We love it when science solves the mystery of a time-honored home remedy, because we think there is at least a bit of truth in many home "brews." It's happened again, and to one of our favorite digestion-soothers: peppermint. It turns out that this ancient herbal tummy-tamer does its thing by switching off pain-sensing nerve fibers in your digestive system. Who knew?
That helps explain why pouring yourself a steaming mug of peppermint tea or just sniffing it for an upset stomach -- or popping an enteric-coated peppermint oil capsule to ease irritable bowel syndrome -- really works.
We've known for a while that mint relaxes smooth muscles in your gastrointestinal tract, which can tone down irritable bowel syndrome cramps. That's super-useful if you're among the one in five people with this uncomfortable problem. Now we also know it can mute hypersensitive nerves, which can trigger internal distress after a spicy meal, too much coffee or a glass of wine.
The aroma of peppermint may be all it takes to soothe a queasy stomach or settle one that's gassy and bloated. But it may take a stronger dose to ease irritable bowel syndrome. That's where peppermint oil capsules come in. To give them a try, stick with 0.2 to 0.4 ml of oil three times daily and use only enteric-coated versions to avoid heartburn. Otherwise, the muscle-relaxing oil could relax a valve at the top of your stomach, allowing acid to backwash into your esophagus. That hurts. A tip if you're heartburn-prone: Skip mint chewing gum for the same reason.