Health Advice



On Nutrition: Peppermint 101

Barbara Intermill, Monterey Herald on

Published in Nutrition

I like traditions. So I admit being somewhat bothered when I hear Christmas carols on the radio before my turkey dinner is digested. And why do they call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” when I’m still giving thanks for leftovers?

That said, I do love the holiday season. And as soon as the turkey soup is made and we’ve gobbled up the last of the dressing and cranberry sauce, I’m ready to transition from everything orange and pumpkin to all things red, green … and peppermint.

Why peppermint? Some say we started our Christmas obsession with this flavor in 1670, when a choirmaster handed out a peppermint-flavored treat to children who participated in a living Nativity scene. Peppermint candy canes came a couple of centuries later.

Besides getting us in the holiday spirit, are there any health benefits to consuming peppermint? According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (, peppermint is a cross between two types of herbs — spearmint and water mint. Health properties have been attributed to its leaves and oil that is extracted from the leaves and flowering parts of the plant.

Like many herbal products, however, research on peppermint’s medicinal effects is scant. A few small studies suggest peppermint oil capsules may help relieve tummy pain and possibly some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Caution though: These capsules were specially coated so they would not break down until they reached the small intestines. Straight peppermint oil, say researchers, is likely to make digestive issues worse.


Peppermint tea has historically been used to treat indigestion and menstrual cramps. Its leaves also give us a healthful dose of antioxidant substances that may protect us from certain diseases and premature aging. And one of the oils extracted from peppermint leaves is menthol, which may help relieve cold and allergy symptoms like stuffy noses and sore throats.

Peppermint is not for everyone, however. People with acid reflux disease (aka GERD) need to avoid peppermint, as it can worsen symptoms. Organ transplant patients who take a medication called cyclosporine should also stay clear of peppermint. And if you’re prone to kidney stones or have severe allergies, be cautious with peppermint products.

As much I love the peppermint flavors of this season, I need to remember that many are attached to foods with extra sugar and fat. Peppermint ice cream, anyone? Let’s not be Scrooges, though. Add a little peppermint to your life this season and remember the simple rule of moderation.

I think I just got the urge for a cup of peppermint hot chocolate. Happy holidays.

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