Poor digestion can take many forms, have many causes and produce a variety of symptoms. True, lasting relief may be found only by treating the underlying condition and making lifestyle changes in diet and mealtime habits. Many people turn to herbs for relief, and peppermint is a popular remedy for ailments ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to tension headaches. It used to be an ingredient in over-the-counter digestion aids, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned its sale as a drug because the benefits aren't proven. Research is ongoing, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it may help relieve some digestion problems.
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Peppermint tea is made from the dried leaves of the peppermint plant -- the same herb used to flavor candy and toothpaste. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, it has calming and numbing properties and may also kill viruses and bacteria. It is frequently used to relieve discomfort resulting from heartburn, indigestion, gas and flatulence, although different disorders may require forms of this supplement other than tea. For example, IBS sufferers need an enteric-coated tablet that keeps the peppermint from dissolving until it reaches the intestines, because it could cause greater discomfort if it dissolves in the stomach.
MedlinePlus says that peppermint rates as "possibly effective" for heartburn, because it may reduce gastrointestinal spasms and that "full" feeling that comes with them. The UMMC reports a couple of studies in which 75 percent of participants with IBS experienced fewer symptoms after taking peppermint for two to four weeks. Peppermint relaxes the "gut" muscles, allowing gas to pass more smoothly, relieving bloating and discomfort, and it may exert a calming effect on the stomach, allowing food to digest faster.
Make tea with a teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves per cup of water, and steep for 10 minutes. The UMMC recommends drinking four to five cups per day. If you would prefer a more convenient form, take one or two peppermint oil capsules two or three times daily to help relieve IBS symptoms.
People with acid reflux disease should not drink peppermint tea, because it may have a numbing effect on the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach, allowing the acid to rise. Peppermint tea should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women, or people taking cyclosporin, antacids, acid reducers, diabetes drugs, blood pressure drugs or medications that are changed by the liver. Consult your doctor before using any kind of herbal therapy -- your underlying problem must be addressed first.