Peppermint Essential Oil: Benefits and Uses

For some, it is candy canes hooked on a Christmas tree. For others, it’s their favorite chewing gum. Whatever the refreshing scent of pure peppermint essential oil reminds you of, it is unmistakable. Peppermint has been used throughout history to treat a variety of ailments, and in recent years has been studied medically to substantiate these claims. There are many simple ways to get the power of this cooling herb into your life; here we will explore the most medicinally viable ways to harness the power of pure peppermint essential oil.

A History of Peppermint Use

As much as peppermint has become an integral part of our lives, is actually a hybrid plant. Peppermint naturally hybridized from the Mentha aquatic and Mentha spicata plants. This cross created the highly medicinal herb, Mentha piperita, we know today. Used in just about every ancient culture, mint has long enjoyed its reputation as a medicinal herb. Roman philosophers and Greek medical practitioners alike believed in the power of mint, and recommended it for many ailments. Its use quickly spread throughout Europe, though settlers in the Americas were surprised to discover that the native cultures in North America already knew of the potent herb, and used it often.

Thousands of years of medicinal use surely count for something, and peppermint has since been explored as a natural alternative to many chemical medicines. The tea is used to calm the system and reduce digestive upset, while the main component menthol has been extracted into analgesic muscle rubs for years. Of all the uses for peppermint, there may be no greater way to experience it than through its pure essential oil.

Peppermint Essential Oil

Typically, herbal essential oils such as peppermint are extracted through a steam distillation process. By using the whole plant during extraction, the greatest number of beneficial compounds found within the herb are isolated into pure peppermint essential oil.

Constituents of Peppermint Essential Oil

When analyzed, we find that peppermint essential oil contains some powerful components. The most medicinally active compounds in any essential oil are the ones that are most present; in this case, it is most notably the useful combination of menthol and menthone. Listed below are some of the medically active compounds found in pure peppermint essential oil.

Menthol

Menthol is a monoterpene which is often used as a flavoring agent and in the cosmetics industry due to its “cooling” effect. Peppermint oil contains menthol as a major active constituent, which has led to it being used for centuries as a natural medicine for a number of conditions.

Menthone

Another monoterpene, menthone is found in large amounts in peppermint essential oil. It is similar to menthol, and also acts to give peppermint its distinctly minty aroma. Essential oils containing menthone can be used as natural bug repellants as well.

Limonene

The same compound which provides many of the benefits of lemon essential oil is also present in peppermint essential oil. Limonene is cholesterol solvent, helping to lower LDL cholesterol levels in the body. It also helps to neutralize gastric juices, which aids in digestion and heartburn.

1,8-Cineole

1,8- cineole is one of the most studied compounds in natural medicine. It contributes many of the benefits of eucalyptus essential oil. It is even commonly referred to as eucalyptol, though many herbs, such as thyme and rosemary, contain the compound.1,8- cineole is a powerful anti-inflammatory. It also provides relief to chronic airway diseases such as asthma and COPD thanks to its ability to reduce inflammation and help eliminate the toxins in the lungs which cause flare ups.

Benefits of Peppermint Essential Oil

All of these medical compounds combine to create a powerfully cooling essential oil. The components of peppermint essential oil have been used clinically for everything from inflammation to digestive issues, and more research comes out every day to substantiate these claims. Let’s take a look to some of the most promising benefits of including peppermint essential oil in your daily regimen.

In the Body

When it is inhaled via an aromatherapy inhaler, the compounds in peppermint essential oil enter the blood stream and get to work on the body almost immediately, producing many beneficial results.

Anti-inflammatory

Peppermint essential oil makes for a great anti-inflammatory. In fact, one study compared the oil to a leading chemical anti-inflammatory, finding that peppermint oil significantly outperformed the chemical medication. Researchers noted that the peppermint essential oil exhibits a significantly high anti-inflammatory response in a dose dependent manner.

Increased Athletic Performance

Competitive athletes are always looking to be one step ahead of the competition. If there was a natural way to boost the body’s ability to perform, they would be the first to use it. Here is one some athletes do not know yet: peppermint essential oil increases athletic performance. After ten days of supplementation, subjects showed significantly improved results.

By monitoring athletes’ performance for each of the ten days while administering peppermint essential oil, researchers were able to identify just how the oil does this. Athletes supplemented with peppermint essential oil showed a large number of improvements over the treatment period. The respiratory efficiency of the athletes was enhanced; they breathed more, released more carbon dioxide, and expended energy much better than before. They took longer to get tired, and lung tests showed that they exhaled much deeper, creating much more space for the breath. Both resting and exercise heart rates were significantly decreased, and overall blood pressure decreased as well.

Anti-arthritic

Arthritis pain can seep into every area of life, draining you of energy and ruining your mood. A team of Korean researchers used peppermint essential oil in an aromatherapy blend given to arthritis patients to determine the effectiveness of essential oils as a natural arthritis remedy. Test subjects reported that the aromatherapy treatment significantly decreased both pain score and depression score of patients living with arthritis.

Anti-Cancer

With hundreds of billions of dollars being spent every year on cancer research, cancer has certainly taken the mainstage as one of the most daunting human conditions. Following heart disease, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. As many search for a chemical “silver bullet” to cure cancer, others turn to natural solutions and implementing lifestyle changes to ensure their risk for preventable cancers stays low.

Research is now showing that menthol may actually kill cancer cells. Researchers have found that high concentrations of menthol, such as those found in peppermint essential oil, actually exhibit a cytotoxic effect on cancer cells. This process also reduces the growth of malignant tumor cells in the body, and could be considered as a part of a cancer-fighting health regimen.

Antioxidant

Oxidation is a natural part of life, and is caused by notoriously reactive molecules called free radicals. These free radicals are a byproduct of biological processes within the body; such as responses to diet and immune system responses. Substances that generate a great number of free radicals are found in overly processed foods, drugs and chemical medicines, alcohol, fried foods, tobacco smoke, pesticides, and air pollutants – Just to name a few. These free radicals cause oxidative damage by stealing the electrons of cells in the body. Too much of this oxidative damage can cause serious problems in the body.

Looking at the list of oxidative agents humans are exposed to every day is enough to make you sweat. Not to worry though, there are many antioxidant essential oils out there. Essential oils such as peppermint actually help to eliminate these free radicals from the body. Researchers set out to test the antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of oils made from mint herbs, finding that peppermint essential oil is a potent antioxidant; exhibiting great free radical scavenging abilities.

Lowers Blood Pressure

Using peppermint essential oil may lower blood pressure in as little as five minutes. Researchers focusing on the ability of peppermint essential oil to increase athletic performance also found that after just five minutes of exposure, test subjects showed a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure. For a relaxing aromatherapy session, add a few drops of peppermint essential oil to a room diffuser and inhale for 30 minutes.

Digestive

Peppermint is one of the best essential oils for the digestive system. When the body encounters the compounds in peppermint, the entire digestive system is stimulated. A team of researchers recently found that peppermint essential oil eases digestive upset by reducing inflammation. In the digestive system, the digestive muscles can be overworked by a big meal. Peppermint essential oil can lower the feeling of being “stuffed”, and calm an overactive digestive system. The oil may also be beneficial for reducing heartburn and eliminating constipation.

Respiratory Issues

There are many essential oils to treat cold and flu symptoms naturally. Peppermint essential oil may provide a novel treatment option for a wide range of respiratory ailments such as coughs, colds, bronchitis, and asthma. A team of researchers looked at the action of the oil in the lungs, finding that peppermint essential oil relieves respiratory symptoms through its anti-congestive, expectorant, and antispasmodic actions. A few drops of the oil added to a personal inhaler and inhaled throughout the day is the best way to provide relief to respiratory ailments naturally.

Oral Health

Antimicrobial compounds in peppermint essential oil can also help kill the bacteria associated with bad breath and gum disease. No wonder it is added to the majority of toothpastes and mouthwashes on the market. The cooling sensation on menthol mixed with the antibacterial component menthone add up to create the perfect ingredient for your natural mouthwash recipe.

Relieves IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects many people around the world. The symptoms are abdominal pain associated with diarrhea, constipation, or both, and can cause other symptoms themselves such as hemorrhoids and anxiety. Rather than relying on chemical medications with worrisome side effects, many people turn to peppermint essential oil to treat IBS. Researchers in this study compared peppermint oil to a leading chemical medicine, noting that the oil showed a greater reduction rate in IBS symptoms. Though subjects were given oral treatments of encapsulated peppermint essential oil, it is only recommended that this happens under the guidance of a trained healthcare provider.

Another study looked into the action of peppermint oil, trying to figure out exactly how peppermint essential oil helps with IBS symtpoms. Researchers found that peppermint essential oil alters the bacteria of the small intestine; effectively killing overgrowths of bad bacteria.

Reduces Headaches

The use of peppermint essential oil to treat headaches is one of the cases in which experiential proof came before the science. For years, peppermint tea and essential oil have been used to treat headaches, with no scientific evidence backing it up. A team of researchers verified that yes; peppermint relieves headaches by easing the mechanisms which cause them, such as tense muscles or a fatigued brain.

For the Brain

Compounds in essential oils can enter the bloodstream by being absorbed by the capillaries of the blood. Because they are such small particles, essential oils can easily enter and positively influence the brain.

Increased Focus

That sharp minty scent may actually help the brain function. While it does not increase the functions of memory or the willpower to do the work, studies are showing the peppermint oil increases mental alertness. Participants in this study ran through a series of typing performance tests. Participants who smelled peppermint showed significant improvements in typing speed and accuracy; suggesting that peppermint essential oil may promote attention and increase mental performance.

Sedative

When the compounds in peppermint essential oil enter the brain, they can have a calm sedating effect. Combined with other relaxing scents such as lavender essential oil, peppermint essential oil has shown promise in helping relax the body from a long day. Researchers in this study found that peppermint extract had a sedative effect on the bodies of those exposed to it, depressing bodily functions to help relax and get some shut eye.

Fights Fatigue

Paradoxically enough, peppermint essential oil can also fight against fatigue. Inhalation of peppermint essential oil has been used traditionally for the treatment mental fatigue, but lacked scientific evidence supporting its use. This study provided the evidence necessary to safely say peppermint essential oil fights fatigue upon supplementation. Subjects showed more signs of wakeful behavior in their minds and bodies when used.

On the Skin

The active compounds in peppermint essential oil which have amazing benefit to the body internally can also be used to great ends externally. Added to carrier oil, peppermint essential oil can be rubbed on the skin to create some amazing results.

Naturally Cooling

After prolonged sun exposure, there is nothing quite as cooling as adding some peppermint essential oil to your aloe vera gel. As obvious as it seems, the menthol in peppermint essential oil can actually trick your body into thinking it is cold. When menthol is applied to the skin, it affects the nerves by acting on proteins called TRPM 8 and TRPM1; which are messenger molecules for the body to recognize cold. Menthol actually tricks these receptors into triggering; explaining the cooling effect it has on the body.

Analgesic

This cooling effect is partially responsible for the analgesic effect of peppermint essential oil. In a recent study, researchers compared the analgesic effectiveness of both menthol and ice. Subjects either received a topical treatment of menthol gel or ice two days after intense muscle workouts. Researchers noted that menthol based analgesics decreased pain perception to a greater extent than ice. Menthol also produced greater movement in the muscles it was applied to.

Antimicrobial

Peppermint is often used as a home remedy for different bacteria and fungi. As such, researchers have explored peppermint as an antimicrobial agent. This study explored the ability of peppermint to kill many common strains of microbes, finding that peppermint successfully inhibited both bacteria and fungi quite successfully. This is due to the presence of high amounts of menthone in peppermint. The oil can be used to reduce bacteria around wounds, or in an antifungal treatment for athlete’s foot. Adding peppermint essential oil to a first aid spray in your home is a great way to use the beneficial compounds of the herb any time you need them.

Antispasmodic

Sore, tight muscles are a great cause of discomfort. From menstrual cramps to muscles trying to recover from a workout; peppermint essential oil can help calm tight muscles. Researchers in this recent study focused on the power of peppermint extracts to calm muscles in a dose dependent manner. To soothe those aching muscles, add a couple of drops of peppermint essential oil to your favorite moisturizer and gently massage into the muscle. Repeat as often as needed to relieve those tight cramping muscles.

Other Considerations

Peppermint essential oil is a must-have. It fights against cancers and oxidative damage, helps you focus, soothes your muscles, and even relieves digestive upset – just to name a few things. Peppermint essential oil even makes an effective pest repellant. If it is not in your cabinet yet, it is time to add it.

It should be noted that pure peppermint essential oil is powerful, and as such should be respected. It should be used in small amounts at first, and pay attention to any reactions your body may have to the oil. Children and pregnant or nursing women should only use essential oils under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner. It is always important to use pure essential oils on your body and in the air you breathe to ensure you have the best experience possible. Pure essential oils ensure your safety and also ensure the oil contains the greatest number of medicinal compounds available.

Have a use for peppermint essential oil that we have missed? We would love to hear about how you use this powerful essential oil in the comments below!

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