Okay, what’s with all the press about peppermint helping alleviate the symptoms of Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS)? Well, it turns out that this herbology might just be well grounded in science. A recent study in mice showed that sensitivity to pain was reduced when a cooling agent, similar to peppermint, was applied directly to the nerve fibers of the digestive tract. This comes as refreshing relief for the one in six Americans who suffer from IBS, described as a combination of cramping, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. Previously, scientists have suggested that peppermint may relieve pain associated with IBS, yet were uncertain how this occurred.
In the latest study, researchers dissected and applied capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili oil and mustard oil to intestinal nerve fibers from mice. The nerve fibers were then electrically stimulated. While fiber responses increased from both capsaicin and mustard oil, this response was reduced if the cooling agent was applied beforehand. This means the cooling effect of peppermint may decrease the sensitivity to the distension experienced by IBS patients.
While this sounds great for the hypersensitive gut of IBS sufferers, don’t scurry off to your local apothecary just yet. Although it may relieve symptoms of IBS, peppermint can actually worsen symptoms associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) since it relaxes the sphincter between your stomach and esophagus causing heartburn or indigestion. As with any herbs, be sure to consult your physician because certain medications, such as antacids, may interact with the herbal remedies containing peppermint. Finally, remember that this study was done in mice; therefore clinical trails would be necessary to confirm similar effects in humans.
Treating IBS can be difficult because symptoms vary but if you want to give it a try, peppermint is available in many forms from teas to dried leaves, creams, coated capsules and peppermint spirit which is a mixture of oil and leaf extract. The National Institutes of Health recommends steering clear of fatty foods, dairy, chocolate, alcohol and carbonated drinks all of which can worsen symptoms of IBS. Instead, try to eat four to five small meals per day and include fiber-rich foods like whole grains, kidney beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, apples and peaches. Looking for other natural ways to tackle IBS? Symptoms can also be managed through diet, physical activity, reducing stress, medication and probiotics, such as yogurt. Eating kiwi may help cure IBS symptoms too.