Peppermint for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Peppermint Leaves
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Peppermint is actually a cultivated plant which was derived from water mint and spearmint (perhaps by accident) in the mid-1700s. It was first grown in England and its medicinal properties were recognized not long after. Peppermint is cultivated today in Europe and Northern Africa. While a lot of people drink peppermint tea or take supplements to help digestion, peppermint is not approved by the FDA to treat any condition.

How Peppermint Is Used In IBS

Historically, peppermint was taken as a tea to treat general digestive problems. It is known to reduce the production of gas in the intestine. Today peppermint is recognized as being most effective for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) when used in its oil form. One study showed that enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules were effective in relieving pain, distension, and stool frequency in people with IBS. Peppermint oil has even been approved for use by IBS patients in Germany.

How Peppermint Is Used

Peppermint oil can be taken in either capsules or tea. As a tea, peppermint may be taken 3 to 4 times a day between meals. One to 2 enteric-coated capsules containing 0.2 ml of peppermint oil taken 2 to 3 times a day may be recommended. See your physician or licensed health care professional to determine the proper dosage in capsule form.

Drug Interactions

Interactions between peppermint and other drugs hasn't been reported, so it's not known if there could be problems. Take care when mixing medications and other supplements and peppermint.

Use During Pregnancy

Peppermint is not recommended for use during pregnancy. It is not known if peppermint could affect an unborn baby. It's also not known if peppermint could affect a nursing baby, so it's not recommended for use in women who are breastfeeding.


It's not common, but there are people who are allergic to peppermint. Peppermint oil should never be applied to the face or near mucous membranes. Using more than one form of peppermint at a time, such as tea and oil, is not recommended because it could lead to side effects.

One of the biggest problems with supplements like peppermint, and others, is that because it is not regulated by the FDA, the contents can be variable. It has happened that supplements contain harmful ingredients, or even don't contain the amount of active ingredient that's listed on the label. It may not be possible to know exactly what is in any purchased supplement, which is why it is important to seek reputable brands and to tell your health care team what you are taking.

Peppermint has the potential to worsen certain conditions. Do not use this herb if:

  • You have chronic heartburn
  • You have severe liver damage
  • You have inflammation of the gallbladder
  • You have obstruction of bile ducts
  • You are pregnant

Talk to your doctor if:

  • You have gallstones

Possible Side Effects

Peppermint oil may cause burning or stomach upset in some people. Enteric-coated capsules may cause a burning sensation in the rectum. If you experience these side effects you may want to stop taking peppermint.

Children and Infants

The strong menthol present in the tea may cause infants and small children to choke. Peppermint was historically used to treat colic in infants, but it is not recommended today. See chamomile for a possible alternative.

The Bottom Line

Peppermint tea is thought to be safe. However, peppermint should be used with caution by people who have serious digestive concerns or by pregnant women. As with any supplement, its use should be discussed with a healthcare provider.

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