Should You Use Peppermint for Your Digestive Problem?

peppermint Peppermint goes well beyond making gum and toothpaste taste good.  It has some fairly potent medicinal qualities, as many plants and herbs do.

If you have digestive issues, you may have heard that peppermint may help, which is true . . . kind of.

Peppermint can make some gastrointestinal issues better, but it can make other ones worse.

Our digestive tract is essentially a big, long tube.  Surrounding this tube is muscle, that helps mix and propel food along it.

It turns out that peppermint oil works by causing this digestive tract muscle to relax.

This may be good for people with conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) but bad for people with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) otherwise known as heartburn.

Here’s why . . .

IBS is often characterized by a hyperactive digestive system, meaning that the muscles surrounding our digestive tract are working overtime.  Relaxing those muscles can be good in these cases and may be an effective use of peppermint oil.

On the other hand when considering the tube of our digestive tract, there is a sphincter between our esophagus and our stomach that is better off with a little tone to it and closed off most of the time to prevent the acidic contents of our stomach to reach up into our esophagus, causing symptoms of heartburn.  Peppermint oil may relax these muscles as well and make people prone to heartburn more likely to experience those symptoms.

So what to do?  One popular way of getting peppermint oil down to where we need it is to take it as an enterically coated capsule, which is designed to survive the trip past the esophagus and stomach, and make it to our intestines where we need it.

The lesson of all this is, just because something is good, doesn’t mean it is good for everyone or everything.  Peppermint oil certainly has its place with digestive complaints, but if you find it gives you symptoms of heartburn, all hope is not lost.  Just be sure to take it in an enterically coated capsule, and you should be good to go.

I've also experienced relief from non-gerd stomach upset with a drop or two of Peppermint essential oil. I mix it into a tiny bit of water and drink. Make sure it's a good quality essential oil that is designed to be ingested (most of them are not!)

(For you sciency types, peppermint oil helps block calcium from entering into the smooth muscle of our digestive tract, and calcium is a key part of muscle contraction.  Therefore, less calcium entry equals less contraction, and less contraction means more relaxation.)

PS: Know someone with digestive issues? They're everywhere! Please share this post so it gets to them.