Peppermint or Mentha piperita, originally from Europe and the Middle East, is an herb that is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. It comes in a variety of forms such as essential oils, extracts, capsules, and teas.
Peppermint has been used therapeutically in herbal medicine to relieve pain, ease muscle spasms, and many more. It is also commonly used to flavor foods, soaps, cosmetics, and oral hygiene products.
Scientific studies have shown many health benefits with peppermint use, which we will explain below.
- It may aid in digestion and soothe an upset stomach.
Peppermint contains menthol, which has a relaxing effect on the gastrointestinal smooth muscles and may ease pain. Relaxing the muscles allows gas to be expelled, alleviating gas pain and bloating. Peppermint also improves the flow of bile, making it easier to digest fats.
- It may reduce Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms.
Several studies have shown the effectiveness of peppermint capsules in treating symptoms associated with IBS. A study showed that 75% of IBS patients who received peppermint capsules twice a day for 4 weeks experienced a significant reduction of symptoms. A more recent study found that 80% of patients who took peppermint oil 3 to 4 times per day for a month showed less abdominal distention and gas/bloating compared to the placebo.
- It may alleviate tension headaches and migraines.
Although there is limited scientific evidence, peppermint oil applied to the forehead and temples may alleviate headaches and migraines as the herb has a relaxing effect on smooth muscle.
- It may treat skin conditions.
Peppermint oil is shown to have a calming and cooling effect for skin irritation and itchiness. A 2011 study found that participants diagnosed with itchy skin showed a significant improvement in the severity of the itch with peppermint oil treatment.
- It may treat colds and flu-like symptoms.
Peppermint may also help with treating colds and flu-like symptoms. The menthol in peppermint is an effective decongestant that helps to thin mucus. Menthol can also help to loosen phlegm and break up coughs. So, the next time you’re feeling a little under the weather, steep a cup of peppermint tea to soothe a sore throat and relieve coughs.
Risk and Precautions
If you already take medications, consult with your doctor before using peppermint. Peppermint can interact with other herbs, supplements, or drugs and trigger negative side effects.
Peppermint oil in large doses can be toxic and should only be used sparingly.
Patients with IBS may experience some potential side effects such as heartburn, nausea, and vomiting when taking peppermint.
Although the evidence is limited, several studies do show the many potential health benefits of peppermint.
Peppermint tea is a delicious and caffeine-free beverage that can be safely consumed at any time of the day. Try a warm cup of peppermint tea after your next meal to support digestion or before bed to help you relax.
Written by: Michelle YI, Dietetic Intern, Brooklyn College
Reviewed by: Nazirber De La Cruz, RDN, CDN, CDCES