Peppermint Oil: Uses and Benefits for Digestive Health

By Molly Knudsen, MS, RDN

When you think of the word peppermint, what comes to mind? A festive addition to wintertime treats (e.g. peppermint bark and peppermint mochas)? A refreshing ingredient in toothpastes and mouthwashes?

While those are some of the most notable examples of peppermint’s inclusion in foods and products nowadays, peppermint and peppermint oil have ancient roots in traditional herbal medicine, which are now sprouting into clinical applications in modern medicine.1

What is peppermint?

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is an aromatic herb that is a cross between the spearmint and watermint plants, and its cultivation dates back to ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. Peppermint has been used therapeutically in traditional herbal medicine as a tonic for stomach upset and as an oil vapor and tea for coughs and decongestion.2,3

Peppermint oil is distilled from the peppermint plant and contains the volatile compounds menthol, menthone, and isomenthone.4 Menthol is the most abundant of the three and provides peppermint with its signature scent.3   

What forms does peppermint oil come in?

Peppermint oil comes in a variety of forms that can either be diffused, used topically, or consumed.

Essential oil: This is the most concentrated form of peppermint oil available. It is often used in aromatherapy or diluted in a carrier oil (like coconut oil or olive oil) and applied to the skin.

Extract: A more diluted liquid than the essential oil. Peppermint extract is commonly used as a flavoring ingredient in food.

Capsules: A convenient way to ingest concentrated peppermint oil.  

Teas: Peppermint is a popular herbal tea, and although dried peppermint leaves don’t contain as much oil as their more concentrated liquid counterparts, the dried leaves still contain 1.2-3.9% essential oils.4

What are the digestive benefits of peppermint oil?

The use of peppermint oil in alleviating digestive concerns is by no means a new interest, but it continues to draw the attention of researchers since some of its first appearances in the scientific literature in the 1980s.2 One growing area of research is peppermint oil’s influence on soothing functional gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as bloating, abdominal discomfort, and altered bowel habits.5,6 A recent analysis pooling data from 12 studies of 835 patients found overall improved symptoms after taking peppermint oil compared to a placebo.5 Peppermint oil is known to have properties that assist in smooth muscle relaxation, which may have played a contributing role in alleviating these uncomfortable functional GI symptoms.5,6  

Are there other uses of peppermint oil for health?

Peppermint is often used in dental hygiene products and has been shown to be an effective ingredient to help keep teeth clean.7 In addition, peppermint oil has been used topically on the forehead to help calm tension headaches.1 However, there is limited scientific evidence confirming the effectiveness of this method, although peppermint oil does create a cooling sensation when applied to the skin.1,3 The cooling sensation in peppermint is due to its menthol content, which is also why peppermint and menthol are commonly found in cold relief products like cough drops.3

Here are some suggestions for including peppermint in your diet:

  • Brew a cup of peppermint tea before bed
  • Add a drop or two of peppermint extract to your morning oatmeal (try also adding a bit of unsweetened cocoa powder and wake up to chocolate peppermint goodness)
  • Add a drop of peppermint extract to a cup of coffee
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about other forms of peppermint oil to add to your diet

References:

  1. Peppermint Oil. nccih.nih.gov. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/peppermintoil. Accessed December 2019.
  2. American Botanical Council. HerbalGram. 2006;72:1,4-5.
  3. Balakrishnan A. J Pharm Sci & Res. 2015;7(7):474-476.
  4. McKay DL et al. Phytother Res. 2006;20(8):619-633.
  5. Alammar N et al. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019;19(1):21.
  6. Chumpitazi BP et al. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2018;47(6):738-752.
  7. Dagli N et al. J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2015;5(5):335-340.
This entry was posted in Gastrointestinal Health, General Wellness and tagged , on by .

About Molly Knudsen

Molly Knudsen, MS, RDN is a writer at Metagenics. She completed her dietetic training with an emphasis on nutrition education at Texas Christian University and earned a Master of Science in Nutrition Interventions, Communication, and Behavior Change from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Knudsen has experience working with commodity boards and providing student athletes with nutrition coaching. She now practices nutrition education by digesting complex nutrition science through the written word.

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