Peppermint is a plant that is used in traditional medicine preparations for a variety of conditions. It functions as an antispasmodic that helps to relax and calm muscles as well as potentially having antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Evidence suggests that peppermint oil is helpful in small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) as well as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and proves more beneficial than placebo in clinical trials. It has also been used in:
- Cough and cold symptoms, when used topically or inhaled
- Pain, headaches, and arthritis, when used topically
- Bloating and indigestion, when used orally
Peppermint is available as whole leaf, teas, or enteric coated capsules that are designed to digest in the small intestine, minimizing heart burn and indigestion. For teas, steeping 1 teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 minutes is often sufficient to aid in digestion. 1-2 enteric coated capsules containing 180-225 mg of peppermint oil 2-3 times a day has been reported to be beneficial in treating symptoms of IBS.
As with any medication or supplement, peppermint oil comes with side effects and precautions:
- Digestive Distress: It is important to note that capsules of peppermint oil need to be enteric coated, meaning they dissolve in the intestines instead of the stomach, to reduce the likelihood of heartburn. As peppermint does relax muscles, it can relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) meaning that it can exacerbate symptoms of heartburn and reflux.
- Irritation: Peppermint oil or menthol, the active ingredient, can cause skin irritation or a burning sensation if used too often or too liberally. As well, oral irritation called stomatitis can occur if too much tea or peppermint candies are ingested.
- Drug interactions: As enteric coated capsules need to digest in the small intestine, antacids or acid suppressing medications can interact and reduce the pH of the stomach, potentially allowing the capsules to digest in the stomach not intestine.
- Medical conditions: Peppermint can worsen gallstones and should not be used in pregnancy. Amounts found in food is safe however.
- Breastfeeding mothers: Peppermint oil may decrease milk supply and supplementation should therefore be avoided.
Peppermint oil is a safe and traditional remedy and has been scientifically proven effective for IBS as compared to placebo. Side effects are minimal and can be minimized by using enteric-coated capsules and limiting the use to a few times a day.
The GutBiome Approach
The first step in treating IBS is modifications to diet, lifestyle, and stress management. However, in some cases these methods alone are insufficient for full symptom control.
Using a traditional remedy such as peppermint oil can be a safe and effective method to lessen the digestive symptoms associated with IBS. Peppermint oil acts as an antispasmodic and relaxes the smooth muscles in the intestine as well as helps to minimize symptoms of indigestion, gas, and bloating, all common with IBS.
It is important to note that if taking capsule forms of peppermint oil, they must be enteric coated in order for proper breakdown and absorption. This minimizes the potential digestive side effects. Avoid teas and peppermint flavored products, as they are insufficient for full symptom control and often lead to digestive side effects such as heart burn or irritation of the mouth.
Purchase the GutBiome Institute recommended peppermint oil supplement.
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