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Peppermint benefits include the treatment of digestive disorders and other conditions including headaches, according to the results of two reviews, one published in American Family Physician and the other in the British Medical Journal.
As more human studies demonstrating the effectiveness of encapsulated peppermint oil have been published over the past decade, it has become increasingly popular as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Meanwhile, other studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of topical peppermint oil for headache relief.
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What Is Peppermint Oil?
Peppermint has been used medicinally for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks used the leaves of peppermint for aiding digestion, managing gallbladder disease, and treating coughs and other symptoms of congestion.
Most modern preparations of peppermint use its oil, which is extracted from the stem, leaves, and flowers of the plant. Peppermint essential oil contains a combination of chemical compounds including menthol, menthone, cineol, and other oils, which together have antibacterial effects as well as relaxing effects on smooth muscle.
Peppermint oil is particularly relaxing and antispasmotic to the smooth muscle lining the gastrointestinal tract. Some peppermint oil supplements, such as those designed for treating IBS, are enteric coated so that they do not dissolve until reaching the intestines, where the oil can exert its therapeutic effects on the bowel.
Peppermint Benefits for IBS
IBS is a disorder in which the large intestine or colon fails to function properly. Symptoms can include any of the following:
- Abdominal pain and distension
- Frequent bowel movements with pain or relief of pain
- Excessive production of mucus in the colon
- Symptoms of indigestion such as flatulence, nausea, or anorexia
- Varying degrees of anxiety or depression.
According to a review and meta-analysis of studies funded by the American College of Gastroenterology and published in the British Medical Journal, peppermint oil is more effective than placebo for controlling symptoms of IBS. In four trials comparing peppermint oil to placebo in 392 patients, peppermint oil was found to cure or relieve IBS symptoms, including abdominal pain.
The other review, published in American Family Physician in 2007, found that peppermint oil is effective in reducing symptoms of IBS, particularly flatulence, abdominal pain, and distension, in adults and abdominal pain in children.
With the advent of newer more expensive drugs, peppermint oil and other safe, over-the-counter IBS remedies like fiber supplements are often overlooked as potentially effective treatments, according to the researchers.
The recommended dosage of enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules is 0.2 to 0.4 mL of peppermint oil three times daily in for adults, and 0.1 to 0.2 mL of peppermint oil three times daily for children older than 8 years.
Peppermint Benefits for Headache
Peppermint oil applied topically may effectively treat tension headaches. Two studies have demonstrated the efficacy of topical peppermint oil for tension headaches.
One study compared topical peppermint oil to placebo and found the peppermint oil was superior to placebo in terms of headache pain relief.
Another trial demonstrated that topical peppermint oil was similar to acetaminophen (Tylenol) in terms of treatment efficacy. In both these headache studies, the peppermint oil was combined with ethanol (10 grams of peppermint oil plus 90 grams of 90 percent ethanol). That solution was then rubbed on the forehead and temples and reapplied every 15 minutes as needed.
To try topical peppermint oil for headaches yourself, use diluted peppermint essential oil. Do not apply peppermint essential oil directly to your skin. Instead, add about 20 drops essential oil per 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of carrier oil, such as jojoba or hazelnut oil. This creates about a 4 percent dilution, which is generally the strength for headaches recommended by aromatherapists. Apply the diluted oil topically, rubbing into forehead and temples and the back of the neck for relief of tension headaches.
Peppermint Oil Cautions
Peppermint oil is well tolerated at the commonly recommended dosage but it may cause adverse effects at higher dosages, including rare but severe kidney damage or failure. It may also cause allergic reactions, heartburn, blurred vision, nausea, and vomiting.
Peppermint oil may interact with some drugs and should not be used by people with hiatal hernia, severe gastroesophageal reflux, and gallbladder disorders. It should be used with caution in pregnant and lactating women. Furthermore, peppermint oil should not be used in infants and young children.
Go Beyond Symptomatic Treatment
While peppermint benefits the symptoms of IBS and tension headaches, it’s ultimately more useful to identify and treat the underlying cause of these conditions. Integrative and natural medicine practitioners can be very helpful in uncovering why you have IBS or headaches in the first place, such as gluten intolerance or food allergies, and then offering a comprehensive treatment plan that includes natural medicines, dietary advice, and support for lifestyle changes to address these underlying causes. You don’t need to suffer from IBS or chronic headaches.
Reach out and get the support you need to heal and feel your best!
This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.