Mints are herbs long known in folklore for their ability to calm an upset stomach. While the mint family includes many culinary herbs such as rosemary and oregano, digestive remedies, such as mint candies, teas and oils, most often use peppermint and spearmint. Despite its purported medicinal properties, peppermint is a dietary supplement that cannot prevent or treat illness. Check with your doctor before using mint therapeutically.
How Peppermint Works
Illness, stress any spicy foods can cause your digestive muscles to contract. Peppermint’s calming and numbing effect blocks the increase of calcium ions that cause the cramping, relaxing the involuntary muscles of your digestive tract. This action loosens cramps and relieves bloating and nausea. It allows accumulated painful gas to pass both upward and downward through the tract, easing indigestion and upset stomach.
Peppermint can relieve nausea and discomfort. A study in the September 1997 issue of the “Journal of Advanced Nursing” found that peppermint oil relieved postoperative nausea, allowing administration of more pain relief medication. Practitioners of complementary medicine often recommend peppermint to ease the pain of irritable bowel syndrome. In 2011, scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia released results of their study showing that peppermint relieves pain by activating an anti-pain channel called TRPM8. Using this information, they hope for an eventual mainstream clinical treatment for IBS.
Some forms of mint are edible, while some are not. You can use mint leaves for teas and cooking, and mint candies have a long reputation as an after-dinner digestive aid. Mints are often available at the exit of Mexican and Italian restaurants that serve spicy and acidic dishes. When you're choosing your own mint candies, select those that contain pure mint oil. Eating artificially flavored mint candies will not soothe your upset stomach. Some mints that do contain pure mint oil may also contain other synthetic and inflammatory ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup. Your best bet for relief of an upset stomach is to use all-natural mints.
As with all other herbal remedies, you must be aware of proper use and contraindications. For example, while mint can help relieve most types of indigestion, it can cause heartburn and acid reflux if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease. Mints without an enteric coating or delayed release dissolve too early in the digestive process, relaxing the sphincter muscle that keeps stomach acids from backing into the esophagus. Because of this, you will also find no relief for your upset stomach. Similarly, peppermint may ease diarrheal upset, but it could make constipation worse. If digestive muscle spasms are causing your constipation, peppermint may help, but it will not help constipation caused by paralyzed digestive muscles. Consult your doctor before using mint if you have a medical condition beyond the common upset stomach.
Never give peppermint to an infant or small child. The menthol in peppermint can cause a burning sensation in the mouth, and peppermint oil applied to the face for inhalation can cause choking, gagging and or life-threatening respiratory problems.