Pick Peppermint for Dyspepsia
Peppermint is popular this time of year, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s associated with a certain type of striped red and white, decorative candy. But there’s far more to peppermint than tooth-rotting treats. Menthol is a distinctive flavoring derived from the peppermint (Mentha piperata) plant. Menthol is the natural product most often associated with the plant. It’s extracted for use in any number of products, ranging from the downright harmful (menthol cigarettes) to the highly beneficial (menthol extract for the treatment of nausea) and the delightful (scent added to products like candles and potpourri).
It’s also been a mainstay of folk medicine for many centuries. Peppermint has been used for everything from insect repellant to fighting infections to combatting nausea and reducing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Menthol is associated with a unique cooling sensation, which reflects its ability to induce changes in local sensory neurons. Some of these nerves are responsible for sensing temperature changes. Menthol stimulates these nerves, literally provoking the sensation of coolness.
On a more practical level, research suggests that menthol is capable of fighting cancer on several levels. It’s also useful in aromatherapy, where it’s been shown to be effective at helping to reduce nausea and vomiting. Preliminary findings indicate that peppermint may be useful for the control of infant colic, nausea in women after caesarean section, and in the alleviation of indigestion.
Peppermint oil capsules have been used to control nausea among people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, with apparent success. Subjects in some of these trials experienced significant reductions in abdominal distention, flatulence, and pain. It’s even been shown effective as a treatment for tension headache, when applied directly to the skin of the temples.
One note of warning, though. Never take more than the recommended dose of extracted peppermint oil, and do not take peppermint oil if you have been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); peppermint oil relaxes the esophageal sphincter, and could be counterproductive.
Pittler MH, Ernst E. Peppermint oil for irritable bowel syndrome: a critical review and metaanalysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 1998;93:1131–5.