Peppermint (Mentha piperita) has been used for hundreds (if not thousands) of years for its medicinal properties, especially for digestive issues. The strong flavor comes from menthol, but it also contains many different bioactive compounds (like polyphenols).
How does it work?
Peppermint oil relaxes the muscles that line your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which in turn helps to relieve spasms. It also helps gas to move along more easily, making flatulence less painful! It improves the flow of bile, which helps your body to digest fats, therefore preventing indigestion.
Science has shown that peppermint capsules can actually be useful for stomach aches and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Capsules seem to be more beneficial than pure peppermint oil, as the enteric coated tablets prevent the release of oil into the stomach (which can cause heartburn).
How should you take it?
There are many different forms in which you can take peppermint. Tinctures contain 10% peppermint oil in an alcohol solution, while the tablets are designed in such a way for the oil to be released in the intestine. If you do not want to take peppermint supplements, you can always drink a cup of tea or eat peppermints when feeling uncomfortable or queasy. You can also create an ointment with peppermint essential oil, and use it to massage your stomach.
Are there any downsides?
It should be noted that there are downsides to using peppermint for digestive issues. If you suffer from heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux, or nausea, it could actually worsen your symptoms. This is because the very thing that makes peppermint useful for tummy aches (the relaxation of the esophageal sphincter), is the same thing that causes reflux.
Peppermint oil can also be toxic to your kidneys, or aggravate gallbladder inflammation. And if you’re on chronic medication, you should definitely consult with a doctor before taking peppermint supplements, as it can interfere with the efficacy of your meds.