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Peppermint and Bloating

Posted 5 years ago by Brendan

Regarded as one of the world's oldest medicines, peppermint (Mentha Piperita) is an effective remedy for bloating, IBS and other digestive complaints. A common herb easily grown almost anywhere, peppermint is a cross between spearmint (Mentha spicata) and water mint (Mentha aquatica). Its distinctively sweet and refreshing flavor is often found in products like toothpaste, mouthwash and chewing gum.

With a history of therapeutic use dating back to ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt, the majority of peppermint’s therapeutic properties are due to the high concentration of menthol found naturally in peppermint’s volatile oil. It is also a source of antioxidants (vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin A), B vitamins, minerals, tannins, bitters and fibre.

 

Menthol
The menthol found in peppermint oil has a variety of beneficial influences on the digestive system, with herbalists often recommending peppermint for stomach upsets such as indigestion, bloating, cramps, gas, colic, nausea and overindulgence. Menthol is an effective carminative and anti-spasmodic, relaxing the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract by blocking the calcium channels involved in peristalsis encouraging movement through the digestive system (1). Peppermint oil is also stimulating, increasing localised circulation and the flow of digestive enzymes and bile, all of which improves digestion. 

Menthol’s characteristic cooling sensation is also soothing to the gastrointestinal lining. This ability to chemically stimulate cold-sensitive receptors in the mucus membranes and skin, often sees menthol used in products for soothing and refreshing sunburn, sore throats, irritation and congestion. Further more, menthol has a mild analgesic and local anesthetic effect interacting with certain opioid (pain relieving) receptors. This effect is put to use in many topical products for headache and muscle strain. 

Irritable bowel syndrome
When managing IBS, a variety of treatments are often tried. For more on what IBS is and the treatments used read this article. When bloating, cramps and pain are the predominate symptoms, anti-spasmodics and smooth-muscle relaxants are generally prescribed. For some these are effective but significant improvements are often limited. Peppermint oil has however been shown in a high quality systemic review (a comparison of all the studies available) to be more effective than placebo in reducing persistent symptoms such as bloating and pain. Compared to placebo, peppermint oil also had a greater effect than other anti-spasmodics and the bulking fibre psylium husk also reviewed (2). For more on fibres and bloating click here. Treating IBS effectively can be tricky considering these is no identified cause but this research suggests the traditional use of peppermint for managing the symptoms of IBS, is valid and safe. These trials used enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules that breakdown in the intestines rather than the stomach to avoid peppermint’s carminative effect potentially producing esophageal reflux. 

Interestingly, another study comparing stress management techniques to other IBS treatments (predominantly the antispasmodic Colpermin but also peppermint oil) found reducing stress levels to produce the most significant reduction in IBS symptoms (3). Aromatherapists regard peppermint as one of the most energising and revitalising botanicals, with a sweet minty top note that helps dispel weariness, improve mental clarity and relieve nervous irritability. In addition to its soothing influence on the digestive system, perhaps these properties also help to further address underlying mental or emotional factors contributing to IBS. For more on the role of stress in digestive complaints read this article. 

Delicious Teapigs loose leaf peppermint tea -

Try some

Readily available in enteric coated capsules and low dose liquid form, dried loose leaf or tea bags, essential oil, combination formulas or the plant itself can even be grown at home, peppermint is definitely worth considering if you experience regular bloating or any other digestive complaint. Peppermint oil is particularly stimulating whereas peppermint tea is incredibly soothing, so its best avoid taking the essential oil form internally and stick to enteric coated capsules to get a therapeutic dose without discomfort. Talk to a practitioner, pharmacist or health food store about the best product for you. The tea or fresh leaves from the plant can be enjoyed regularly or as and when required. For quick bloating or overindulgence relief, Teapigs peppermint tea temples are one of my favourites. Read the post Getting rid of bloating for more bloating remedies. Peppermint tea is also great for menstrual bloating and cramps. A few drops of the essential oil can be added to a massage oil or foot bath, although less is more as peppermint oil can irritate sensitive skin. Children, pregnant women, those with GERD or heartburn are best to avoid peppermint without talking to a health professional. Otherwise, give it a try and see if peppermint helps your bloating. 

References 
1. Hills J & Aaronson P, 1991, "The mechanism of action of peppermint oil on gastrointestinal smooth muscle",  Gastroenterology; 101:55-65.
2. Ford A, et al. 2008, "Effect of fibre, antispasmodics, and peppermint oil in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: systematic review and meta-analysis" British Medical Journal; 337:a2313.
3. Shaw G, et al. 1991, "Stress management for irritable bowel syndrome: a controlled trial", Digestion; 50:36–42.

Let us know if you use peppermint for bloating, IBS or anything else. 

About Brendan O'Loughlin

Brendan is a integrative naturopath, nutritionist and yoga teacher. He has completed training in Naturopathy, Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Yoga, Iridology and Live Blood Analysis.

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