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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Nutrition Research Center Health Update » Blog Archive » Peppermint is Good For You

Peppermint is good for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to start eating candy canes and breath mints untill your blood sugar skyrockets and your teeth come loose. Peppermint candies are notoriously sugar-laden. Instead, we’re talking about peppermint the plant food. If you’re a gardener, you may want to start growing peppermint after reading this article. The Farmer’s Almanac states, “Peppermint is generally easy to grow. In addition to a emitting a pleasant scent, growing peppermint leaves can provide a natural herbal insect repellent, helping to discourage ants, flies, and mosquitoes from lingering near your home and garden.”

Other than candy, peppermint is available in the form of tea, peppermint oil and of course the peppermint leaf itself.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School report:

Peppermint has fared a bit better than many herbal medicines in clinical trials. Several studies have shown that peppermint oil seems to be fairly effective at relieving irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a collection of symptoms that includes abdominal cramping and pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. In 2007, Italian investigators reported that 75% of the patients in their study who took peppermint oil capsules for four weeks had a major reduction in their IBS symptoms, compared with just 38% of those who took a placebo pill.

The oil that’s extracted from the peppermint plant contains lots of compounds. Menthol is the most abundant and pharmacologically important.

Menthol is an ingredient in many conventional over-the-counter products, including cough lozenges and muscle pain ointments like Bengay. Menthol creates that familiar cooling sensation by stimulating nerves that sense cold (your mouth has some of these nerves, which is the reason products containing menthol “taste” cool); it also inhibits those that react to painful stimuli. The effect doesn’t last long, but sometimes a brief reprieve or distraction from a cough or a muscle ache does wonders.

Peppermint oil also relaxes the sphincter that keeps the contents of the stomach from backing up into your esophagus. That’s why people troubled by heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux) are advised to avoid peppermint. It’s also the reason peppermint oil is often sold these days in enteric-coated capsules designed to bypass the stomach and dissolve in the small intestine.

531669_peppermint.jpgOne more word from the Farmer’s Almanac:

Peppermint acts as a regulator and has a relaxing or invigorating effect, depending on the circumstances under which it is used. Here are just a few of the everyday health benefits peppermint oil can offer you and your family:

  • Rubbing peppermint oil on the temples can provide relief from migraine headaches.
  • Chewing on peppermint candy can soothe a nagging cough or irritated throat. Menthol, a substance present in peppermint, is an effective decongestant.
  • For a therapeutic bath, put some drops of the diluted peppermint oil into tepid water to relieve stomach problems, nasal congestion, headaches, or cramps.
  • For insomnia or anxiety, drinking a cup of peppermint tea, or placing a tissue treated with a few drops each of peppermint oil and lavender oil, will provide a calming effect.
  • Drinking peppermint tea or sucking on real peppermint candy can also relieve an upset stomach and/or gas.
  • To soothe tired, sore, aching feet, try soaking in a tub of warm water containing few drops of peppermint oil. The essential oils can also help to heal dry, cracked skin.
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