When you learn that an herbal medicine is helpful for some type of health condition, it may be a little tricky to sort out just which problems it helps. One reader found this especially troublesome with regard to peppermint. Having heard that peppermint oil helps irritable bowel syndrome but is bad for people with heartburn didn’t seem to make sense. The explanation relies on the form the botanical medicine takes. Enteric-coated peppermint oil acts in the lower intestine, not in the stomach.
Enteric-Coated Peppermint Oil Is Not for Indigestion:
Q. I am confused about using peppermint oil for digestive problems. You have written that it is helpful for symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. But I read elsewhere you should avoid peppermint if you have GERD. Why the contradiction?
A. Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is not recommended for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or indigestion. That’s because peppermint is purported to relax the lower esophageal sphincter. This muscle at the bottom of the food tube helps keep stomach contents from splashing back into the esophagus and causing irritation. If it relaxes, symptoms of reflux can become worse.
When peppermint oil is administered in a special enteric-coated pill, however, the pill gets through the stomach without dissolving. The peppermint oil then can act lower in the digestive tract. Studies have shown that such formulations can ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (Khanna, McDonald & Levesque, Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, July, 2014).
Some Peppermint Oil Research:
A presentation at the Digestive Disease Week annual meeting (May 18, 2015) demonstrated the effectiveness of enteric-coated peppermint oil for relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, also called IBS. A small double-blind study compared slow-release ultra-purified peppermint oil to placebo. After 24 hours, the peppermint oil had reduced symptoms by 30% compared to about 20% with placebo.
After a Month, IBS Results Improved More:
By the time the volunteers had received the treatment for four weeks, those getting peppermint oil had nearly 80% fewer symptoms compared to a 40% reduction in the placebo group. The investigators believe that L-menthol delivered to the small intestine is the active component.
Because all the study participants were selected according to strict criteria for IBS, this is the most rigorous study to date of a traditional folk remedy for tummy troubles. We have written about previous studies that suggested enteric-coated peppermint oil could be beneficial, although they were less stringent. People who wish to take peppermint oil should check with their clinician first, as peppermint oil (or possibly L-menthol) can interact with a number of medications.
One reader shared this:
“My daughter suffered from IBS in high school. Enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules before each meal did the trick. She took them for a couple of years and no longer needs them.”