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.
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:
- Morning sickness
- Cramps of the upper gastrointestinal tract and bile ducts
- Bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine
- Inflammation of the mouth and throat
- Sinus and respiratory infections
- Menstrual problems
- Liver and gallbladder problems
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:
- Muscle pain
- Nerve pain
- Inflammation of the mouth
- Joint conditions
- Allergic rash
- Bacterial and viral infections
- Repelling mosquitoes
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
- Tension headaches
- 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:
- Dental plaque
- Itchy skin
- Urinary tract infections
- Morning sickness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Painful menstrual periods
- Bacteria overgrowth in the intestines
- Lung infections
- Spasms of the stomach and gallbladder
- Cough and symptoms of cold
- Inflammation of mouth and respiratory tract lining
- Muscle or nerve pain
Side Effects of Peppermint Oil
In most adults, the small doses of peppermint oil contained in dietary supplements and skin preparations appear to be safe. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, however, should avoid such products because little is known about their safety during pregnancy and lactation.
Possible side effects of peppermint oil include:
- Allergic reactions such as flushing, headache, and mouth sores
- Anal burning during bouts of diarrhea
Although enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules may reduce the risk of heartburn, their protective coating can break down more quickly and increase the risk of heartburn when taken at the same time as prescription and over-the-counter medications that decrease stomach acid and which are often used for heartburn or acid reflux. It’s best to take such drugs at least two hours after taking enteric-coated peppermint oil products. A stomach condition called achlorhydria, in which the stomach doesn’t produce hydrochloric acid, also may hasten the coating’s breakdown. So people with the condition are advised against using peppermint oil.
Possible Drug Interactions With Peppermint Oil
Before taking peppermint oil, discuss the risks and benefits with your health care provider. Some supplements can interact with medicine. Interactions can be harmful or make medications not work as they should.
Be cautious about combining peppermint oil with certain drugs because it may inhibit the body’s ability to metabolize the drugs and increase the risk of side effects. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, there is a moderate risk in combining peppermint oil with the immunosuppressant drug cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune) and many different medications that are changed and broken down by the liver.