If you or someone you know has IBS, you may have heard about peppermint oil as a treatment for IBS symptoms. Peppermint oil is an herbal therapy commonly used by many IBS sufferers. It might seem like an “old wives’ tale” when you first hear about it, but sometimes these old tales ring true! Here, I take a look at some of the studies into peppermint oil, and explore how it can be used to manage IBS symptoms.

First, a recap – What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

IBS has no single identifiable cause, but one thing we do know is that the gut does not function properly, causing a lot of discomfort for IBS sufferers. Symptoms of IBS can include abdominal pain; bloating; distension; and altered bowel movements – all of which have a negative impact on daily life.

Abdominal pain is probably one of the most common symptoms for people with IBS. This type of chronic pain is not associated with any obvious structural damage to the gut wall, but some IBS patients appear to have a heightened response to pain. This is known as visceral hypersensitivity, meaning a signal may arise in their gut, which is then relayed to the brain, resulting in increased pain sensations.

For some more reading about IBS, take a look at our previous blog posts:

So how can Peppermint Oil help?

There is evidence that peppermint oil can help with abdominal pain. Peppermint oil contains a compound known as L-menthol, which appears to have a direct interaction with pain receptors in the digestive tract, thereby reducing the painful sensations in your gut. Not only that, L-menthol is also a muscle relaxant, which basically means it blocks the calcium channels in the smooth muscle, found along the digestive tract. This reduces the muscle contractions and alleviates abdominal cramping.

Other interesting benefits of Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil has been shown to have powerful anti-microbial properties and in one study it was shown that the anti-bacterial properties were comparable to the commonly used antibiotic gentamicin.

Depression is a complex disease, and the co-occurrence of IBS and depression has been estimated at 30%. In a recent study, L-menthol was shown to induce antidepressant-like effects, potentially through interaction with important brain neurotransmitters.

How do all of the clinical studies compare?

An important review of randomized clinical trial (RCT) data involving peppermint oil was recently published. In total, 12 RCT met the criteria for analysis, which comprised of 835 patients overall. Taking into account the data from all of these trials, overall the results were very promising. Abdominal pain and global IBS symptoms were significantly improved in comparison to the placebo (dummy treatment). An ongoing problem in IBS research is the high placebo response (improved symptoms on the dummy treatment), so the data analysis presented in this review concludes that peppermint oil is a safe and effective treatment strategy for patients with IBS.

What can I do next?

If you are taking peppermint oil for IBS symptoms, it is recommended to take peppermint oil in capsule form to as it allows for a slow and controlled release in your small intestine. In addition, according to the NIH, consuming peppermint oil in capsule form will likely help prevent the onset of heartburn. However, if you are currently taking medication to decrease the acid in your stomach, these may dissolve the capsules too quickly, resulting in heartburn.

As we all know, relaxing with a nice cup of tea is a popular way to de-stress so why not try drinking peppermint tea? This is a good way to ingest the active ingredient – menthol. However, be aware that peppermint tea may contribute to reflux by causing smooth muscle relaxation higher up in your GI tract. The dosage of menthol will also vary depending on the brand and preparation, so be prepared to try a few different types until you find one that you like.

Always speak with your healthcare provider for guidance on the safe and effective use of peppermint oil, and always purchase peppermint oil capsules from a trusted source, e.g. your pharmacist.

FoodMarble is a pocket-sized breath analysis device. It helps people with chronic digestive issues determine the foods that work best with their digestive system. To learn more about FoodMarble, visit www.foodmarble.com.

Photo Credits

Top Image – Josefin on Unsplash

Bottom Image – Silviarita from Pixabay

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