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Do you have peppermint oil in your medicine cabinet?

June 24, 2015 | Dr. Mark Wiley

The best medicines are the ones that have many uses and applications. In Asian medicine, if an herb has only one or two applications, it is considered insignificant. Because ailments, diseases and pain do not happen in a vacuum, it is important that any treatment do more than one thing.

Essential oils do just that. Peppermint oil, in particular, is broadly effective at treating and easing a number of issues related to health and wellness.

Peppermint oil is among the so-called “essential oils” used in naturopathic medicine and various healing traditions. The oils of the peppermint plant (including leaves, stems, roots) are distilled into a concentrated liquid, or “oil.” This oil is said to contain the “essence” of the plant and is quite strong; as such, it is often mixed with a carrier oil (like almond, grapeseed or jojoba) to help dilute it before use. Some people have a red or rash-like response in they have sensitive skin.

Why peppermint?

You can apply peppermint essential oil directly to the skin, inhale it via steam or aromatherapy device, consume it in foods and beverages, or add it to enemas to effect a symptomatic relief for such things as stomach upset, respiratory issues, muscle pain and more.

It works in part because the peppermint plant contains menthol, which is a local anesthetic. When applied topically, the area feels warm and blood is drawn to it as a method to relieve pain, tightness, and tension.

It’s no wonder menthol and peppermint are ingredients in so many topical analgesic gels and creams. In addition, peppermint oil is said to have anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antibacterial and antiviral properties.

While peppermint essential oil has been linked to dozens of health benefits, including use in cancer treatment and regrowth of hair; we’ll take a look here at a handful of the more common uses.

Fast relief for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

MedPageToday reported on a slow-release peppermint oil capsule that was recently studied and found to relieve symptoms of IBS within 24 hours. What’s more, in less than a month respondents reported that their “unbearable symptoms” were reduced by 66%, as compared to 42% reduction among the placebo group. At one month, those with “severe and unbearable abdominal pain” reported 79% reduction in symptoms, compared to 40% for the placebo group.

Soothe the body after medical procedures of the colon

Because of its analgesic and antispasmodic properties, peppermint oil is sometimes used with enemas and during endoscopy procedures. The peppermint oil reduces spasms and discomfort related to such invasive procedures by relaxing the colon. The oil is either added to the barium enema and/or taken by mouth prior to the procedures to help relax the colon.

Reduce indigestion and gas

Peppermint oil has strong carminative properties, which make it a great choice for reducing indigestion, bloating and gas. As a carminative the oil helps prevent the formation of gas or reduce it to prevent flatulence, bloating and abdominal distension, by soothing the gut wall and easing pain and gas in the intestinal tract.

Peppermint oil’s antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties aid in this process. For this application, you can either drink peppermint tea, a tea infused with a drop or two of peppermint oil, or by massaging peppermint oil on your abdominal region.

Cure for cold symptoms, congestion, respiration

Because menthol occurs naturally in peppermint, and has strong expectorant and decongestant properties, peppermint oil is great for relieving symptoms associated with colds, congestion and respiratory issues. Peppermint oil drops can be added to a humidifier or boiling pot of water to help sooth congestion in the sinuses and lungs. If the congestion is severe, you can inhale the steam from the boiling pot with a towel over your head. If mixed with one of the carrier oils mentioned above, a few drops can be rubbed onto the chest for prolonged inhalation (think Vick’s vapo-rub).

Fight headaches and migraines

Headaches and migraines are horrible because they are not only painful but are centered in your head, where you do your thinking, making it hard to work. When mixed with a carrier oil, a few drops of peppermint oil can help relieve the symptoms of headache, or prevent them at first sign in some cases. Simply rub a few drops onto your temples, along your forehead and over your sinuses for soothing relief. Remember, there are anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties at work as well as heat to draw fresh blood and oxygen to the areas. For tension type headaches, massage a few drops into the neck and shoulders and under the occiput (base on the skull resting above the spine.

Ease muscle strain

Peppermint oil’s natural analgesic, anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties again come to the fore in their use to relax and relieve muscle strain, spasm and tightness caused by such things as stress, poor posture or too much physical exertion. Simply rub peppermint oil onto the skin above the affected muscle(s) and massage the area. The menthol will bring fresh blood into the muscles and the other properties just mentioned will prevent or reduce spams, trigger point and reduce pain.

Perfect stress relief

Aromatherapy is a common and much-trusted remedy for psychological stress. Adding peppermint oil drops to a warm bath, rubbing a few drops on your wrists or diffusing the oil with an aromatherapy device are great ways to inhale and relax away the tension of the day. People who use peppermint oil as aromatherapy daily report less stress, tension and anxiety, which can all help aid digestion, sleep and mental health.

Potential side effects

Although peppermint oil has many wonderful uses and benefits, like anything else it does have a few side effects. The most common is irritation of the skin when applied directly without a carrier oil to reduce concentration. Another to be aware of is consuming peppermint oil supplements if you have an issue with producing enough hydrochloric acid in the stomach. The oil can irritate the stomach in this case. And do not ingest peppermint oil when you have diarrhea for it may cause anal burning. Aside from this, peppermint oil’s broad spectrum of uses makes it a keeper in my book.