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10 January 2023 / Laura Garvin Gomez

Peppermint Oil for IBS: How Does it Work and How to Use

This refreshing oil can help kick the painful symptoms of this uncomfortable condition.

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Person clutching abdomen.

Finding ways to successfully tackle your IBS can be difficult and tiresome. 

With every form of medication taking up space in your routine, and every new home remedy leading to questions about its validity, those faced with IBS struggle with full-proof methods for reducing symptoms. 

Much of this may come down to medical professionals not knowing for sure where IBS flare-ups come from, nor how to permanently treat them. 

That being said, the demand for quick fixes and temporary cures is arising, and with that comes a sea of new information as to which natural remedies are actually worth your while. 

Peppermint essential oil is one of these such remedies, sporting credentials for digestion that have been used for centuries across a number of societies. 

While on the surface it may seem like just another fad waiting to happen, scientists are beginning to back-up many of these claims with concrete evidence on the inner workings of peppermint's effects. 

Unsurprisingly, this has since led to a rise in peppermint oil being mentioned as a saving grace for IBS - but how exactly does it work? 

We'll be answering all the questions about what  is, its effects, and how to use peppermint oil for IBS relief. 

Peppermint Illustration

What is peppermint oil? 

The refreshing scent of peppermint is one that we're all likely to be familiar with - whether its in the form of minty sweets, decongestant tools, or simple cooking practices. 

The essential oil carries similar properties to the herb itself and is commonly extracted via steam distillation from one of two distinct types: Mentha Piperita and Mentha Arvensis

Both variations of the oil have been noted as nearly identical in terms of their physical and mental effects, however there is some contrast between the scent of both oils, with Piperita carrying the slightly stronger mint aroma. 

Native to Europe and the Middle East, peppermint's associations with digestion didn't truly emerge until the seventeenth century, where documents about its medicinal effects for the stomach began to circulate. 

There are other forms of mint essential oil that bare similarities to peppermint - such as spearmint and garden mint - however peppermint is viewed as the most effective for digestive complaints. 

 

What is IBS? 

Referred to in long form as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS is a collective term for issues surrounding digestive health - including stomach, intestinal, and gut problems. 

Symptoms surrounding IBS can include frequent cramping, bloating, nausea, gut pain, trapped wind, and flatulence among other related issues. Sufferers may also contract headaches or feelings of fatigue as a result of ongoing symptoms. 

While its route cause is still largely undetermined, IBS flare-ups have commonly been linked to the consumption of certain foods and beverages, as well as oversensitive nerves in the gut and varying digestion speeds. 

Some people may experience IBS as a temporary condition, while others may be faced with more chronic cases. 

Two Nikura peppermint oils near a plant.

Why is peppermint oil good for IBS? 

Peppermint oil is a natural muscle relaxant, sporting strong antispasmodic effects as well as a distinct cooling sensation.

"Antispasmodic" is a term often given to pain-relieving pharmaceuticals, however essential oils can also contain natural antispasmodic qualities. These oils help to halt spasms in the muscles and reduce pain levels overall. 

The combined attributes of soothing and cooling make peppermint oil an incredibly impactful remedy against the painful cramps that often plague IBS sufferers.

In fact, a  concluded that peppermint oil can cause up to a 50% decrease in IBS symptoms, including abdominal pain and discomfort.

Effects against tension headaches and nausea were also noted when inhaling the oil and applying it for topical use. 

Scientists have since linked these powerful effects to two of peppermint's natural components: menthol and limonene. 

Menthol is the primary organic compound found in most mint herbs and is generally responsible for their sweet, refreshing aromas. 

On a medicinal level, menthol is known for having a decompressing effect that can effectively soothe the intestinal muscles and provide temporary pain relief. 

The presence of menthol is said to excite the anti-pain channel known as TRPM8 in the colon, leading to reduction in the sensitivity of the fibres associated with gut issues.  

Menthol is also the component that gives peppermint its cooling properties, which has been  for its efficiency in relieving pain. 

Menthol's ability to block calcium channels and serotonin receptors in the muscles of the gut was proven by a  which provided answers for peppermint's antispasmodic qualities. 

Limonene, on the other hand, is a powerful anti-inflammatory that allows peppermint to effectively soothe the gut as well as minimise bloating. 

While its properties are not as powerful as those of menthol, it is certainly a crucial element toward peppermint's successes against IBS symptoms. 

Woman lying near a window with hands on her abdomen.

How to use peppermint oil for IBS

There are many different ways to use peppermint oil for IBS, though some are considered to be more effective than others. 

How you choose to implement peppermint oil into your routine can depend on a variety of lifestyle factors, however it is always important to consult with your doctor before you try anything new - particularly if you suffer from a more chronic case of the condition. 

Here are some of the most popular options for using peppermint oil against IBS symptoms. 

1. Massage

Essential oils provide great relief when applied topically, and are particularly useful for digestive issues when massaged into the abdominal area. 

Massages can increase blood circulation to sore areas as well as encourage the absorption of peppermint into the bloodstream. This can help to relieve tightness, pain, and tension. 

Mix a few drops of peppermint essential oil with a nourishing carrier oil (you can refer to our dilution guide for the best way to this) and massage gently into the affected regions where cramping or discomfort is most prominent. 

You can also rub this mixture into your temples to help relieve tension headaches and soothe waves of nausea. 

Peppermint oil, like all essential oils, should never be applied to the skin before first being diluted. Failure to dilute the oil can lead to irritation, redness, and rashes that would not be best welcome on top of existing pain. 

It is also good practice to patch test your essential oils before applying them in case any unknown allergies arise. 

2. Diffusion

While diffusing peppermint oil won't provide any immediate relief against cramping, it is a good idea for dispelling nausea as well as soothing any anxieties surrounding symptoms. 

Peppermint has also been known to relieve dizziness when inhaled by improving blood flow to the brain, as well as providing an extra wave of energy if you find yourself feeling particularly fatigued. 

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3. Capsules 

Peppermint capsules for IBS can be found in most medicinal stores and can be incredibly effective when used correctly. 

Not to be chewed but instead swallowed, these capsules allow the oil to make its way directly into your intestines without any outward damage.

One capsule up to three times a day is recommended for most adults, however it's important not to go beyond this dosage if you don't want to risk unpleasant side effects like heartburn, or even more severe issues like kidney failure. 

Taking peppermint essential oil orally through a capsule is not the same thing as directly ingesting the essential oil, however. 

Most essential oils are for external use only and can cause great damage to your internal organs if swallowed due to their immense potency.  

If you're not sure on why or how essential oils can cause damage, you can learn more on why you shouldn't ingest them

4. Tea

Sipping peppermint tea alongside topical essential oil use has been recommended by some experts as a gentler solution to the problem. 

While tea may help to calm symptoms, there is little evidence to suggest it is anywhere near as effective as the oil, so take any expectant solutions with a pinch of salt. 

Are there any risks in using peppermint oil for IBS? 

In general terms, peppermint oil has been regarded as safe for use against the symptoms and unpleasantries of IBS. 

That being said, like all natural remedies, peppermint oil is not without its precautions. 

Doctors recommend avoiding peppermint oil, particularly in capsule form, if you struggle with GERD, gallstones or a hiatal hernia, and also advise against use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. 

Peppermint oil should always be diluted before application to the skin, and should never be ingested (undiluted or otherwise) to avoid further damage to the digestive tract. 

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Overall, the soothing effects of peppermint can do much more than simply give you a refreshing lift, and implementing the oil into your daily practices will be sure to tackle any discomfort you may feel from IBS. 

Whichever practice you choose, always consult with your doctor on how this will work for your body and what they recommend, as well as keeping an eye on the correct amounts you're using at any given time. 

If peppermint isn't for you, you can also check out some more of the best essential oils for IBS

Product Name

100% Pure Peppermint (Piperita) Essential Oil
Botanical Name Mentha Piperita
Scent Type Herbs
Benefits & Uses Fresh, Decongestant, Spider Repellent
Suitable for Diffusers? Yes, this peppermint (piperita) essential oil is perfect for diffusers.
Suitable for Candles and Soaps? Yes, this peppermint (piperita) essential oil is perfect for candle and soap making.
Extraction Method Steam Distillation
Bottle Type Tamper proof and UV resistant

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