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Peppermint is a relative of numerous wild mint plants, deliberately bred in the late 1600s in England to become the delightful tasting plant so well known today. It is widely used as a beverage tea and as a flavoring or scent in a wide variety of products.
Peppermint tea also has a long history of medicinal use, primarily as a digestive aid and for the symptomatic treatment of cough, colds, and fever. Peppermint oil is used for chest congestion (Vicks VapoRub), as a local anesthetic (Solarcaine, Ben-Gay), and most recently in the treatment of irritable bowel disease, also known as spastic colon.
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Peppermint?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There have been numerous studies of peppermint oil for IBS. In one of the larger studies, 110 people with IBS were given either enteric-coated peppermint oil (187 mg) or placebo 3-4 times daily, 15 to 30 minutes before meals, for 4 weeks. 1 The results showed significant improvements in abdominal pain, bloating, stool frequency, and flatulence. In a similar study, people who took peppermint oil capsules for 8 weeks also had less abdominal pain and discomfort compared to the placebo group. 2 Not all of these studies have shown that peppermint oil is beneficial, though. It has been suggested that these inconsistencies were caused by the accidental inclusion of people who had conditions unrelated to IBS, but that cause similar symptoms. Presumably, peppermint oil may be less effective for these problems. A study published in 2007 pretested participants for lactose intolerance and celiac disease, the two conditions most easily mistaken for IBS. 3 A total of 57 people with IBS symptoms and no evidence of the other two problems were enrolled in the study. Over a period of 4 weeks, participants were given either placebo or peppermint oil. At the end of the study period, 75% of the patients in the peppermint oil group showed a marked reduction of IBS symptoms (defined, for this purpose, as a reduction of IBS symptom scores by more than 50%). In comparison, only 38% of the participants given placebo showed an improvement of this magnitude, and this difference was statistically significant.
Other Forms of Spasm in the Digestive Tract
A barium enema involves introducing a solution containing the metal barium into the lower intestines. It commonly causes intestinal pain and spasm. A double-blind study of 141 individuals found that adding peppermint oil to the barium reduced the severity of intestinal spasm that occurred. 4 Benefits were also seen in a large study conducted by different researchers. 5 Another study found that peppermint oil reduced spasm in the stomach during a procedure called upper endoscopy. 6 One study found that use of peppermint oil after C-section surgery reduced discomfort caused by intestinal gas. 7
Dyspepsia (Minor Indigestion)
Peppermint oil is often used in combination with other essential oils to treat minor indigestion .
For example, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study including 39 individuals found that an enteric-coated peppermint-caraway oil combination taken 3 times daily for 4 weeks significantly reduced dyspepsia pain as compared to placebo. 8 Of the treatment group, 63.2% was pain free after 4 weeks, compared to 25% of the placebo group.
Results from a double-blind, comparative study including 118 individuals suggest that the combination of peppermint and caraway oil is comparably effective to the no-longer-available drug cisapride. 9 After 4 weeks, the herbal combination reduced dyspepsia pain by 69.7%, whereas the conventional treatment reduced pain by 70.2%.
A preparation of peppermint, caraway, fennel, and wormwood oils was compared to the drug metoclopramide in another double-blind study enrolling 60 individuals. 10 After 7 days, 43.3% of the treatment group was pain free compared to 13.3% of the metoclopramide group.
Note: Metoclopramide works by reducing gastric emptying time (in other words, speeding the passage of food from the stomach into the intestines). Interestingly, some evidence suggests that peppermint oil may have the same effect. 11
The proper dosage of peppermint oil when treating irritable bowel syndrome is 0.2 ml to 0.4 ml three times a day of an enteric-coated capsule. The capsule has to be enteric-coated to prevent stomach distress.
When used in herbal combinations to treat stomach problems, peppermint oil is taken at lower doses, and it is notenteric-coated.
- Liu JH, Chen GH, Yeh HZ, Huang CK, Poon SK. Enteric-coated peppermint-oil capsules in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a prospective, randomized trial. J Gastroenterol. 32(6):765-8.
- Merat S, Khalili S, Mostajabi P, Ghorbani A, Ansari R, Malekzadeh R. The effect of enteric-coated, delayed-release peppermint oil on irritable bowel syndrome. Dig Dis Sci. 55(5):1385-90.
- Cappello G, Spezzaferro M, Grossi L, Manzoli L, Marzio L. Peppermint oil (Mintoil) in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a prospective double blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Dig Liver Dis. 39(6):530-6.
- Sparks MJ, O'Sullivan P, Herrington AA, Morcos SK. Does peppermint oil relieve spasm during barium enema? Br J Radiol. 68(812):841-3.
- Asao T, Kuwano H, Ide M, Hirayama I, Nakamura JI, Fujita KI, Horiuti R. Spasmolytic effect of peppermint oil in barium during double-contrast barium enema compared with Buscopan. Clin Radiol. 58(4):301-5.
- Hiki N, Kurosaka H, Tatsutomi Y, Shimoyama S, Tsuji E, Kojima J, Shimizu N, Ono H, Hirooka T, Noguchi C, Mafune K, Kaminishi M. Peppermint oil reduces gastric spasm during upper endoscopy: a randomized, double-blind, double-dummy controlled trial. Gastrointest Endosc. 57(4):475-82.
- Fazel N. The effect of supermint oil on pain severity after caesarean section. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2004;13(suppl):S126.
- May B, Kuntz HD, Kieser M, Köhler S. Efficacy of a fixed peppermint oil/caraway oil combination in non-ulcer dyspepsia. Arzneimittelforschung. 46(12):1149-53.
- Madisch A, Heydenreich CJ, Wieland V, Hufnagel R, Hotz J. Treatment of functional dyspepsia with a fixed peppermint oil and caraway oil combination preparation as compared to cisapride. A multicenter, reference-controlled double-blind equivalence study. Arzneimittelforschung. 49(11):925-32.
- Westphal J, Horning M, Leonhardt K. Phytotherapy in functional upper abdominal complaints. Results of a clinical study with a preparation of several plants. Phytomedicine. 1996;2:285-291.
- Inamori M, Akiyama T, Akimoto K, Fujita K, Takahashi H, Yoneda M, Abe Y, Kubota K, Saito S, Ueno N, Nakajima A. Early effects of peppermint oil on gastric emptying: a crossover study using a continuous real-time 13C breath test (BreathID system). J Gastroenterol. 42(7):539-42.