DDW 2014 Note: Caraway Oil Poultices as IBS Treatment

I always find it intriguing and encouraging when herbal and alternative medicine treatments that I have never known to be used for IBS are tested and show good promise in research studies. Yesterday, May 3 2014, a team of researchers from Essen, Germany presented the results of one such study at Digestive Disease Week 2014; a  randomized controlled trial that indicates that poultices with caraway oil might be beneficial for reducing IBS symptoms and improving the quality of life of IBS sufferers. A poultice an old-fashioned time-honored form of treatment — a soft moist mass containing therapeutic herbal or chemical ingredients that is applied to the surface of the body. Poultices are for example often used to relieve pain, inflammation or swelling. I knew that caraway is an old and very useful medicinal plant with digestive benefits, from growing up in Iceland where it is cultivated and used (among other things to flavor the national strong Vodka-like spirit informally called Black Death). I had never known caraway oil to be used in poultices, however, or for IBS treatment.

The German research team conducted a well-designed trial. They treated 48 IBS patients with diarrhea-predominant and alternating bowel symptoms, and compared daily use of hot poultice of caraway oil for three weeks to daily use of hot or cold poultices with olive oil instead, each also for three weeks. Every patient used both the caraway treatment and the comparison interventions, in a random order, with a two-week recovery (wash-out) period between different treatment conditions.

The results clearly favored the hot caraway oil over the comparison interventions. Symptom severity was reduced much more on average from that treatment than the others, and a higher proportion of patients was deemed treatment responder with the caraway oil (43.9%) compared to hot (20.0%) or cold (18.9%) olive oil. Additionally, health-related quality of life, as measured by the IBS-QOL scale, improved significantly more with the caraway oil than the olive oil poultices.

In short, the results of this study seem to me to show tantalizing promise of a potentially valuable therapy for IBS patients. The main concern I have about this study is the possibility that caraway oil, which I believe has a sharp spice scent, may have seemed more “medicinal” to the patients than the olive oil interventions and therefore may have raised expectations of benefit and thereby caused a stronger placebo response than olive oil. However, the researchers mentioned in their abstract that they made adjustments for expectancy in their statistical analyses, so perhaps this was taken into account. I think it would be great to see further good-quality research done on these hot caraway oil poultices as possible useful therapy for IBS.


Sa1071 Jost Langhorst,Romy Lauche ,Anke Janzen, Rainer Lüdtke, Holger Cramer, Gustav J. Dobos. Efficacy of Caraway Oil Poultices in the Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome – a Randomized Controlled Cross-Over Trial. Departments of Integrative Gastroenterology and Internal and Integrative Medicine, University Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany; Karl and Veronica Carstens-Foundation, Essen, Germany


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