Peppermint is a tasty type of mint that is popular for stopping cravings, freshening breath, and soothing the stomach. Peppermint leaves are popular in cooking, and peppermint essential oil is often used in skin treatments and to soothe the mind and refresh the body. However, is the usefulness of peppermint just an old wive’s tale or does it really have value as a digestive aid?
What Is Peppermint?
Peppermint is a perennial herb that belongs to the Lamiaceae family. It has a strong, sweet odor and a warm taste. It is often used as a flavoring and a garnish, and it is popular in both sweet and savory dishes.1
The essential oil is one of the few oils that can be applied, in very small amounts, directly to the skin without dilution with a carrier oil. It is a volatile essential oil that contains a lot of menthol and menthone, and it is used to clear the airways, make soothing balms, and combat cravings. Peppermint essential oil is safe to consume orally in very small quantities.
Digestive Benefits of Peppermint
Peppermint oil is thought to help with a number of different digestive issues, some of which are outlined below.
Remedies Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms
Peppermint essential oil and peppermint itself are often touted as a remedy for symptoms of some digestive disorders, and it is true that it can help with certain conditions. One recent study looked at the benefits of peppermint oil for relieving symptoms of IBS.
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Researchers examined the effects of several different medicines compared to a placebo and found that peppermint oil offered the best results. Because of the way the research was conducted, it is not possible to accurately compare the benefits of the different medicines against each other. It is fair to say, however, that peppermint oil is more effective than a placebo for reducing abdominal pain and bloating in patients with IBS.2
Soothes Acid Reflux and Upset Stomachs
Acid reflux and upset stomachs can often be managed using peppermint essential oil or even with the herb itself. Peppermint oil is an anti-spasmodic, and researchers have found that it can help not only reduce the symptoms of heartburn but also manage other gastric issues.
For example, one study published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy found that peppermint oil can help reduce gastric spasms during the procedure, making it less painful.3 Another study found similar results for esophagogastroduodenoscopies.4
The use of peppermint oil is not limited to just spasms and pains related to IBS or to medical procedures. Studies also show that the oil can help soothe general upset stomachs and indigestion.5,6
Combats Sugar Cravings
What you eat can have an important impact on your digestive health. If you’re the sort of person who craves sweet treats, then you might find that you struggle to make healthy choices when it comes to your diet.
Studies show that certain scents, including the scent of peppermint, can help reduce cravings by triggering the olfactory senses associated with the cravings and thereby acting as a distraction until the craving passes.7
Using Peppermint and Peppermint Essential Oil
While peppermint is soothing and tasty, it is unlikely to be strong enough to have much of a therapeutic effect when used in its natural form. If you want to enjoy the stomach-settling benefits of peppermint, then the best option is to use peppermint oil.
Most people can take therapeutic doses of peppermint oil quite safely with no or minimal side-effects, but it is not a good idea to just swallow a few drops of peppermint oil without dilution because the oil can irritate the mucous membranes in the mouth.
Rather, you should use enteric-coated capsules and swallow the capsules whole. A dose of 0.2 to 0.4 mL two to three times per day should be enough to have a beneficial effect. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out what dose will be best for you.
The best time to take a dose is 30 minutes before each meal. If you notice unpleasant side effects, such as a burning sensation when going to the bathroom, then you should reduce the dose that you are taking. If the side effects are severe, stop taking the oil and seek professional medical advice.
If you are trying to remedy mild digestive upsets and don’t want to use peppermint oil capsules, then you can add just a couple of drops of the oil to your food or a glass of water instead and still enjoy some benefits. Usually, if you supplement with peppermint oil for a month or so and then stop taking it, the beneficial effects will continue for another month.8 It is thought that this is because of changes to the bacteria in your gut caused by peppermint supplementation.
Safety and Precautions
Peppermint oil is generally considered to be safe. It is used in a lot of cosmetics and creams, as well in dietary supplements and even in a lot of foods. Peppermint itself is also frequently used in cooking. When used correctly, peppermint is safe both for topical and oral use.
However, when peppermint essential oil is used in excess, there are some risks of unwanted side-effects. For example, ingesting peppermint oil can make some kinds of heartburn worse, and it can interact with certain medications, so it is worth talking to your doctor before starting supplementation with therapeutic doses of peppermint.9
Given the wide range of digestive benefits that peppermint and peppermint essential oil has been shown to provide, the benefits of this herb seem to be much more than an old wive’s tale. If you’re experiencing some mild digestive upsets, then peppermint might be worth a try.
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