Peppermint Oil for IBS
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common gastrointestinal condition in America, affecting 15-20% of the adult population. The most common symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, and changes in the bowel pattern,either constipation, diarrhea, or alternating constipation and diarrhea. Amazingly, our understanding of IBS is still very limited, and treatments have been less than satisfactory.
While there have been several prescription drugs developed for IBS over the last several decades, these advances have been countered by the fact that several of the new medications that were released had to be withdrawn from the market due to safety concerns. This has left many patients searching for safer, more natural solutions for their IBS symptoms. Enter peppermint oil. Recognized for years as a remedy for digestive problems, peppermint oil seems to have found new life as a natural treatment for IBS.
There have been numerous scientific studies supporting the effectiveness of peppermint oil for pain and bowel dysfunction resulting from IBS. But what seems to have caused the renaissance in peppermint oil enthusiasm is the aggressive marketing of a new peppermint oil product-IBgard-by a company called IM Health Science. IBgard’s sleek packaging and marketing campaign seem to be working. But the product is not cheap. The directions say to take 1-2 capsules three times daily. A box of 48 capsules is $29.99. If you take 6 capsules a day, that box of 48 will last only 8 days. While this seems a bit pricey, the good news is that there are other companies making similar products at a lower price point. For example, Pepogest by Nature’s Way costs $11.49 on the Walgreen’s website for a container of 60 capsules, which comes to a 20 days supply (if taken three times per day as directed).
Although it is a natural, and basically safe product, peppermint oil does have some safety issues. For example, due to the potential for decreased milk production, it should probably be used sparingly toward the end of pregnancy, and during breastfeeding. It is generally not advisable for children under seven. There is concern about causing low blood sugar in diabetics, and there has been a link to gallbladder inflammation. Finally, those with gastroesophageal reflux must be aware of the fact that peppermint oil can lower the pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter and cause aggravation of the acid reflux.
Despite these cautions, I am enthusiastic about the renewed interest in peppermint oil as an option for my IBS patients. I am hopeful that as our understanding about the underlying nature of IBS evolves, we will have more to offer our patients.