Peppermint oil has been used for centuries as a medicinal treatment for all types of conditions including headaches, menstrual cramps, arthritis and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
It is that last point of IBS where there has been a lot of research interest to see how effective peppermint oil can be in treating the discomfort of this very common condition. IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder with symptoms ranging from abdominal bloating, pain, flatulence, diarrhoea to altered bowel habits. The cause of IBS is unknown, but environmental factors such as changes in routine, emotional stress, infection and diet are all known to trigger an attack.
Dietary changes such as increasing the amount of fibre eaten, eliminating potential ‘problem foods’ such as gas-producing beans or cabbage, or removing dairy foods from the diet can work for some people. A range of medications are sometimes prescribed to manage IBS, while stress management techniques can also help some people.
Peppermint oil is a very popular complementary treatment for IBS. Part of the ‘soothing and calming’ benefit of peppermint oil on the gastrointestinal system may come from its menthol content. This could explain why some studies have found that peppermint oil can reduce the stomach pain, bloating, intestinal gas, and bowel movements which are common in IBS. Peppermint oil is also a popular treatment for indigestion where it works by reducing spasms and stomach acid production, and relieving pain associated with poor digestion.
So how does peppermint oil far in calming an irritable bowel? To answer this, the findings from 9 randomised-controlled trials that treated IBS with peppermint oil and ran for longer than 2 weeks duration were combined together in a single larger study called a meta-analysis. The results looked promising with peppermint oil significantly superior to a placebo in improving symptoms of IBS and reducing abdominal pain. The outcome certainly looks promising with likely further clinical trials to add to the evidence base in the future.
The American College of Gastroenterology in their guidelines for managing IBS also note a favourable benefit of peppermint oil as a promising treatment.
For someone who is struggling with managing the symptoms of IBS, peppermint oil is worth considering trying as it appears to be a safe and effective short-term treatment option for IBS.