Peppermint Oil: One of the oldest herbs used for both medicinal and culinary purposes, peppermint (Mentha x peperita) is a hybrid species, formed between spearmint and watermint. While it may be known best as a flavoring additive to toothpaste and chewing gum, peppermint has long been utilized in a medical sense.
Dating back to Ancient Greece, peppermint was the remedy of choice for indigestion and gastrointestinal woes, like irritable bowel disease and gall bladder inflammation. In the current times, menthol, an extract from the peppermint flower, is a common ingredient in over-the-counter cough drops, providing the classic cooling sensation. However, when applied topically, peppermint oil has also demonstrated benefit in the relief of tension headaches.
A German team led by Dr. Soyka investigated the effectiveness of peppermint oil versus acetaminophen in a randomized study amongst 41 patients with mild-moderate tension headaches. According to the 1996 article, the team found that when applied to the skin, the peppermint oil significantly reduced the headache’s intensity after 15 minutes with equal effectiveness to acetaminophen.
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Pain Research by Dr. Alireza Khatony sought to investigate the role of peppermint oil aromatherapy on pain and anxiety amongst hospitalized patients slated to receive minor surgery. In this study, 80 cardiac patients were randomly allocated to receive either the standard of care, or to receive aromatherapy on top of the medications they would have normally received for pain and anxiety prior to their operation.
The team found that the levels of both anxiety and pain were significantly lower, both before and after their procedures, in the aromatherapy group. As such, the team advocated for the use of peppermint essence aromatherapy to augment pain and anxiety relief before surgical procedures. They cite that inhalation of aroma can stimulate the nervous system to release endorphins and lower stress hormone levels, therefore having benefits on both physical and mental health. Interestingly, similar effects of peppermint aromatherapy have been noted to decrease pain and anxiety amongst women in the initial stages of labour.
Beyond the physical benefits, peppermint may have benefits for our mental health and stress levels – which are particularly important during the holiday season. While the holidays bring many positive emotions and provide opportunities to connect with friends and family, we recognize that the season adds an additional layer of stress to already busy lives. Everyday stressors are compounded by the preparations, emotions, and celebrations, particularly for women. In a survey of 786 adults in the US, the American Psychological Association reports that 38% of people indicate that their stress levels increase, rather than decrease, around the holidays. This stress is disproportionately felt by women (44% vs 31%).
Complementary medicine, including both consumption and inhalation of peppermint oil, extracts and aromatherapy, may provide a novel way to help cope with and reduce stress during the holiday season. Even a simple act of self-care, like brewing a cup of peppermint tea, can be a welcome break from the stressors.