Various plants have been used to relieve of infant colic, including catmint (Nepeta cataria), chamomille (Matricaria chamomilla), dill (Anethum graveolens), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), and others. Among these plants, fennel is the most frequently recommended by herbologists and naturopaths. All of these listed plants are rich in volatile oils, and their beneficial effect is attributed to volatile oils. The highest concentration of the fennel oil, ranging from 2 to 7%, is found in the seeds of fennel. Fennel volatile oil is a mixture of at least a dozen of different chemicals. The main component of fennel seed oil is anethole. Animal experiments have shown that fennel oil regulates contractility of the small intestine (36, 37, 38). Anethole has a chemical structure similar to a chemical naturally present in the body, called dopamine. Dopamine is known to have a relaxing effect on the intestine and beneficial effect of fennel oil in baby colic is attributed to dopamine-like effect of anethol.
Fennel has a long documented history of use, dating to an ancient Egypt. Even today, many lactating mothers in Asian countries routinely take fennel.
Preparations of fennel seed available on the market today exist as either teas or extracts, and contain variable and unpredictable concentrations of the volatile oil and anethole. The variability of oil concentration is the result of many factors, including soil composition, climate of the growing region, harvesting methods, manufacturing, and storage conditions. The inconsistency in the concentration of oil makes it difficult to obtain an effective, predictable and reproducible response to fennel preparations. That explains why until recently there has only been one clinical study supporting the use of herbs, including fennel for infant colic.
Fennel is a safe way to treat baby colic
Infant Colic herbal remedies with fennel have the remarkable qualities of being both effective and very safe. No acute or chronic toxic reactions to fennel, or to fennel products in humans have ever been reported. Laboratory animals given 3000 milligrams of fennel extract per kilogram of weight showed no sign of toxicity. Likewise, fennel seed oil tested in animal experiments has been found to be non-toxic at doses significantly higher, than those used in humans (40). Besides its antispasmodic qualities, fennel seed oil has antioxidant, anticarcinogenic and antimicrobial activity also attributed to anethole (41, 42, 43).
Fennel plant just like any plants is a potential allergen. The allerginicity of fennel is extremely low, much lower than of milk, soy or eggs. In fact, since 1948 there were only two reports of allergic reaction to fennel plant in the English literature. It has been shown that fennel allergy is caused by pollen (46), which is always present in unprocessed seeds (46). Fennel seed oil, which is produced by distillation of fennel seeds, has no pollen particles in it, and therefore, cannot produce allergic reactions.
Undiluted, or 100% fennel seed oil applied to the skin for a long period of time can produce local irritation. However, diluted fennel seed oil is not irritating. In an experiment on human volunteers, application of 4% oil did not produce any reactions.
The Council of Europe included fennel in the list of spices and seasonings in 1973. Fennel seed oil has been on the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recommended As Safe) list of flavoring substances in the United States since the 1970’s.
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