Peppermint leaves yield approximately 0.1–1.0% volatile oil which is composed primarily of menthol (29–48%) and menthone (20–31%).45 Peppermint oil is classified as a carminative (prevents and relieves intestinal wind).46 It may also relieve spasms in the intestinal tract. Peppermint oil or peppermint tea is often used to treat wind and indigestion.
Three double-blind trials found that enteric-coated peppermint oil reduced the pain associated with intestinal spasms, commonly experienced in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).47, 48, 49 However, another trial found no effect of peppermint on IBS.50 A double-blind trial found that an enteric-coated combination of peppermint and caraway oils was superior to a placebo for people with gastrointestinal complaints including IBS.51 A combination of peppermint, caraway seeds, and two other carminative herbs (fennel seeds and wormwood) was reported to be effective for gastrointestinal complaints including IBS in another double-blind study.52
A tea of peppermint is a traditional therapy for colic in infants but has never been investigated in a human trial. Peppermint should be used cautiously in infants (see side effects below).
Peppermint oil’s relaxing action also extends to topical use. When applied topically, it acts as an analgesic and reduces pain.53 A trial of topical peppermint oil applied to the temples of healthy volunteers (with or without eucalyptus oil) found that peppermint oil had a muscle-relaxing action and it decreased tension.54 Topical peppermint oil alone reduced pain in people with tension headaches as well.
For internal use, a tea can be made by pouring 1 cup (250 ml ) of boiling water over 1 heaped teaspoon (5 grams) of the dried leaves and steeping for five to ten minutes. Three to four portions (750–1000 ml) daily between meals can be taken to relieve stomach and gastrointestinal complaints.55 Peppermint leaf tablets and capsules, 3–6 grams per day, can be taken. For treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, 1–2 enteric-coated capsules containing 0.2 ml of peppermint oil taken two to three times per day is recommended.
For headaches, a combination of peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil diluted with base oil can be applied to the temples at the onset of the headache and every hour after that or until symptom relief is noted.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.