peppermint oil leaf

Peppermint oil has been used as a remedy for gastrointestinal issues throughout history in cultures around the world. However, some people claim it as a digestive-cure-all, while others find it quite detrimental for their digestive health.

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In this article, you’ll learn how peppermint oil works to alleviate digestive symptoms and why some may not tolerate it. You’ll answer the question: is peppermint oil gut friend or foe?

What is peppermint oil?

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a perennial hybrid herb of watermint and spearmint. Peppermint leaves are used for culinary and medicinal purposes.  Menthol is the bioactive ingredient in peppermint oil that produces it’s “minty” aroma and flavor. 

What does peppermint oil do in the body?

Peppermint oil blocks off calcium channels, which helps to decrease smooth muscle spasms in the gastrointestinal tract. It helps improve gastrointestinal motility (movement of food through the digestive tract), relieve flatulence (gas) and reduce inflammation. Specifically, peppermint may help with:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)- 39-79% of those with IBS respond positively to 1-2 enteric-coated* peppermint oil capsules 3x per day. It has been shown to help improve abdominal pain, distension, gas, and bowel movements. *The enteric coating prevent the capsule from breaking down in the stomach. 
  • Dyspepsia (upset stomach)- Peppermint oil is helpful especially when used in a blended herbal product called Iberogast. Take 1mL of this product 3x per day to help improve acid reflux, stomach pain, cramping, nausea, and vomiting. 

Who should NOT use peppermint oil?

If you have low iron levels or iron-deficiency anemia, it is best to avoid peppermint as it may inhibit the absorption of iron. Additionally, similar to grapefruit juice, the menthol found in peppermint can inhibit the CYP34A enzyme. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any herbal treatment to check for drug interactions. 

Those who suffer from hypochlorhydria or achlorhydria (not enough or no production of stomach acid…think about those that are using acid-blocking medication…) should not use enteric-coated peppermint oil. The higher pH of the stomach due to the lack of acid in this environment will cause the enteric capsule to breakdown in the stomach and may cause discomfort and burning. 

Additionally, those who suffer from chronic diarrhea should also avoid peppermint as the faster digestive motility will interfere with the absorption of the capsule. This leads to high concentrations of the product in the colon and rectum, which may cause anal burning. 

While most do not have poor reactions to peppermint oil, some people find that it induces heartburn. This is due to its relaxation effect on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is the “door” that is supposed to shut between the esophagus and the stomach. If this “door” is too relaxed, than stomach acid may sneak up and produce acid reflux. 

In rare occasions, peppermint oil (not in enteric capsules) may cause a burning feeling throughout the gastrointestinal tract as well as other digestive symptoms including nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, belching, dry mouth, and increased appetite.  

How do I use peppermint oil?

Peppermint oil for gastrointestinal health typically involves 450 to 750mg of the oil per day in 2 to 3 divided doses. This dose approximately reflects a menthol content between 33-50%. Remember to opt for an enteric coated capsule so that the capsule does not break down in the stomach and cause discomfort. For upset stomach and IBS, try using peppermint prior to a meal (2-3x per day) for up to 8 weeks. 

So, is peppermint oil gut friend or foe?

Clear-cut answers in nutrition are hard to come by! If there are no obvious contraindications, adding peppermint oil into your supplement regimen may come down to trial and error. Always start with the lowest possible dose, taken just once on the first day, and wait to see if any adverse symptoms develop. Once proven tolerant, start increasing the dose each day. After using peppermint oil for a few weeks, decide if you feel it has helped improve your gastrointestinal symptoms.

References:

http://examine.com/supplements/Peppermint/ 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17420159

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9430014

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17653649

https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=705

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