Peppermint: More than a Feel-Good Aroma

Peppermint (Mentha piperita L.) is one of the most widely-consumed herbs known for its flavoring and fragrance properties. It is cooling and relaxing, making it a popular component for cosmetics, food, and personal hygiene products worldwide. Peppermint tea, leaf, leaf extract, leaf water, and oil are beneficial for aromatherapy, topical preparations, dental care, and pharmaceutical use. As an herbal medicine, it is popular for coughs and colds, headaches, upset stomach, as well as to calm pruritus (itching), irritation, and inflammation.

That being said, we know that there’s a lot more to peppermint than its remarkable odor and calming effect. In this blog, we will learn more about its components and other health properties that may benefit those with IBS, as well as other gastrointestinal and gallbladder conditions.

The Peppermint Plant

To understand peppermint’s various antiviral, antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and fungicidal properties, it is important to know more about the peppermint plant, its chemical composition, and other constituents.

The peppermint plant is a perennial herb native to Europe and cultivated in many parts of the world. It is a hybrid of spearmint and water mint, with two available varieties- black and white peppermint. The chemical components of peppermint vary based on these varieties as well as plant maturity, geographical region, and processing conditions. There are numerous volatile components present in peppermint but the major ones are menthol (33-60%) and menthone (15-32%).

The Terpenes: Menthol and Menthone

Terpenes are aromatic organic compounds found in plants. These compounds, like menthol and menthone from the peppermint plant, are obtained from peppermint oil or produced synthetically. Among all terpenes, menthol must be one of the most studied ones.

Terpenes can work in the same way as aromatherapy; that is, when ingested, inhaled, or applied topically, they can interact with our body’s chemicals and receptors. This produces a synergy that may help get rid of toxins, inflammation, allergy, and infections due to viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The terpenes in peppermint are therefore responsible for its reputation as an all-natural healing agent.

Terpenes for Gallstones

Terpenes in general have been noted to contribute to the dissolution of gallstones and improvement of gallbladder health.

A study using terpenes that included menthol, menthone, pinene, borneol, cineol, and camphene affected both bile flow and biliary fat composition, and also enhanced the cholesterol solubility of the bile. Studies have been done using terpenes as an adjunct treatment together with medium dose chenodeoxycholic acid. Studies also suggest that terpenes have the potential to prevent the recurrence of gallstones after dissolution.

Terpenes have been used as an alternative treatment for the dissolution of gallstones and common bile duct stones all over the world, that is, in 70 countries spanning several continents. However, because of the exorbitant costs associated with getting a drug approved in this country, terpenes are not FDA approved in the USA.

Studies have also been done on menthol or menthone alone with similar results. However, the terpenes in this case were injected instead of taken orally.

5 Peppermint Health Benefits

Apart from the terpenes inherent in peppermint oil, numerous other therapeutic properties make it supportive of all kinds of gallbladder problems as well as the gastrointestinal tract. If you have ever experienced the instantaneous relief from peppermint tea for stomach and digestion-related concerns like gas and bloating, then you know what I mean.

Because of the obvious peppermint health benefits, numerous studies have been conducted to find out the science behind it. Here are some of the main therapeutic properties of peppermint.

  1. Antiviral
  2. Antibacterial
  3. Fungicidal and antimicrobial
  4. Anti-inflammatory
  5. Antioxidant

Antiviral

At the moment, there are only few effective antiviral medications available for the treatment of viral diseases. As such, various studies have looked at peppermint for its possible intracellular and extracellular properties against virus. Numerous reports have concluded that peppermint extract has potential antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus, influenza A, Newcastle disease, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Among its various forms available commercially, peppermint oil was the most commonly studied therapeutic agent in these studies. It was either ingested orally or applied topically since its lipophilic nature enables it to penetrate the skin. Aside from directly fighting these viruses, peppermint also helps boost the immune system, protecting the body from viruses.

Antibacterial

Menthol and menthone, the main terpenes found in peppermint, have been tested against 21 human and plant pathogens in a 2002 study. This led to the conclusion that peppermint has moderate inhibitory activity against numerous human pathogens.

A separate study by Inouye et al. in 2001 said that a number of respiratory disease-causing bacteria like Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus are susceptible to menthol and menthone, making it a good medication for asthma, coughs, colds, and other related conditions.

Peppermint oil has also shown good antibacterial activity against the following:

  • Escherichia coli
  • Salmonella pullorum
  • Comamonas terrigena
  • Streptococcus faecalis
  • Acinatobacter sp
  • Streptococcus thermophiles
  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  • Staphylococcus pyogenes
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Streptococcus pyogenes
  • Serratia marcescens
  • Mycobacterium avium, Salmonella typhi
  • Salmonella paratyphi A/B,
  • Proteus vulgaris
  • Enterobacter aerogenes
  • Yersinia enterocolitica
  • Shigella dysenteriae

Antifungal

Aside from its antibacterial and antiviral properties, peppermint is also considered a moderate fungicide against against Candida albicans, Aspergillus albus and dermatophytic fungi which causes athlete’s foot and ringworm.

Peppermint oil is an effective and safe herbicide, making it a natural pest control agent.

Anti-inflammatory

Inflammation is the root cause of many chronic diseases. Therefore, significant attention is given by the scientific community to finding organic alternatives to inflammation. Peppermint is one of the more popular herbs studied its anti-inflammatory properties.

According to studies, menthol significantly suppresses the production of inflammatory mediating compounds like cox-2, prostaglandin, interleukin, and leukotriene. The ethanol from peppermint, on the other hand, significantly inhibited sneezing and other nasal symptoms in animal subjects with allergic rhinitis.

Cinole, another component of peppermint, inhibited the production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)- α, IL-1β, LTB4 and thromboxane. Even the flavonoids found in peppermint have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic characteristics.

As a whole, peppermint is said to have cytotoxic effects on cancer cells and it also helps reduce inflammation in chronic diseases.

Antioxidant

Peppermint is a rich source of polyphenolic compounds which gives it its strong antioxidant properties. The terpenes found in the herb have also shown the ability to neutralize free radicals, further boosting their anti-inflammatory effects.

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics of the terpenes present in the plant may be the reason behind the popularity of peppermint for headaches and migraines. As it relaxes the body, it increases the blood flow and possibly eases pain. In fact, a study among migraine patients showed that the application of peppermint for headaches is more effective than 1000 mg of acetaminophen.

Peppermint for IBS and other Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Before IBS was ever explained or discovered, peppermint had already been used in traditional medicine as a tonic for preventing gas, relieving spasms, and alleviating stomachache. Traditionally, it has been a go-to remedy for cholera, diarrhea, flu, and nervous disorders.

In Germany, peppermint leaf is used as a standard medicinal tea for dyspepsia. Its internal use has been approved by the German Commission for spastic complaints of the gallbladder, bile ducts, and GI tract. This means that medical doctors in Germany can and do prescribe it for those conditions. Avid tea-drinkers can also attest to the effectivity of peppermint for stomach and digestive issues like nausea, vomiting, and sweet cravings.

In recent years, the use of peppermint oil and peppermint capsule has become a popular therapeutic  agent of choice for patients with irritable bowel syndrome. In numerous studies, peppermint was shown to reduce the severity of stomach pain caused by IBS. The effectivity of peppermint for IBS is primarily due to its carminative effect (relieving flatulence) and antispasmodic (relieving cramping) properties. Peppermint extract has shown a relaxing effect on the muscular actions and secretory processes of the gastrointestinal tract.

Peppermint for H. Pylori

Aside from supporting symptoms of IBS, menthol in peppermint also has an alleviating effect against Heliobacter pylori which causes stomach ulcers.

Peppermint for the Gallbladder and Liver

The popular opinion is that patients with GERD, hiatal hernia, kidney stones, or gallbladder conditions should stay away from peppermint. However, this could be a sweeping generalization as some of the properties and effects of peppermint can actually have a positive effect on gallbladder and biliary health.

A number of different studies have cited that peppermint oil and menthol effectively stimulate bile flow in animal subjects. One possible explanation for this is the ability of menthol to inhibit the binding of β-Dglucuronide (a compound which slows down bile flow) to liver plasma membranes. Another plausible reason behind the increased bile flow is its ability to relax the gallbladder. And these two reasons are not exactly bad news for those with gallbladder concerns!

Aside from stimulating the bile flow, menthol in peppermint helps relieve some symptoms affecting the upper respiratory tract like colds, coughs, asthma, lung congestion, and mouth ulcers.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil must be the most extensively studied and conveniently available form of peppermint. As an over-the-counter pain reliever, it is most famous for topical use. However in research studies, it is often ingested for maximum therapeutic benefit. If you wish to do that as well, we highly suggest that you get a capsule with enteric coating.

The enteric coating helps with optimum absorption as the capsules can pass through the stomach without dissolving. It will only be broken down once it is in the intestines. One example of such supplement is Evince Naturals’ Enteric Coated Peppermint Oil with ginger oil, fennel oil, and sunflower seed oil.

References:

Ellis, W. R., Somerville, K. W., Whitten, B. H., & Bell, G. D. (1984). Pilot study of combination treatment for gall stones with medium dose chenodeoxycholic acid and a terpene preparation. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed), 289(6438), 153-156.

Göbel, H., Fresenius, J., Heinze, A., Dworschak, M., & Soyka, D. (1996). Effectiveness of Oleum menthae piperitae and paracetamol in therapy of headache of the tension type. Der Nervenarzt, 67(8), 672-681.

Goerg, K. J., & Spilker, T. H. (2003). Effect of peppermint oil and caraway oil on gastrointestinal motility in healthy volunteers: a pharmacodynamic study using simultaneous determination of gastric and gall‐bladder emptying and orocaecal transit time. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 17(3), 445-451.

Herro, E., & Jacob, S. E. (2010). Mentha piperita (peppermint). Dermatitis, 21(6), 327-329.

Kline, R. M., Kline, J. J., Di Palma, J., & Barbero, G. J. (2001). Enteric-coated, pH-dependent peppermint oil capsules for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome in children. The Journal of pediatrics, 138(1), 125-128.

Liu, Z., Shen, C., Tao, Y., Wang, S., Wei, Z., Cao, Y., … & Zhu, P. (2015). Chemopreventive efficacy of menthol on carcinogen-induced cutaneous carcinoma through inhibition of inflammation and oxidative stress in mice. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 82, 12-18.

McKay, D. L., & Blumberg, J. B. (2006). A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of peppermint tea (Mentha piperita L.). Phytotherapy Research: An International Journal Devoted to Pharmacological and Toxicological Evaluation of Natural Product Derivatives, 20(8), 619-633.

Von Bergmann, K., Beck, A., Engel, C., & Leiss, O. (1987). Administration of a terpene mixture inhibits cholesterol nucleation in bile from patients with cholesterol gallstones. Klinische Wochenschrift, 65(10), 458-462.