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  • A Look at the Health Benefits of Peppermint Oil and Tea

    Peppermint (Mentha piperita L.) is a very well-known herb, known as much for its fragrance as for its observed health benefits. Teas, or tisanes, brewed from peppermint plant leaves, as a single ingredient, are widely consumed worldwide, and peppermint essential oil is always to be found in the treatment kits of traditional medicine.

    From ancient times until today, herbal preparations have been used by healthcare providers in Europe and Asia. The herbs are usually heated and given as herbal tea. These practices are not usually based on evidence-based research but largely on folklore. Some of these plants, however, have been the subject of scientific study, and here we look at some of the recent research into on one of the most popular among them — the peppermint, and take a look at potential health benefits of peppermint tea.

    Pot of Peppermint Tea
    A refreshing pot of peppermint tea: Photograph by nSeika.

    Peppermint Has Many Known Health Related Uses

    In traditional medicine, peppermint has a long list of uses: peppermint health benefits include: including: dyspepsia, enteritis, gastritis, and spasms of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, bile duct, and gallbladder. In Germany, the government has granted a license for use of peppermint leaves as standard medicinal tea for treatment of dyspepsia. It also approved internal uses of peppermint to treat spasms in the GI tract, bile ducts, and the gallbladder. Much research is going into other benefits of peppermint tea.

    Peppermint oil is also approved for internal use on spastic discomforts of the upper GI tract and bile ducts, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or irritable colon, and catarrhs of the respiratory tract. Peppermint oil is also approved for external use on neuralgia and myalgia. Except for the relationship between peppermint oil and IBS, there is little evidence on the relationship between use of peppermint and the other conditions mentioned.

    Peppermint Oil Bottle
    Bottle of peppermint oil by Open-Arms.

    Let us Take a Look at Some Findings from Gastrointestinal Studies with Human Subjects.

    In one study on 12 individuals, 90 mg peppermint oil did not have any significant effect on gastric emptying time, but it did inhibit the gallbladder from emptying thus increasing the gallbladder volume when it started to refill. Peppermint oil also significantly delayed the transit time through the intestine.

    Both observations were compared with placebo. In contrast, another study on 26 subjects who were given radio-labeled test meals — one with, the other without, 0.2 mL peppermint oil in 25 mL water — found that the peppermint treatment accelerated gastric emptying rate.

    Peppermint oil also showed ability to reduce painful muscle spasms. This observation was on patients undergoing endoscopy of the GI tract and those subjected to barium enema. In fact, one research team reported relief of colon spasm among 20 patients for colonoscopy within 30 seconds after administering peppermint oil.

    And, in a study on 445 patients undergoing colonoscopy, which inherently causes spasmolytic effects, the administration of 0.8% peppermint oil solution reduced that effect by 88.5% in the treated patients versus a reduction of 33.3% in the control group.

    Peppermint and Abdominal Pain

    Abdominal pain and dyspepsia also responded favorably to treatment with peppermint oil or just peppermint leaves. An herbal preparation of peppermint leaves mixed with extracts from chamomile, licorice, and several other plants made significant improvements on symptoms of patients with functional dyspepsia. In a separate study, this same formulation proved to be equally effective as the antispasmodic drug cisapride in eliminating symptoms previously described as moderate to severe.

    These are some of the effects of peppermint on the GI tract. As regards contraindications, there have not been any toxicity studies in humans. However, the approval for its use in Germany carried the warning that peppermint oil is not recommended for disorders in the bile duct, gallbladder and liver. Caution is also advised when peppermint oil capsules are used by patients suffering from GI reflux, hiatal hernia or kidney stones are present.