I’m going to be talking about one of the most popular herbs to help manage digestive woes – and one of my personal favourites – peppermint! As an IBS dietitian, I like to approach IBS symptom management from different avenues including the use of peppermint oil for IBS.
Table of Contents
- How Does Peppermint Help IBS Symptoms?
- Does Peppermint Oil Reduce Inflammation?
- Does Peppermint Oil Work for Bloating?
- Should I be taking peppermint oil for IBS symptoms?
- The 4 Pillar Approach for Gut Health™
- Ways to Add Peppermint and Peppermint Oil for IBS into Your Diet
- When to Take Peppermint Oil for IBS
How Does Peppermint Help IBS Symptoms?
People have been using peppermint to help with digestion for a LONG time. And I mean long. Fun fact – they can trace use of peppermint leaves in tea, and as a post meal digestive agent over 2000 years back in time.
I’m sure at the time, this habit arose out of the peppermint making their tummies feel better. Totally valid. Peppermint is a food-first herb that I’m sure many of you have taken after a big meal, or to help calm your stomach when it’s upset.
Fast forward 2000 years, and we now have some understanding of how peppermint actually works in the gut. One mechanism of action is that peppermint relaxes smooth muscles – like those in your GI tract.
Does Peppermint Oil Reduce Inflammation?
Peppermint oil appears to also have action as an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agent – by potentially reducing inflammation, or impacting the types of bacteria we host in our gut microbiome. We still have more to learn about this relationship and more research is needed before we can make specific recommendations for the use of peppermint specifically to combat inflammation.
Does Peppermint Oil Work for Bloating?
We don’t know all the answers yet as to how peppermint & peppermint oil acts on the gut. However, we know from studies that those who take peppermint oil for IBS symptoms see an improvement in abdominal pain and bloating.
A 2014 meta-analysis (the crème de la crème in terms of quality evidence) looked at the role of peppermint oil for IBS versus a placebo for managing GI symptoms. A total of 9 studies met the scientific rigor the meta-analysis looked at – encompassing over 700 patients. The results of the studies were weighed and combined to look at using peppermint to manage GI symptoms1.
When compared to a placebo, taking peppermint oil for IBS significantly improved IBS symptoms. Compared to the placebo, peppermint oil was over 200% more likely (two times more likely) to result in IBS symptom relief. Abdominal pain improved. ‘Global improvement IBS score’ measured quality of life, satisfaction with bowel habits, distention, and pain – and also improved1.
The primary negative outcomes were reflux. This is likely related to the peppermint oil causing smooth muscle relaxation higher up in the GI tract1,2,3.
Ok. Enough of the scientific jargon. You want to know: Should I be taking peppermint oil for IBS symptoms?
My rule of thumb, when it comes to managing IBS symptoms, is avoiding too many cooks in the kitchen at once. So to speak.
Firstly, I like to ensure my clients have an IBS or functional gut disorder diagnosis. The only person who can diagnose IBS is your family physician or a gastroenterologist. To understand IBS and diagnostic criteria a bit better, check out my post ‘Is it IBS – What You Need to Know’.
I like to approach IBS symptoms from a holistic perspective. At Ignite, we focus on what we call the 4 Pillar Approach for Gut Health™
- The Nutrition Pillar
- The Lifestyle Pillar – like sleep, exercise, and the gut microbiome
- The Medication Pillar
- The Gut-Brain Connection Pillar – including mindfulness and stress management. We want to shift how the brain and gut talk to one another, and how you perceive your gut symptoms
I typically focus on food and stress management as first line intervention. If IBS symptoms don’t fully resolve, at that point, I see the value of bringing in medication management. This is dependent on IBS symptoms, and a discussion with your physician about risks, benefits, and expected results. I always say, for every medication, there is a side effect. My first-line recommendation to manage your IBS symptoms is through lifestyle changes.
As a ‘food first dietitian’, I really see the value in using food or a natural health product, like encapsulated enteric-coated peppermint oil, for IBS symptom management.
What I like about peppermint oil for IBS symptoms is, it’s low risk. Most negative symptoms in studies were minor – things like reflux, tingling, or burping peppermint. These resolve with discontinuation of the pills.
A study looking at the use of anti-spasmodic drugs versus peppermint oil for IBS symptoms, found that peppermint improved IBS symptoms. Peppermint oil was also associated with less side effects compared to the anti-spasmodic medication. The study suggested using peppermint oil capsules as a first-line treatment1,4,5.
In my opinion, trialing peppermint oil for IBS symptoms, prior to medication, has benefits. It can have similar effects on IBS symptoms as medications used to reduce IBS symptoms and gut pain, without the side effects of a prescription medication.
Ways to Add Peppermint and Peppermint Oil for IBS into Your Diet
- Peppermint Tea – often, including peppermint tea is a good way to ingest the active ingredient – menthol. However, the problem with peppermint tea is it can cause smooth muscle relaxation higher up in your GI tract – which can contribute to reflux. As well, the dose of menthol in a cup of peppermint tea would vary based on preparation.
- Peppermint Oil – it is discouraged to ingest peppermint oil on its own. It’s far too concentrated to take orally and may cause mouth sores, reflux, or headaches.
- IBGard: Enteric coated peppermint oil capsules, is the most evidence-based way to manage your IBS symptoms using peppermint oil.
What I like about IBGard is two-fold. 1) The dose is controlled. 2) It’s enteric coated – meaning they’ve taken peppermint oil and coated it to ensure that the oil reaches the small intestine – where we want the muscle relaxation to take place. Their process of coating the peppermint oil is called ‘Site Specific Targeting’. The microspheres move quickly through the stomach, straight to the small bowel. By delivering peppermint oil to the small bowel, instead of the stomach, my clients are less likely to get reflux3.
When to Take Peppermint Oil for IBS
I use peppermint oil for IBS symptoms in three different ways in my practice, depending on the client.
1. To treat IBS ‘Flare Ups’ and Unexpected Symptoms
The first way I like to recommend peppermint oil is when you are experiencing IBS symptoms. Research shows that within 2 hours of taking IBGard, over 75% of patients saw improvement in their IBS symptoms. I like to recommend keeping peppermint tea or peppermint oil capsules on hand. It is great for those times when you have unexpected IBS symptoms.
2. As a Preventative Approach
The second way I use peppermint oil for IBS, like IBGard, is before each meal to manage upcoming IBS symptoms. Again, evidence supports the use of encapsulated peppermint oil for IBS symptoms long term. Without any other nutrition changes IBS symptoms were found to be reduced by as much as 40%. So, this is a great preventative way to reduce IBS symptoms in a meal you know may cause them3.
3. Alongside Mindfulness-Based Techniques
Lastly, peppermint can also be incorporated into mindfulness and self-care. Taking time to slow down, drink tea mindfully, and relax is a great way to begin reducing stress in your life. Likewise, it helps us start to shift how we perceive pain in our gut.
As always, with any medication or natural health product, I strongly recommend formulating a plan with your health care provider. Talk to your IBS dietitian or physician about how you may benefit from including peppermint oil for IBS into your routine.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I was compensated for my time in writing this post. While the information conveyed may support clients’ objectives, the opinions expressed are my own and based on current scientific evidence. I do not engage in business with companies whose products or services do not match my personal and professional beliefs as a registered dietitian.
FAQs About Peppermint Oil for IBS
Studies have shown that those who take peppermint oil for IBS symptoms see an improvement in abdominal pain and bloating. According to a 2014 meta-analysis of 9 studies, when compared to a placebo, taking peppermint oil for IBS significantly improved IBS symptoms including abdominal pain and bloating. Learn more.
The primary negative outcome of using peppermint oil is acid reflux. This is likely related to the peppermint oil relaxing the smooth muscles of the upper GI tract. However, there are products on the market that prevent this side effect by coating the peppermint oil to ensure that the oil reaches the small intestine – where we want the muscle relaxation to take place. Learn more.