Research shows that peppermint can help tame some digestive woes. However, it may worsen other digestive issues like heartburn.
If you have an upset stomach, your first instinct may be to suck on a peppermint candy or brew a soothing cup of peppermint tea. However, while the minty treat can help some digestive conditions, like indigestion and gas, it may hurt others, such as heartburn due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
A study from 2011 published in Pain showed why peppermint might help people with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. The compounds in peppermint actually activate an anti-pain channel in the colon. This channel, called TRPM8, may reduce the pain linked to eating some spicy foods like mustard or chili, according to researchers. Since then, multiple studies have confirmed peppermint oil to be a beneficial treatment for IBS.
When Peppermint Won’t Help
When it comes to digestive pain higher up in the digestive tract, such as heartburn due to GERD, peppermint might not be such a good idea. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, peppermint can actually relax the sphincter muscle which closes off the stomach from the esophagus. This can cause stomach acid to pour back into the esophagus and make heartburn or GERD worse.
If you have heartburn or GERD, it’s probably best to steer clear of mint-flavored products to avoid the irritation that can come along with it.
Tips for Using Peppermint
If you have indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, or pain lower in your gut, then you may want to try peppermint.
Aline Charabaty, MD, director of the Center of Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., recommends using coated capsules of peppermint oil. “The enteric-coated form of peppermint oil bypasses the stomach and is released in the small bowel,” she says, “so the enteric-coated form should not affect the gastroesophageal sphincter.” Dr. Charabaty says the clinical evidence is pretty clear that coated capsules –available at health food stores, grocery stores, and online – are the way to go. “Studies that showed benefit in improving IBS symptoms used two tablets of enteric-coated peppermint oil twice a day for at least four weeks,” she says.
Another option is peppermint gum. It may not have the direct impact of a peppermint capsule, but it still might be worth a try. “Chewing any type of gum stimulates the secretion of gastric juices, which can help with the digestion of food and relieve the sensation of fullness and bloating after a meal,” explains Charabaty.
Peppermint hard candy, on the other hand, does not have the same effect. In fact, the sugar content might cause the opposite result. “One thing to remember is that peppermint candies have a high sugar content,” says Charabaty. “Sugar can get fermented by the bacteria in our small bowel, which in turn can produce gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.”
If you have lower digestive problems, such as indigestion or IBS, and are interested in trying peppermint as an alternative therapy, talk to your doctor about adding peppermint to your treatment plan.
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