Confusion about peppermint

Q. I am confused about using peppermint oil for digestive problems. You have written that it is helpful for symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. But I read elsewhere that you should avoid peppermint if you have GERD. Why the contradiction?

A. Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is not recommended for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), or indigestion. That’s because peppermint is purported to relax the lower esophageal sphincter. This muscle at the bottom of the food tube helps keep stomach contents from splashing back into the esophagus and causing irritation. If it relaxes, symptoms of reflux can become worse.

When peppermint oil is administered in a special enteric-coated pill, however, the pill gets through the stomach without dissolving. The peppermint oil then can act lower in the digestive tract. Studies have shown that such formulations can ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, July 2014).

One reader shared this: “My daughter suffered from IBS in high school. Enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules before each meal did the trick. She took them for a couple of years, and no longer needs them.”

Q. I took glucosamine and chondroitin for years. After reading about boswellia, though, I switched to a supplement of boswellia with turmeric. I also use organic tart cherry concentrate daily. That has made a big difference! I have very little chronic pain now, and before, my hips hurt every day.

Movement also is key, I believe, and I walk, lift weights, take yoga classes and do tai chi. That did not change. So I’ve concluded that it’s the change in supplements that has led to my greater level of comfort. I’ve had no surgeries and take no prescription drugs.

A. Turmeric and boswellia (Indian frankincense) are potent anti-inflammatory herbs. Both have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. Tart cherries inhibit the same enzyme as drugs like celecoxib (Celebrex).

Q. I have twin daughters who both had bad coughs for over a week. I put Vicks VapoRub on the feet of one, and she slept like a log!

I had run out of Vicks, so I couldn’t treat her sister. That one carried on coughing for another two hours. I headed to our late-night convenience store and bought some more Vicks for the other twin’s feet. Bingo!

I tried this experiment the other way around the following evening, with the same result. The twin who got the Vicks on her feet stopped coughing, but the other twin carried on coughing until I finally smeared Vicks on her feet. What a joy to have twins for a sort of controlled experiment!

A. Skeptics find this home remedy ridiculous. They may not understand the role of transient receptor potential channels in stimulating sensory nerves. When such channels are activated, they initiate a cascade of impulses that could reach the spinal column. These may suppress the nerve input in the cough center of the brain that triggers a cough. Vicks VapoRub contains menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil and thymol, among other ingredients. All of these compounds can activate TRP channels.

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