CHICAGO December 13, 2012 - Peppermint flavor has a long association with the Christmas holiday. There is a much longer link between peppermint oil and the reduction of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms. The ancient Egyptians may not have had candy canes, but they used peppermint oil for medicinal purposes.
There have not been many credible research studies on herbal medicines, but the use of peppermint oil to reduce symptoms of IBS is backed by legitimate scientific evidence. A few studies have shown that peppermint oil’s anti-spasmodic quality calms intestinal cramping, bloating, pain, constipation, and diarrhea.
TIP: Peppermint extract is not a substitute for peppermint oil. The extract that many of us bake with is mostly alcohol.
In one study, reported in a Harvard Health publication, patients that took peppermint oil supplements for four weeks had a significant reduction in IBS symptoms. Of the group that took placebos, 38% reported fewer symptoms, while 75% of those getting the peppermint oil experienced IBS relief.
Not only is it cool that peppermint oil can relieve IBS discomfort, but the oil itself has a cooling effect since it contains menthol.
Products containing menthol provide an icy sensation as they stimulate nerves that detect cold, and put a damper on nerves that notice pain. It is possible that the menthol in peppermint oil blocks the body’s calcium channels, resulting in a relaxation of intestinal walls.
The reason people with heartburn (gastrointestinal reflux) must be careful using peppermint oil is easy to understand. Not only does the oil relax intestines, it does the same for the sphincter muscle that keeps stomach contents from retreating to the esophagus.
TIP: Some peppermint oil supplements are enteric-coated. That means the capsule does not release its contents until it has reached the intestines. If interested, ask your doctor about them.
A Bit About IBS
IBS is not considered a disease. It is a cluster of symptoms that trouble the gastrointestinal tract simultaneously. Commonly reported symptoms are intestinal cramping, pain, constipation, and diarrhea. Formerly, IBS was called spastic colon, colitis, or spastic bowel and was thought by some to originate in the sufferer’s imagination.
Anyone with IBS knows it is far from imaginary. What is now recognized is that a person’s mental and emotional well-being affects their IBS symptoms; as it does other health issues.
TIP: DO NOT start consuming peppermint oil until you have consulted with your physician if you have gastrointestinal problems, are on prescription medications, are pregnant, or breastfeeding. Do not give to infants or young children.
Besides peppermint oil, any ingestible might irritate or help relieve IBS. There are several different types of diets that can reduce IBS symptoms such as a high or low-fiber diet (depending on the type of IBS), a gluten free diet, or one that is low in fat.
To learn more about diets for IBS, and anything else you might want to know about this syndrome there is a wealth of information at Healthline.com.
Study source: The Sensitive Gut, A Harvard Medical School Special Health Report
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