Peppermint, commonly used as a fragrance or flavor in consumer products, has been studied for its mild effects on the gastrointestinal tract. Peppermint can be used for more than fresh, minty breath. It also has a calming effect on the gastrointestinal tract and can help with digestion, soothe upset stomachs, and ease nausea.
Menthol is the main ingredient in peppermint, derived from peppermint oil.
Peppermint has a calming effect on the digestive system through muscle relaxation.
More research is needed in humans, but studies show that peppermint can reduce cramping, nausea, and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
Peppermint is available as a tea, capsule, and oil, among others.
What is peppermint?
Peppermint, a cross between the herbs water mint and spearmint, grows widely in temperate climate zones around the world. The plant grows thin stalks with green leaves that can be used in numerous ways. Both peppermint leaves and the oil derived from the plant are believed to be medically beneficial for gastrointestinal issues.
Properties of peppermint
The herb has been used as a digestive aid for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians referenced mint as a digestive in the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical texts in the world (dating back to 1550 BC).
So how does it work on the gastrointestinal tract? Studies have found that peppermint works on the GI tract through smooth muscle relaxation of the colon, the lower part of the gastrointestinal tract. It also promotes the flow of bile, which breaks down fats into fatty acids for the body to absorb during digestion. Some research suggests that peppermint has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties because peppermint kills some kinds of bacteria and viruses in laboratory testing. It may also have an effect as a more potent antibacterial when combined with other plant-derived oils.
Forms of peppermint
Peppermint and its main ingredient, menthol, are available in several digestive products.
- Capsules. Enteric-coated tablets have a protective barrier that prevents stomach acid from breaking down the peppermint oil before it reaches the intestines.
- Oil. Peppermint oil can be used in aromatherapy to ease nausea.
While there is a growing body of research on peppermint’s medicinal effects, scientists call for more research in humans. Most clinical studies have focused on the use of peppermint for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) treatment. However, it has also been identified as a natural digestive agent in these five ways:
Menthol, the active ingredient in peppermint, can help the bowel wall relax by easing the smooth muscles of the colon.
By calming stomach muscles and helping the flow of bile, peppermint can soothe symptoms of discomfort such as tightness in the upper abdomen and a feeling of bloating. However, peppermint can worsen reflux because it relaxes the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach, so do not ingest peppermint if you have symptoms of GERD.
Studies have shown that inhaled peppermint reduces postoperative nausea, as well as nausea in pregnancy.
IBS is an intestinal disorder with symptoms such as abdominal distention and bloating abdominal pain, and altered bowel habits. Several studies have shown that enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules can reduce IBS symptoms.
Antispasmodic during gastrointestinal procedures
Endoscopy is a procedure that evaluates the upper GI tract through a camera, which can require antispasmodic medications for quality imaging. Peppermint oil can be used as an alternative to antispasmodic medications.
Peppermint is an herb with digestive benefits. Studies have shown that it can relax gastrointestinal muscles to ease cramping and indigestion and reduce nausea. There are several forms of peppermint. It is recommended to talk to your doctor about which method may be most beneficial.
- National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health. Peppermint Oil.
- National Library of Medicine. Review article: The physiological effects and safety of Peppermint Oil and its efficacy in irritable bowel syndrome and other functional disorders.
- Science Direct. Antibacterial and antioxidant activities of Mentha piperita L.
- Phytotherapy Research. Cholertic activity of Thapsia chem I, II, and III in rats: Comparison with terpenoid constituents and peppermint oil.
- Molecules. Essential Oils as Antimicrobial Agents - Myth or Real Alternative?
Show all references
- JSTOR Daily. Plant of the Month: Mint.
- Phytotherapy Research. A Review of the Bioactivity and Potential Health Benefits of Peppermint Tea.
- Journal of Peri Anesthesia Nursing. Effects of Peppermint Aromatherapy on Postoperative Nausea and Vomiting.
- International Journal of Preventive Medicine. Effects of Complementary Medicine on Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy.
- Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. Peppermint oil reduces gastric spasm during upper endoscopy.
- Digestive and Liver Disease. Peppermint oil (Mintoil) in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.