Each month, when my period kicks in, my lower abdomen bloats and I often find myself curled up in the fetal position in pain. I typically cope with this through eating my feelings and also taking Midol, one of the only over-the-counter drugs that seems to offer me any relief during my time of the month. But lately, I’ve been wondering if there’s a more natural way to deal with my period cramps and bloating, and a Google search showed me that peppermint might just do the trick — even for bloating and pain that arises from gas and digestive issues. So I checked in with two experts to find out if that’s actually true.
First off, what is peppermint? Well, peppermint is far more than just the flavor of your favorite gum (or toothpaste). It’s actually an herb, whose active ingredient is menthol, registered dietitian Brigitte Zeitlin told me. The menthol is what accounts for peppermint’s super-fresh taste.
So, what does it do? According to registered dietitian Amy Shapiro, peppermint has a whole host of health benefits. It can apparently help with digestion, ease IBS-related symptoms, alleviate gas and bloating, help with bad breath, work as a decongestant, counteract tension headaches, and yes, do wonders for period cramps and aches. That’s all largely because of peppermint’s muscle-relaxant properties, Shapiro explained. You see, it helps release muscle spasms, so if you’re cramping or having trouble passing gas, it actually relaxes the smooth muscles in your body to help allow air, liquids, or food that’s stuck to move through.
How should I ingest peppermint? Both experts say the best way to get peppermint is through tea. You can either buy peppermint tea at your local bodega, or you can even buy fresh peppermint leaves and make your own tea. About one teaspoon of peppermint goes into each tea, Zeitlin noted. And on top of that, you can also get peppermint as an oil, according to Shapiro. However, peppermint oil is way more potent than peppermint tea — so Shapiro cautions using it directly on your skin. Instead, she recommends mixing a drop of peppermint oil with almond oil or avocado oil, and then massaging it directly to the part of your body that’s aching (e.g., if it’s period aches, apply the oil to your lower abdomen). Additionally, you can also find it as a capsule, but that’s a far less popular way to get your peppermint.
How much can I have in a day? The good news is, since peppermint is an herb, it’s pretty hard to have too much of it. Shapiro recommends no more than three to five cups of peppermint tea per day (so that’s three to five teaspoons of peppermint, basically). And if you’re cramping and want to use that peppermint-oil mixture, she says you can use it two to three times a day on the afflicted area.
But who should stay away from peppermint? Shapiro notes that because peppermint has a minty flavor, it can burn your mouth a bit. As a result, children and infants should steer clear of peppermint. Also, anyone who suffers from GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease), hiatal hernia (which is a hernia of the stomach lining), or any other form of acid-reflux issue might also want to stay away from peppermint, since it can irritate the esophagus.