Peppermint and Stomach Pain

bottle surrounded green leaves

Peppermint has been promoted as helpful for gastrointestinal problems for centuries. In fact, physician and apothecary Nicholas Culpeper, wrote in 1653 that “mint is very profitable to the stomach.” Unfortunately today the benefits are not quite that clear cut. For some conditions mint is indeed helpful but for others it can exacerbate the problem.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A meta-analysis of the existing research data up to 2007 conducted by Dr. Alex Ford of McMaster University showed peppermint oil to be an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Peppermint’s beneficial effects were particularly pronounced in children, who showed the strongest benefits from the treatment. There have been no studies to date however, on children younger than eight.

It is important to note that all of the studies included in this analysis used peppermint oil in enteric coated capsules. Peppermint tea or candies are unlikely to produce the same reduction in symptoms since the peppermint’s antispasmodic properties will work on the stomach rather than targeting the intestinal muscles which are the source of the discomfort.

Heartburn and Indigestion

Although the menthol in peppermint increases the flow of bile and may in that way aid in digestion it can also cause heartburn. The relaxant properties of peppermint which make it so effective for IBS also act on the sphincter that keeps the food you swallow in your stomach and prevents stomach acids from entering the esophagus. For this reason people who suffer from either gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or a hiatal hernia are advised to avoid peppermint. The menthol content in peppermint tea is much reduced and there is anecdotal evidence that it may help with occasional heartburn, for those without these conditions however, there are as yet no studies to support this.

Gas Pains and Bloating

Anyone suffering frequent gas pains and bloating should consult a physician but for occasional bouts brought on by overeating or greasy food peppermint oil can relax the intestinal muscles and allow gas to pass through and be more easily eliminated. As with treating IBS enteric coated capsules prove to be the most effective since the capsules pass through the stomach intact so that the intestines receive the full benefit.

Nausea

Unfortunately there has not been enough research into peppermint as a treatment for nausea to make any conclusions.

Peppermint can interfere with some drugs, increasing how quickly they are broken down by the liver. If you are taking any other medication, check with your doctor before taking therapeutic doses of peppermint oil.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.

References:

Meyler’s Side Effects of Herbal Medicines by Jeffrey K. Aronson (Elsevier Science)

Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, (Wordsworth Editions Ltd.)

University of Maryland Medical Center