Peppermint oil is derived from the peppermint plant -- a cross between water mint and spearmint -- that thrives in Europe and North America.
Peppermint oil is commonly used as flavoring in foods and beverages and as a fragrance in soaps and cosmetics. Peppermint oil also is used for a variety of health conditions and can be taken orally in dietary supplements or topically as a skin cream or ointment.
Medicine is rigorously tested for safety and effectiveness before becoming available to the consumer. In the U.S., the FDA makes sure this happens. Once on the market, the FDA, along with the makers of the drug, continue to monitor the medicine for any unforeseen problems. Should an issue develop, or the safety of a medication come into question, a recall may be initiated.
Some evidence suggests that peppermint oil may help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion. But despite promising research, there is no clear-cut evidence to support its use for other health conditions.
When used as directed, dietary supplements and skin preparations containing peppermint oil are likely safe for most adults.
Peppermint oil may cause side effects such as heartburn and it may interact with certain medications. Talk to your health care provider before using peppermint oil.
Medicinal Uses of Peppermint Oil
In dietary supplements, peppermint oil has been tried for a variety of digestive problems including:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Dietary supplements containing peppermint oil are also used by some people for the following conditions, although there is no clear evidence that they are helpful:
Cramps of the upper gastrointestinal tract and bile ducts
Skin preparations containing peppermint oil are used by some people for the following conditions, although, again, there is no clear evidence that they are helpful:
Inflammation of the mouth
Bacterial and viral infections
In addition, peppermint oil vapor is sometimes inhaled to treat symptoms of colds and coughs. Also, some doctors add peppermint oil to a barium solution to relax the colon during barium enemas.
Benefits of Peppermint Oil
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, several studies suggest that enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules -- which allow the oil to pass through the stomach so it can dissolve in the intestines -- may help relieve common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome such as abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. Non-enteric coated forms of peppermint oil, however, actually may cause or worsen heartburn and nausea.
Preliminary studies also suggest that dietary supplements containing a combination of peppermint oil and caraway oil may help relieve indigestion.
According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which rates effectiveness of natural remedies based on scientific evidence, peppermint oil is possibly effective for:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Relaxing the colon during barium enemas or radiologic procedures
The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates peppermint oil as possibly ineffective for nausea following surgery, and concludes there is insufficient evidence to rate its effectiveness for conditions such as:
Urinary tract infections
Nausea and vomiting
Painful menstrual periods
Bacteria overgrowth in the intestines
Spasms of the stomach and gallbladder
Cough and symptoms of cold
Inflammation of mouth and respiratory tract lining