Health Benefits of Peppermint
The plant species peppermint has been known for years due to its pleasant and refreshing taste, which has seen it become a popular after-dinner addition. Aside from this, peppermint is actually becoming recognised for its health benefits, with numerous studies outlining a benefit for various conditions.
In this article, we’ll discuss peppermint in depth so you can see whether it would be a good addition to your diet.
What is Peppermint?
Peppermint (Metha piperita) is actually a hybrid plant made from crossing watermint and spearmint. Peppermint is renowned for its powerful concentration of menthol which is its primary active ingredient.
Traditionally, peppermint and peppermint oil have been used as calming aids, and there are widespread anecdotal reports of a benefit to the digestive system. Like with all areas of nutrition, it is important to have an in-depth look at the scientific evidence to see if claims around a food or supplement are substantiated. With that said, let’s delve into the research and assess the strength of the evidence behind this famed botanical.
What Are the Health Benefits of Peppermint?
As alluded to earlier, peppermint has been touted as an effective supplement for easing digestive problems namely Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
IBS is a condition that is thought to affect between 10-20% of the UK population. The most common symptoms of IBS are stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, and these can last for days or even months at a time.
Thankfully, the evidence base corroborates the anecdotes, as numerous studies are in agreement that peppermint is effective for calming IBS symptoms. Not only that, the benefit seems to be quite impressive.
Meta-analysis studies are known in the science community for being the pinnacle of scientific evidence. This is because they use advanced statistical methods to analyse numerous previous studies that have all sought to answer the same question.
On the topic of peppermint for IBS sufferers, a meta-analysis conducted in 2008 analysed the data of 12 studies which recruited, in total, almost 600 participants. This study provided strong evidence to suggest that taking peppermint is effective for combatting stomach pain and diarrhoea.
The scientists running the investigation concluded that taking peppermint between two to four times daily had the ability to cut the prevalence and severity of symptoms in half! These are massively impressive findings that should significantly benefit the lives of IBS sufferers.
But how does peppermint work? Peppermint belongs to a group called antispasmodics, which are compounds that possess muscle-relaxing properties. IBS is thought to be partially caused by an overactive digestive system which can cause the muscles of the digestive tract to go into a spasm.
It is thought that peppermint exerts its benefit by interfering with the chemical process that causes the muscles to be over-active. This relaxing effect has been shown to last up to two weeks, but unfortunately it is not a permanent cure as cessation of supplementation sees the symptoms return.
To add to peppermints impressive benefits, it has also been shown consistently to help relieve headaches when applied topically to the temples. One study has shown that a solution containing 10% peppermint oil was able to substantially reduce the severity of headaches in as little as 15 minutes.
What is more is that the potency of this benefit rivalled that of oral prescribed medication. As most oral medications come with side-effects, a natural and cost-effective alternative in the form of peppermint is welcomed.
Complementary findings have been published using a similar solution, which also included a small amount of eucalyptus oil. This formula was not only shown to reduce headaches, improve mood and decrease irritability, but there was good evidence to explain why it is beneficial.
The subjects had the muscle activity of their temples assessed via electromyography (EMG), and it was found that the soothing and calming nature of peppermint is able to reduce muscle tension by nearly a third. This nicely complements the findings with regards to digestive health, as again the antispasmodic effect of the peppermint helps to induce relaxation.
Peppermint again shows its diversity, as its active ingredients have shown benefits when consumed orally, applied topically and also when inhaled via aromatherapy. Numerous investigations have shown that peppermint oil is effective at reducing nausea, especially following operations. However, the quality of the evidence is quite limited, so further high-quality investigations are needed to confirm this.
How Much Peppermint Should I Take?
From the scores of research studies that have provided peppermint to individuals with digestive issues such as IBS, it appears that the most effective dose is between 450-750mg per day, split into numerous doses.
As peppermint is effective when taken with a meal, or within close proximity, it seems appropriate to take 150-250mg alongside the three main meals of the day. This would then ensure that the 450-750mg dose recommendation is adhered to.
Regarding the benefit to headaches, preliminary evidence shows that a solution containing 10% peppermint oil is the quality to aim for. This should be applied topically to the temples, at 15-30 minute intervals until the headache or migraine disappears.
Are There Any Side Effects of Taking Peppermint?
Now that we have covered how peppermint could be of benefit to you and how much to take, it is important to highlight any potential side effects.
Although peppermint is renowned for its ability to help the lower digestive tract, it has been known to cause problems higher up in the form of heartburn. This is because peppermint can relax the muscles that help to control acid reflux, which subsequently can lead to the symptoms. If you are someone who takes peppermint but suffers from heartburn, it is recommended that you change to coated tablets, as this seems to solve the problem.
Like with all supplements, it is important to only take as much as recommended and no more than that. This seems to be particularly important when taking peppermint, as very high doses have actually been linked to toxicity. However, it must be reiterated that this has only been seen when taking very high doses of peppermint leaves that are less than a week old. So as long as the recommended amount is adhered to or older leaves are used, there shouldn’t be any cause for concern.
Finally, drinking peppermint tea is a popular way to obtain the active ingredients that provide benefit. However, ingredients within tea and other hot beverages are known to affect the absorption of essential minerals such as iron and zinc. One research study in particular has shown that peppermint tea can decrease iron absorption by 84% on average. So if you are a regular drinker of peppermint tea, an iron supplement is certainly a good idea to prevent a deficiency.
To wrap this article up, peppermint has a number of proven benefits thanks to its natural nutrient make-up. The most widely appreciated benefit of this botanical hybrid is to those millions of people in the UK who suffer from digestive issues or more specifically IBS. If you are also a frequent sufferer of headaches or migraines, peppermint oil is also an option to be considered.
Hopefully this article has helped you learn more about peppermint, so that is it now appreciated for its medicinal applications and not just its pleasant taste and aroma.