Does Peppermint Candy Stimulate the Brain?

"The Washington Post" reported in 2007 that more and more schools are encouraging students to eat peppermint candy to boost test scores. But is it really effective? Peppermint candy contains peppermint oil and sugar, two important ingredients that energize your brain. Research shows that peppermint stimulates the brain by improving memory and increasing alertness while helping it relax. Your body breaks down sugar to glucose -- the main fuel source for your brain.

A cup filled with peppermint candy canes. Credit: arinahabich/iStock/Getty Images

Memory and Mood

A study published in the 2008 "International Journal of Neuroscience" found that participants exposed to peppermint oil experienced enhanced memory and processing speeds. Peppermint also increased their alertness while helping them maintain a sense of calm. In 2006, Dr. Bryan Raudenbush from Wheeling Jesuit University found that drivers exposed to peppermint scent were less frustrated, anxious and fatigued and stayed more alert after driving for prolonged periods.

How Peppermint Works

Raudenbush explained that peppermint scent significantly increases oxygen saturation and blood pressure, which results in physiological arousal. Blood brings oxygen to your brain, so if peppermint increases the amount of oxygen in your blood and then increases your blood pressure, more oxygen travels to your brain. The more oxygen available to your brain, the better your concentration and focus.

Sugar and Your Brain

Your brain uses sugar as its primary source of fuel. When you're hungry or your blood sugar is low, it's difficult to concentrate because your brain is low on fuel. In fact, according to The Franklin Institute, your brain uses sugar faster during mental activity. Peppermint candy provides a rapid source of sugar that travels right to your brain for refueling. Remember, it's just a quick boost. You need a nutritious meal before a test or project that requires concentration to maintain healthy blood sugar levels for longer periods of time. In addition, eating too much sugar can lead to tooth decay.

Smell Versus Taste

Tasting peppermint or smelling peppermint affects the type of stimulation you experience. An article published in 2005 in the "North American Journal of Psychology" found that when participants chewed peppermint-flavored gum, they experienced significantly improved memory and worked faster. However, when they smelled peppermint, memory improved slightly and participants had less fatigue and more vigor. If you are taking a test or working on a complex project, eating peppermint candy may improve your memory and give you the energy you need to complete the task at hand.

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