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Clinical Use of Peppermint for GI Health

by Bianca Garilli, ND

A member of the Lamiaceae flowering plant family, peppermint (Mentha piperita) is one of the most widely herbs used in today’s society.  The peppermint plant is a mix of Mentha spicata (spearmint) and Mentha aquatica (watermint). This fragrant herb originates form the Mediterranean region and now grows wildly in many areas of the world.  Peppermint is well known for its spicy taste and the characteristic “coolness” which comes from its menthol containing volatile oil.1

Peppermint use throughout the centuries ranges from a pest deterrent in Roman times to a center stage aphrodisiac in Aristotle’s time. Thirteenth century Icelandic writings note the medicinal use of peppermint which is seen again in the mid-18th century European medicinal formularies.1

In modern times, fresh and dried leaf preparations as well as distilled volatile oils of peppermint continue to be used for a variety of health roles including gastrointestinal ailments (relieving bloating, GI spasms, and diarrhea) and to raise body heat and induce sweating in the case of colds, flu, and coughs.  Peppermint is often employed for tension headaches as well.1

A literature review published in Gastroenterology aimed to summarize the data regarding peppermint’s metabolism, effects on gastrointestinal physiology, clinical use and efficacy, and safety. Full manuscripts published through July 15, 2017 on the topic were reviewed, and only randomized clinical trials were included in the review process.2

Results from the review support the traditional use of peppermint oil in the gastrointestinal tract for:2

  • Esophageal, gastric, small bowel, gall-bladder, and colonic physiology
  • Facilitating completion of colonoscopy and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Functional dyspepsia
  • Childhood functional abdominal pain
  • Post-operative nausea

The mechanisms underlying its wide therapeutic scope include:2

  • Smooth muscle relaxation (via calcium channel blockade or direct enteric nervous system effects)
  • Visceral sensitivity modulation (via transient receptor potential cation channels)
  • Anti-microbial effects
  • Anti-inflammatory activity
  • Modulation of psychosocial distress

Peppermint oil trials have also shown few adverse effects suggesting a good safety profile.2

Why is this Clinically Relevant?

  • Peppermint may be a safe and widely available therapeutic for various gastrointestinal symptoms including bloating, gas, cramping, diarrhea, and dyspepsia
  • Peppermint volatile oil may improve GI symptoms in adults and children and can be utilized as a tea or in capsule form
  • Peppermint is a safe herbal treatment which can be utilized and kept in “home first-aid” remedy kits

Link to article 

  1. American Botanical Council. Peppermint. HerbalGram. 2006;72:1,4-5.
  2. Chumpitazi BP, Kearns GL, Shulman RJ. The physiological effects and safety of peppermint oil and its efficacy in irritable bowel syndrome and other functional disorders. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2018;47(6):738-752.

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