Peppermint Oil for an Upset Stomach: Should You Try It?

This home remedy may help tame your tummy troubles.

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It’s a feeling no one welcomes: You’re sitting at your desk scrambling to meet that EOD deadline you promised your boss when your stomach is suddenly attacked by cramping, bloating, and—ugh—gas.  Your mind starts to race as you worry whether your symptoms will stay steady so you can tough them out … or get worse enough you’ll have to ditch work early. Again.

Of course, the best way to prevent and treat chronic upset stomach is to reassess your diet and lifestyle. Exercise, stress relief, and certain tweaks to your diet may eliminate many tummy-turning symptoms. (Here are foods to avoid when you’re constipated and tricks to beat stomach bloat.)

But anyone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other gastrointestinal conditions can tell you that even the most heroic dietary changes may not prevent every bout of upset stomach. For relief, some people seek natural remedies. One option that’s getting more and more attention: peppermint oil capsules.

The stomach cramps that IBS is infamous for may stem from spasms in the intestinal muscles that occur while you’re trying to digest food. Peppermint contains menthol, which may prevent spasms in the digestive tract by smoothing intestinal muscles.

Several studies have investigated just how effective peppermint oil capsules may be at relieving cramping, diarrhea, and bloating in people with IBS. One 2007 study from Digestive and Liver Disease had patients with IBS take two peppermint oil capsules twice a day for four weeks, while others took a placebo. After the four-week period, 75 percent of the patients taking peppermint oil capsules reported a drop in their symptoms, compared to just 38 percent of the placebo group.

In a 2014 meta-analysis of nine studies on peppermint oil therapy, researchers identified only a small number of mild side effects, the most common being heartburn. The researchers conclude that peppermint oil capsules are “safe and effective short-term treatment for IBS” and may be as effective as antispasmodic drugs.

The takeaway? Research suggests that peppermint oil capsules are worth a shot if lifestyle tweaks aren’t halting your tummy troubles. Give your doctor a ring to discuss if peppermint capsules might be a good fit for you and your symptoms.