Pumpkin spice may be nice and trendy, but there are several science-backed reasons why peppermint should be at the top your flavor list this holiday season instead. Not only does the fresh taste of peppermint offset and brighten many of the season’s more indulgent choices, but it also comes with compelling health benefits.
An aromatic herb in the mint family, peppermint is a cross between winter mint and spearmint, and it’s most often used as a flavoring in breath mints, candies and other foods, and brewed as a caffeine-free tea. The leaves of peppermint contain several essential oils, including menthol, menthone and limonene. Menthol is the extract that provides the recognizable minty scent and cooling effect on taste buds.
For centuries and in cultures around the world, mint has been used in similar ways: ancient Egyptians prescribed mint to ease upset stomachs, and it was served as an after-meal digestive aid in ancient Greece and Rome. Both Chinese and Ayurvedic medical traditions have also relied on mint to relieve digestive distress.
Here are the seven main health benefits you’ll reap this winter by brewing a refreshing cup of peppermint tea, enjoying a peppermint-infused treat or diffusing some peppermint essential oil.
It Can Reduce Daytime Fatigue
A 2018 study of 24 participants with an average age of 25 years showed that those who were given a peppermint oil capsule experienced less fatigue during a cognitive test. In another study, participants who were in a room where peppermint oil was diffused showed significantly less daytime sleepiness than those who were in an odorless room.
It Can Relieve Menstrual Cramps
As a proven muscle relaxant, peppermint may provide some relief from the pain associated with menstrual cramping. In a 2016 study, 127 women with chronic painful periods experienced reductions in the intensity and duration of menstrual pain. The outcome was just as effective with peppermint extract capsules as with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Nausea and diarrhea, however, were lower in the group taking peppermint than the group taking the pharmaceutical drug.
It Can Unclog Sinuses
Have you ever experienced a cooling, opening effect on your airways after eating a breath mint or sipping peppermint tea? What you’re feeling is menthol—one of the active compounds in peppermint—at work. Research demonstrates that menthol improves the perception of airflow in your nasal cavity. Additionally, the antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties in peppermint may relieve infection-induced sinus clogging.
It Can Calm Upset Stomaches
Animal studies show promise that peppermint eases pain in the digestive system by preventing smooth muscles in the gut from contracting. In a systematic review of nine research studies, which included more than 700 people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), treatment with peppermint oil for two weeks provided significantly better relief of symptoms than for those who took a placebo. Also, a review of 14 clinical trials involving 1,927 children and adolescents with gastrointestinal disorders showed that peppermint oil reduced the frequency, duration and severity of abdominal pain.
It Can Decrease Seasonal Allergy Symptoms
Rosmarinic acid is a compound found in peppermint, as well as rosemary and other plants in the mint family. In one three-week study involving 29 people with seasonal allergies, those given a supplement containing rosmarinic acid ad fewer instances of itchy nose, itchy eyes and other allergy-related symptoms than those given a placebo. In an animal study, rats that suffered from allergic rhinitis—an irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose—experienced fewer allergic symptoms such as sneezing and itchy nose after being given peppermint extract.
It Can Diminish Tension Headaches and Migraines
Research has shown that peppermint oil induces a significant increase in blood flow of the forehead’s skin after local application, measured by laser Doppler, and provides a cooling sensation, possibly easing acute headache pain. In a 2010 study of 35 people with chronic migraines, the majority of whom were women, those who received peppermint oil aromatherapy applied to the forehead and temples showed a statistically significant reduction in pain after two hours, compared with those treated with a placebo oil. In another study involving 41 patients who experienced a combined total of 164 headaches during the trial, the effect of a locally applied peppermint oil preparation on tension-type headache was examined. In those patients, peppermint oil applied to the forehead was shown to be as effective as taking 1,000 mg of acetaminophen.
It Can Help Fight Bacterial Infections
Peppermint oil has been shown to kill several types of bacteria that lead to human illnesses, such as E. coli, Staphylococcus and Klebsiella pneumoniae, a bacterium linked to pneumonia. Also, in one study, peppermint oil was found to kill and prevent the growth of common food-borne bacteria, such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli, in mango and pineapple juices. Further, in a systematic review of 52 relevant articles in the PubMed database, menthol from peppermint oil was found to reduce common bacteria living in the mouth that can lead to oral problems such as dental caries and periodontal disease.
The flavor of peppermint reminds me of the holiday season. I blame those red and white candy canes from my childhood. But there are healthier ways to consume peppermint this time of year. I've rounded up several healthier peppermint treat recipes for you to try this season.
What's your favorite way to enjoy the flavor of peppermint during the holiday season? I always find that peppermint pairs well with chocolate. But if you knew me well, you would have predicted I'd say that. I like chocolate with almost everything. Let me know if you tried one of these healthier peppermint treat recipes, and how it worked out for you. I'd love to hear about it.
The majority of the content found in this post was written by Jessie Shafer, RD. Jessie is a registered dietitian and the Director of Influence & Influencer Programs at the New Hope Network.
I am a member of the New Hope Influencer Co-Op, a network of health and wellness bloggers committed to spreading more health to more people.