Ashley Altieri, senior
It is unmistakable when the Winter break and Christmas season arrive. Commercials of holiday sales bombard televisions and jaunty Christmas music adorns the malls and stores. Candy Canes are placed on the shelves and peppermint flavored coffees- like the Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino- are available at Starbucks. Besides being a traditional winter treat, peppermint has many therapeutic uses.
The main ingredient of the peppermint plant is known to scientists as menthol, and is used in chest rubs, topical lotions, and throat sprays2. Peppermint is popularly used in aromatherapy or essential oil blends with the purpose of providing a calming and soothing atmosphere. Multiple studies were conducted by nurses in comparing the use of peppermint aromatherapy to antiemetic medications. Nurses in a study wanted to find a way to reduce postoperative nausea and vomiting in C-section patients without the adverse side effects that can occur with medications1. The results of the study explained that peppermint aromatherapy is a useful adjunct therapy to treat postoperative nausea, and encouraged others to replicate the study in a variety of postoperative environments for more detailed results1.
Peppermint is also used to relieve pain from headaches, menstrual cramps, bloating, nausea, skin irritation, anxiety associated with depression, and diarrhea2. Peppermint has been shown as a first line therapy for treating the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)3. According to Registered Dietician Nutritionist Kate Scarlata, “Peppermint oil has anti-spasmodic properties which relax the smooth muscle in the intestine, and test tube studies show that it has anti-microbial effects which reduce oral bacteria and fungal pathogens”3. Scarlata also recommends that people use an enteric coated capsule to reduce the likelihood of heartburn3. Peppermint might work well for people with IBS, but it is not as therapeutic for those with gastroesophageal reflux disease2. Since peppermint helps to relax the muscles in the stomach, like the esophageal sphincter, it can worsen the effects of heartburn and indigestion in this population2. As with all herbal or holistic therapies, it is necessary to consult your health care provider before seriously starting a new therapy or supplement. The next time you eat at Olive Garden and get the after-dinner mint, or you are relaxing with a steamy mug of peppermint tea, consider the ways that peppermint can be used in the clinical setting.