The aromatic leaves of a plant in the mint family, or an essential oil obtained from them, used as a flavoring in food is commonly referred to as peppermint. The oil and leaves have a cooling effect when used topically for muscle pain, nerve pain, relief from itching, or as a fragrance, as previously noted. Here Yvette Brazier, MedicalNewsToday.com, reflects on peppermint health benefits and risks, medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT:
“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.
Forms of peppermint
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 componentsTrusted Source 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
Scientific studies have suggested that peppermint, in various forms, can help treat the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
A 2008 studyTrusted Source 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 2013Trusted Source 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 concludedTrusted Source that peppermint activates an anti-pain channel in the colon, resulting in reduced inflammatory pain in the gut.
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.”
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