Pumpkin spice may be the seasonal flavor du jour (or du decade!), but there are several science-backed reasons why peppermint should top your flavor list this holiday. Not only does the fresh taste of peppermint offset and brighten many of the season’s more indulgent choices, but it also comes with compelling health benefits.
An aromatic herb in the mint family, peppermint is a cross between water mint and spearmint, and it’s most often used as a flavoring in breath mints, candies and other foods, and brewed as a caffeine-free tea. The leaves of peppermint contain several essential oils, including menthol, menthone and limonene. Menthol is the extract that provides the recognizable minty scent and cooling effect on taste buds.
For centuries and in cultures around the world, mint has been used in similar ways: Ancient Egyptians prescribed mint to ease upset stomachs, and it was served as an after-meal digestive aid in ancient Greece and Rome. Both Chinese and Ayurvedic medical traditions also have relied on mint to relieve digestive distress.
Here are the seven main health benefits you’ll reap this winter by brewing a refreshing cup of peppermint tea, enjoying a peppermint-infused treat or diffusing some peppermint essential oil.
A 2018 study of 24 participants with an average age of 25 years showed that those who were given a peppermint oil capsule experienced less fatigue during a cognitive test. In another study, participants who were in a room where peppermint oil was diffused showed significantly less daytime sleepiness than those who were in an odorless room.
As a proven muscle relaxant, peppermint may provide some relief from the pain associated with menstrual cramping. In a 2016 study, 127 women with chronic painful periods experienced reductions in the intensity and duration of menstrual pain. The outcome was just as effective with peppermint extract capsules as with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Nausea and diarrhea, however, were lower in the group taking peppermint than the group taking the pharmaceutical drug.
Ever experience a cooling, opening effect on your airways after eating a breath mint or sipping peppermint tea? What you’re feeling is menthol—one of the active compounds in peppermint—at work. Research demonstrates that menthol improves the perception of airflow in your nasal cavity. Additionally, the antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties in peppermint may relieve infection-induced sinus clogging.
Animal studies show promise that peppermint eases pain in the digestive system by preventing smooth muscles in the gut from contracting. In a systematic review of nine research studies, which included more than 700 people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), treatment with peppermint oil for two weeks provided significantly better relief of symptoms than for those who took a placebo. Also, a review of 14 clinical trials involving 1,927 children and adolescents with gastrointestinal disorders showed that peppermint oil reduced the frequency, duration and severity of abdominal pain.
Rosmarinic acid is a compound found in peppermint, as well as rosemary and other plants in the mint family. In one three-week study involving 29 people with seasonal allergies, those given a supplement containing rosmarinic acid ad fewer instances of itchy nose, itchy eyes and other allergy-related symptoms than those given a placebo. In an animal study, rats that suffered from allergic rhinitis—an irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose—experienced fewer allergic symptoms such as sneezing and itchy nose after being given peppermint extract.
Research has shown that peppermint oil induces a significant increase in blood flow of the forehead’s skin after local application, measured by laser Doppler, and provides a cooling sensation, possibly easing acute headache pain. In a 2010 study of 35 people with chronic migraines, the majority of whom were women, those who received peppermint oil aromatherapy applied to the forehead and temples showed a statistically significant reduction in pain after two hours, compared with those treated with a placebo oil. In another study involving 41 patients who experienced a combined total of 164 headaches during the trial, the effect of a locally applied peppermint oil preparation on tension-type headache was examined. In those patients, peppermint oil applied to the forehead was shown to be as effective as taking 1,000 mg of acetaminophen.
Peppermint oil has been shown to kill several types of bacteria that lead to human illnesses, such as E. coli, Staphylococcus and Klebsiella pneumoniae, a bacterium linked to pneumonia. Also, in one study, peppermint oil was found to kill and prevent the growth of common food-borne bacteria, such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli, in mango and pineapple juices. Further, in a systematic review of 52 relevant articles in the PubMed database, menthol from peppermint oil was found to reduce common bacteria living in the mouth that can lead to oral problems such as dental caries and periodontal disease.
1. Tear 5–10 organic peppermint leaves into pieces, and place them in a small tea strainer inside a teapot or cup.
2. Bring 2 cups filtered water to a boil and pour over the strainer (the strainer should be submerged in the water); cover pot or cup and let leaves steep for 5 minutes.
3. Using the back of a wooden spoon, gently bruise mint leaves to release their oils. Remove strainer, pressing the leaves to extract as much liquid as possible.
This post by Jessie Shafer, RD, a registered dietitian and the Director of Influence & Influencer Programs at New Hope Network, and images were provided by New Hope Network. FoodTrients is a member of the New Hope Influencer Co-op, a network of health and wellness bloggers committed to spreading more health to more people.”