Long before the advent of Advil and Aleve, human beings were taking peppermint for their pain. Used for more than ten thousand years as a medicine, this hybrid mint is a cross between spearmint and watermint and contains a high menthol level. A perennial plant with fuzzy stems and toothy leaves, peppermint grows easily in moist areas and blooms brightly with purple flowers in the summer.
Peppermint is most often used as a tea or oil, and the list of its supposed medical applications is long. It soothes the symptoms of PMS, IBS, indigestion, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, hemorrhoids, colds, flu, cough, sore throat, vomiting, upset stomach, diarrhea, stress, motion sickness, inflammation, infections, sinus and respiratory infections. Some people also use peppermint as a stimulant, via aromatherapy methods or consumption. It also may improve alertness and memory, and can also be used as a mosquito repellant.
To treat pain, peppermint oil is applied directly to the skin for headaches, muscle pain, joint pain, nerve pain and toothaches. It also may relax the digestive track and reduce spasms that cause stomach pain. In the past, peppermint oil was sold over-the-counter as a digestive aid. However, the FDA banned it in 1990 because its effectiveness was not proven in scientific studies. Some people claim that peppermint helps with heartburn, while others say it worsens it – so it seems that the jury is out on this age-old remedy. More likely, peppermint works differently for different people with different bodies – just like all medicines.
Are you thinking about growing peppermint? Keep it in a pot. Peppermint spreads quickly and is considered an invasive species in the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
Will peppermint work for your pain?
If you want to try it out, start small and take a smell. Peppermint oil is a popular player in aromatherapy. If you tend to get tired in the afternoon, keep a small bottle of peppermint oil at your desk. Take a whiff when your mind starts to wander, and see if the minty smell wakes you up.
Peppermint tea offers a more mellow experience than peppermint oil, and you can find both loose peppermint leaves and bagged teas at health stores everywhere. The next time you have a headache or bellyache, try a cup of peppermint tea and see if it helps your symptoms.
Pure peppermint oil is the most powerful of these three options, and it should be used with caution. For headache, joint, back and tooth pain, you can dab a small amount of oil onto the affected area. Rub it in well and take the moment to relax and focus on feeling better. For digestive spasms and pain, peppermint oil may be ingested. Peppermint oil capsules with an enteric coating to protect the stomach are your best option. Don’t overdo it – take the recommended amount and tread lightly.
Please note: Peppermint oil is not suited for infants and young children, and it may cause heartburn in adults. Peppermint oil should be ingested in small amounts only, and not for longer than 8 weeks at a time. Please consult your medical professional about the uses of peppermint.
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