for maintaining ccontrol of my lung infections. Given the severity of my infection, essential oil was not able to completely eradicate my colonizing bacteria, however it was able to reduce microbial populations to the point where the body was less overwhelmed by the burden of infection, reducing disease symptoms (i.e. mucus production, severity of fever, fatigue, etc.).
After three weeks of rectal suppositories, my sputum culture showed a reduction in the MRSA population (from “heavy” to “moderate”), a steady Pseudomonas non-mucoid population at “few”, an elimination of the mucoid Pseudomonas strain, and an emergence of Methicillin-sensitive Staph (MSSA). The emergence of the MSSA seems to me to be a good sign because I assume that the MSSA was in the lungs before, but the biofilms of MRSA and Pseudomonas prevented it from being exposed enough to be coughed out and cultured. It is possible that in a non-CF lung, or in a CF lung with less microbial burden, essential oil use alone, via inhalation and/or suppositories, could be enough to eradicate a microbial infection. More research and experimentation needs to be done.
How To Get Started
If there are any aromatherapists in your area, you might work with one to make you up some suppositories. My aromatherapist charged me about $12 for a week's worth of suppositories, depending on what oils we use. You can also buy all of the ingredients and make them yourself. It may be wise to go for a low dose (adults = 5 drops per suppository) at first and then working your way up, especially for the spicier oils like thyme, oregano, and cinnamon. A suppository is inserted at night right before going to bed. Usually the first suppository is uncomfortable or tingly for about 3 minutes, then the spiciness subsides. By day 3 I usually don't feel it at all, even with something as spicy as cinnamon oil.
If you're considering this for your child, try it yourself first. It takes a bit of conscious control to keep the suppository in for the first few minutes - your body detects something in there and the urge to go to the toilet is strong. Make sure to go to the bathroom beforehand! A kid might have to be coached to resist the urge. After a few minutes the urge goes away and it's easy to ignore its presence. The carrier oil (cocoa butter, etc.) is not absorbed via the rectum, just the essential oils, so in the morning you may see oil slicks in the toilet, which is normal.
I hope some of you will try this out! I beleive it be a safe and effective route of using essential oils to combat chronic respiratory (or other systemic) infections. If you try this experiment, please share your results with us!
To learn more about herbal and holistic healthcare for CF and beyond, please check out my free eBooks and my online courses!
 The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils. Kurt Schnaubelt, Ph.D. 2011.
 Lauren Andrews, AroMed. www.aromedofvt.com
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Mica McDonald (they/he) is a clinical herbalist, nutritionist, ecologist, and writer living in Abenaki territory (Vermont).