Section: Home Remedies Peppermint oil has been my family's favorite remedy for generations. I've used it in my struggle with Crohn's disease for 22 years, and I rely on it to relieve my abdominal cramping. My husband always asks for it when he has an upset stomach.
D. Paul, East Peoria, IL
An estimated 25% of people with Crohn's disease (a very serious form of inflammatory bowel disease) seek nontraditional medical treatments such as peppermint oil. Though it is not standard treatment for the stomach and abdominal cramping associated with Crohn's, it does hold promise for relief of some symptoms.
Peppermint oil has been used successfully by people with irritable bowel syndrome, a digestive disorder that has symptoms similar to Crohn's disease. According to Tim Koch, MD, chief of gastroenterology at West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown, peppermint oil can potentially block contractions of the smooth muscle that surrounds the stomach and intestines, and it may help the muscle to relax. "That could spell relief from abdominal cramps and pain," he says.
The effect of peppermint oil may be felt in as little as a few minutes. Dr. Koch advises people who want to try it for symptoms of Crohn's to place one drop of peppermint oil, also known as peppermint essential oil (found in health food stores), or pure peppermint extract (found in grocery stores) in 1 cup of warm water. (Caution: Do not take peppermint oil straight.) You may want to add a little sugar to taste. Drink it 15 to 30 minutes before a meal or at the onset of symptoms. If one drop of either form of the peppermint does not help, you may add another drop or two, but don't use more than that. If it still doesn't help, it might simply mean that peppermint doesn't work for you. You can drink up to 4 cups of peppermint water daily.
A major potential side effect of drinking peppermint water is acid reflux, aka heartburn. Because of peppermint's relaxation effect, the lower esophageal sphincter may not close as tightly, allowing acid from the stomach back into your esophagus. If you experience heartburn after drinking peppermint water, stop using this remedy, and check with your doctor. People with chronic heartburn, liver disease, or undiagnosed or worse-than-usual digestive problems should try this remedy only after getting a doctor's okay.
When to See the Doctor
Crohn's disease is a chronic condition that requires a doctor's care. If you are on medication, see your doctor before trying this or any other home remedy. If peppermint water causes heartburn, stop the remedy, and consult your doctor.
PHOTO (COLOR): Herbal help for painful cramping.
By Laura Goldstein