December 01, 2015

Can peppermint oil help irritable bowel syndrome?

Q: Can peppermint oil help irritable bowel syndrome?

A: Peppermint oil does appear to improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), at least in the short term.

People who have IBS are familiar with abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, excessive gas, and bothersome bowel movements. Since there's no clear cause, finding relief is often an exercise in trial and error. Treatment generally involves managing stress, avoiding trigger foods, getting enough exercise and rest, and staying hydrated. Some medications may help, but they may also have side effects that can be just as troubling as IBS symptoms.

Peppermint oil is a natural antispasmodic, which means it helps relax the smooth muscles of the intestines. It's long been a remedy for nausea, indigestion and other stomach problems.

Recently, investigators analyzed available research on peppermint oil as a treatment for IBS. The investigators concluded that peppermint oil may indeed offer a safe and effective short term option for some people with IBS. In general, people who took peppermint oil had significantly better symptom relief than did those who took a placebo pill.

However, peppermint oil can worsen heartburn. Manufacturers offer enteric-coated capsules to help prevent this side effect.

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