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Peppermint Tea Helps Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Unproven for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Scientific evidence supports sipping peppermint tea or taking enteric-coated peppermint oil to ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Many of us have trouble keeping IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) distinct from IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). They are, however, totally different disorders. IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the digestive tract. Over the long term, the intestines become damaged and people suffer complications. IBS, on the other hand, is considered a functional GI disorder, meaning there is no obvious damage to the intestines. Just to make the confusion more complete, the symptoms are as similar as the abbreviations. People suffering with stomachaches and diarrhea could have either condition. (IBD symptoms also include blood in the stool, unintended weight loss and fever.) Could peppermint tea help soothe any of this discomfort?

Peppermint to Ease Symptoms:

Q. My daughter has severe ulcerated colitis and her doctor suggested she take Humira. She’s afraid of the long-term side effects.

She read an article about the pros of peppermint tea for her condition and now is drinking it twice a day. She has gone into remission and has stopped bleeding for two weeks.

A. Ulcerative colitis is a very serious condition that requires careful medical supervision. We could find no research supporting the use of peppermint for colitis. [Certain probiotics such as VSL#3 or E. coli Nissle 1917 might be helpful for easing symptoms of this condition (Curro et al, British Journal of Pharmacology, June 2017).]

Peppermint oil has, however, been studied for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A thorough meta-analysis concluded, “Peppermint oil is a safe and effective short-term treatment for IBS” (Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, July 2014). 

A recent review endorsed peppermint oil, alone or in combination with caraway seed oil, for “functional dyspepsia”–upset stomach or stomachache not associated with ulcers (Acker & Cash, Current Gastroenterology Reports, Nov. 13, 2017). Your daughter should check with her physician to make sure that peppermint will not interact badly with any of her other medications (Rahman et al, Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology, Dec. 2017).

Readers Report Their Experience with Peppermint Tea:

We have written previously about the value of enteric-coated peppermint oil for IBS.

Bob suggested in response:

“I had IBS for over 20 years. It ended when I retired. This suggests that chronic stress was the major cause. However acute stress like loss of my job, and my wife having major surgery did not correlate with my IBS symptoms. My main symptom was debilitating abdominal pain that would last for hours.

“Some things that could initiate or aggravate my symptoms include:

  • Eating or drinking cold things (sherbet, ice cream, ice water, etc.
  • Eating large meals.
  • Stimulants (caffeine or pseudoephedrine).

“Some things that helped are:

  • Amitriptyline
  • Citrucel (regular kind, the sugar-free kind made me sick)
  • Heat applied to abdomen
  • Self hypnosis (time consuming and not easy to do)
  • Peppermint capsules
  • Peppermint tea
  • Hyocyamine (brand name Levsin)
  • Drinking hot liquid that contained no stimulant and almost zero calories, i.e., chicken broth”

There is more information on home remedies for IBS, including peppermint, in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

Other Stories about Peppermint for IBS:

We had heard earlier from another reader who had suffered irritable bowel syndrome for decades. This person also found peppermint helpful:

Q. I have had irritable bowel syndrome for more than 25 years. I’ve tried all sorts of remedies, including coconut macaroon cookies. I ate so many I can’t stand even looking at them!

Then I remembered you had mentioned special peppermint pills. I found them at the health food store, and they work so fantastically well, I can’t believe it.

I have an almost normal life again. You can’t go out very much with this disease, especially if the diarrhea is severe as mine was.

A. Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas. One study demonstrated that enteric-coated peppermint oil could significantly reduce such symptoms.

Testing Enteric-Coated Peppermint Oil:

The enteric coating ensures that peppermint oil is delivered to the small intestine, where it helps to ease spasms, instead of to the stomach, where it could aggravate heartburn. It can be purchased at health food stores. One brand name to look for is Pepogest. Another brand is Colpermin.

A study of Colpermin published in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences (Dec. 2010) found benefit without “significant adverse reactions.” This was a placebo-controlled double-blind trial involving 90 subjects. More recently, scientists evaluated IBgard, a capsule containing sustained-release microspheres of ultra-purified peppermint oil (Cash, Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Sep. 2015). People taking the peppermint oil had far fewer symptoms than those on placebo.

We are delighted that peppermint has worked so well for you. Others should check with their doctors or pharmacists before taking this herb. Research shows that peppermint oil can interact with prescription medications in the same way as grapefruit. Blood levels of many medicines could rise, leading to side effects.

Anyone who would like more information about home remedies for a variety of digestive tract problems (colitis, constipation, Crohn’s disease, diarrhea, gas, heartburn, hemorrhoids, nausea, reflux, etc) may find our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies of interest.

Revised 11/23/17

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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