Peppermint: Health benefits and precautions
It is used to add flavor or fragrance to foods, cosmetics, soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and other products, and it may have some medicinal uses.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) leaves can be used dried or fresh in teas.
Originally from Europe, peppermint today is cultivated all over the world.
This article is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
- Peppermint is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint.
- It is available in the forms of leaves, capsules, and oils.
- Peppermint has shown health benefits for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), nausea, skin conditions, headaches, cold, and flu.
- It can interact with medicines and is not advised for people with gastrointestinal problems.
Forms of peppermint
Peppermint is a hybrid plant with numerous health benefits.
Peppermint can consist of fresh or dry leaves for use in food or as a tea. Peppermint essential oil is used in tinctures, chest rubs, and creams.
It can also be taken in enteric-coated capsules for swallowing. This allows the peppermint to pass into the intestine.
Peppermint essential oil is a concentrated oil that is extracted from the peppermint plant by steam distillation. The whole fresh or partly dried plant is used before it starts to flower.
The chemical components of peppermint oil are:
- menthol (40.7 percent)
- menthone (23.4 percent)
- menthyl acetate
Like other essential oils, peppermint essential oil should not be taken orally and must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying to the skin.
Possible health benefits
Peppermint is a popular traditional remedy for a number of conditions.
It is believed to have calming effects.
Peppermint calms the stomach muscles and improves the flow of bile, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM). This makes it suitable for people who have indigestion.
However, it should not be used by people with gastroesophageal reflex disease (GERD), which has different causes.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Peppermint has shown positive results in relieving the symptoms of IBS.
Scientific studies have suggested that peppermint, in various forms, can help treat the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
A 2008 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) concluded that peppermint was helpful as an antispasmodic in treating IBS.
Antispasmodic properties are those that reduce the intensity and frequency of spasms or involuntary movement.
Some research has indicated that peppermint may help reduce pain related to IBS.
A study published in 2013 found that peppermint was useful in treating abdominal pain in patients with diarrhea due to IBS.
A team from the University of Adelaide in Australia concluded that peppermint activates an anti-pain channel in the colon, resulting in reduced inflammatory pain in the gut.
Peppermint oil is widely used for calming skin irritation and itchiness, as well as reducing redness. Peppermint essential oil should always be diluted before topical use, or application to the skin.
A good recipe is one ounce of a carrier oil such as mineral or olive oil mixed with 3 to 5 drops of the essential oil. Before use, test a small amount on the forearm to rule out an allergic reaction.
However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support or challenge this use.
Headaches and migraines
Applying diluted peppermint oil onto the forehead has been found to be effective in the treatment of a tension headache.
An article in the American Family Physician describes it as having relaxing effects on smooth muscle and providing some relief for people experiencing colonic spasm during a barium enema.
The authors quote two trials demonstrating that a topical application of peppermint oil can help relieve the symptoms of a tension headache. One of them found peppermint oil to be as effective as Tylenol or paracetamol for pain relief.
Colds and flu
Menthol, the main chemical component of peppermint, is an effective decongestant. Decongestants shrink the swollen membranes in the nose, making it easier to breathe.
Menthol is also an expectorant. Expectorants loosen and bring up mucus from the lungs. Expectorants help people with coughs.
In an article published by the American Chemical Society in 2015, scientists concluded that:
"Based on its wide antimicrobial properties, Olbas can be a useful agent for the treatment of uncomplicated infections of the skin and respiratory tract."
R. Hamoud, F. Sporer, J. Reichling, & M. Wink, Faculty of Medicine, Ruprecht Karls University
Olbas consists of complex essential oil distillates including peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and cajuput oil. These essential oils are meant to be inhaled.
Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy
Peppermint oil should be avoided during pregnancy, as it has been known to trigger menstruation.
Many pregnant women who experience nausea during pregnancy say they have experienced benefits from using peppermint in its various forms. However, studies have either been inconclusive or contradictory.
Kligler and Chaudharay, reviewing the effectiveness of peppermint oil for various purposes, warn that "peppermint oil has been used to trigger menstruation and should be avoided during pregnancy."
A woman who is pregnant should speak to a doctor before taking peppermint for any reason.
Relieving chemotherapy-induced vomiting
A study published in Ecancermedicalscience found a "significant reduction in the intensity and number of emetic events in the first 24 hours" among patients who inhaled peppermint essential oil, compared with a placebo.
The authors conclude that peppermint oil is "safe and effective for antiemetic treatment in patients, as well as being cost-effective."
Treating and healing chronic wounds
Research published in the journal ACS Nano suggests that scientists have found a way to package antimicrobial compounds from peppermint and cinnamon in tiny capsules that can both kill biofilms and actively promote healing.
The researchers packaged peppermint oil and cinnamaldehyde, the compound in cinnamon responsible for its flavor and aroma, into silica nanoparticles.
The microcapsule treatment was effective against four different types of bacteria, including one antibiotic-resistant strain. It also promoted the growth of fibroblasts, a cell type that is important in wound healing.
Risks and precautions
Peppermint, like many other herbs, can interact with other herbs, supplements, or drugs. Peppermint can also trigger side effects in some susceptible individuals. It is possible to be allergic to peppermint.
Anyone who already receives medication should talk to their doctor before using peppermint.
Peppermint should not be used by young children. Applied to the face, it can cause life-threatening breathing problems.
It is not be recommended for people who:
- have diabetes, as it may increase the risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar
- have a hiatus hernia.
- have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Peppermint may interact with some drugs, including:
- cyclosporine, taken by transplant recipients to prevent organ rejection/li>
- Pepcid, Zantac, and other drugs that reduce stomach acid
- diabetes drugs that lower blood sugar
- drugs for hypertension, or high blood pressure
- medications that are metabolized by the liver
It should not be used with antacids. This is because some peppermint supplements are in capsule form. Their coating may break down too rapidly if the patient is also taking an antacid, increasing the risk of heartburn.
Dr. Kligler and colleagues, writing in the American Family Physician, conclude that peppermint appears to be safe and effective in treating some symptoms of IBS, and that it can help relieve tension headaches. However, they advise against excessive use, because high doses could lead to poisoning.
There is no scientific evidence to confirm its efficacy or safety, but the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM) notes that peppermint may kill some types of viruses, fungi, and bacteria.