Minty fresh -the good and bad of peppermint oil

Two weeks ago, my son went to the pediatrician for his routine check up and brought home a souvenir – 10 days of headaches, diarrhea, nausea and stomach cramps. This meant no school, no hockey practice and lots of whining around the house for me and him. Over the counter remedies for diarrhea like Imodium aren’t recommended for kids so I was left with oral hydration and trying to just push through it. I looked through my cabinet at home to see if there was anything else I could come up with to make his life less miserable. Options included probiotics (which definitely have been shown to help), chamomile tea (which would help if he would actually drink it) and peppermint oil enteric capsules and peppermint tea (which he also refused to drink).

Peppermint is a common herb found throughout Europe and North America. You can find peppermint plants for sale in any nursery that sells herbs. Peppermint works as an anti-spasmodic (anti-cramping) agent because the plant contains about 1.5% menthol. Menthol helps to relieve cramping by blocking calcium channels in the gut. Menthol has other actions too which helps explain both the benefits and dangers of peppermint oil.

For adults and kids over 8 years of age, peppermint oil taken as an enteric coated capsule, can cause relief of symptoms like nausea, stomach cramping and gas. Randomized trials of patients with irritable bowel syndrome actually showed significant relief of symptoms when they took peppermint oil capsules three times a day over 2-3 weeks.

Small randomized trials have shown that peppermint oil can provide relief of tension headaches when massaged into the forehead or temples.

Peppermint oil sounds fantastic. It relieves stomach upset and headaches. BUT, there are things to keep in mind;
1. The menthol component of peppermint oil can worsen acid reflux, and gall bladder disorders.
2. The menthol component of peppermint oil can cause apnea (stop breathing) in infants and young children when applied near the face.
3. Peppermint oil is processed by the liver which means it can affect other medications that you might be taking. So always contact your provider first before taking any herbal remedy especially if you are on other medications.

The Bottom Line;
1. Peppermint oil enteric capsules can provide relief of stomach cramping, nausea and gas. Peppermint tea can be soothing as well. Remember this only has been studied in children over the age of 8 years.
2. Do not apply peppermint oil to children under 12 years of age especially on the chest or near the face.
3. Remember that natural remedies can interact with other medications

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