Peppermint oil is a pure oil extracted from the peppermint plant ( Mentha piperita), an hybrid of the spear mint and water mint plant, belonging to the family of plants called Labiatae by steam distillation of freshly harvested or dried leaves. Curled mint, or the so called crisped peppermint is very similar to peppermint plant, and the oil produced from these are identical.
The only difference between normal peppermint and crisped mint is in the fact that the later produces a more "interesting" peppermint tea mixture than the former.
The use of peppermint oil in the treatment of irritable bowel, and other causes of abdominal pain as well as other medical conditions is gaining experiencing resurgence worldwide.
The Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians found many use for it. It is a must have aromatic oil, still used worldwide for its aromatic, and medicinal properties.
As states above, it is very useful in the symptomatic treatment of abdominal pain those due to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Trapped wind, diverticulitis, gall bladder diseases, indigestion and nervous bowel problems.
It is also useful in the treatment of nausea and vomiting in some individuals as well as colds and flu symptoms.
It must be avoided in those who suffers from frequent heartburns, and could actually case heartburns.
In such individuals, the use of enteric coated peppermint oil preparation is advised.
We shall discuss and throw more light on recent evidences available for the use of peppermint oil in abdominal pain and other medical conditions.
Medicinal Uses of Peppermint Oil - The Evidence
There is a renewed interest in the use of this oil in the treatment of some causes of abdominal pain as shown below.
It is able to bring about these relieve by inhibiting muscle contraction caused by some chemicals released from the gut or brain, including serotonin, and substance P, thus allowing smooth muscles relaxation.
Studies have demonstrated that peppermint oil is able to cause direct relaxation of smooth muscles found in the gut and gallbladder wall too by blocking the so called calcium channels that help in the contraction of these smooth muscles.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
A recent study published in the medical journal Digestive and Liver Disease of June 2007, Volume 39, Issue 6, Pages 530-536, researchers in Italy found significant improvement in symptoms of 57 patients with irritable bowel syndrome treated for 4 weeks with enteric coated peppermint capsules compared with another group who where given a dummy medication.
75% of those who took peppermint oil capsule felt well compared with just 38% in the group that took dummy capsules called placebo.
In another study, peppermint capsule where found to dramatically help relieve abdominal pain caused by trapped wind and irritable bowel syndrome when this capsules where taken continuously for two weeks.
Colic and Gallbladder Inflammation
Peppermint oil has been demonstrated to be quite effective in overcoming abdominal pain from colic and gallbladder inflammation (Blumenthal et al, 1998).
It is the contraction of the muscles in the wall of the intestines that causes abdominal pain in many conditions - spasms and peppermint oil could stop these contractions within 30 seconds of after it is absorbed.
The European Scientific Cooperative in phytotherapy has approved peppermint oil for the treatment for gallbladder inflammation, gallstone pain, and skin conditions like severe itching and urticaria
In Germany, it is approved for use in treatment of muscle and nerve pain, and for cramps from the bowel and respiratory tract
Other Uses of Peppermint Oil
Peppermint Oil is widely used in various settings for its aromatic property. Such other uses include, but not limited to use in confectioneries. They include :
Peppermint oil has also been shown to inhibit the growth of bus and bacteria, thus its usefulness in gallbladder inflammation and colds or respiratory problems.
Peppermint oil also is rich in vitamins A and C (anti-oxidants that help protect against heart disease, cancer, diabetes and old age), magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphate, folate, omega -3, flavinoids, and copper.
It should not be used in people with hyperacidity of the stomach, and in children.
For peppermint oil to be effective in the treatment of bowel conditions, it must be taken in a large dose. It is an irritant to the bowel in large amount, and thus can only be delivered safely as an enteric coated capsule, the well known peppermint oil capsule.
For other conditions, it can be taken in smaller doses, inhaled, or applied on the skin or hair.
Japanese peppermint oil is produced from Japanese mint, Mentha Arvensis var. piperascens. This variety of corn mint is grown widely in Japan and China.
Japanese peppermint oil from this source is believed to be a more superior oil as it contains a higher amount of menthol, up to 70 %, compared to the traditional peppermint, containing only about 50% of menthol.
Peppermint oil and Mouse
Studies involving peppermint oil and mouse or rats have shown that it could be toxic in these rodents (Olusen and Thorup 1984; Eickholt and Box 1965).
It is believed that this oil toxicity in rats and rodents is due to effect of pulegone in the oil on the nervous system, and not menthol (Thorup et al 1983).
Peppermint oil and Pregnancy
Another reason why peppermint is better avoided in pregnancy is that in babies with an inherited defect called Glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, it leads to significant jaundice with a very high risk of permanent brain damage – kernicterus (Olowe and Ransome-Kuti, 1980).
Peppermint oil should also be avoided in all pregnant women with any cardiac disease or any other major medical condition.
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