December 2023

Peppermint: More than a Festive Treat?

We all indulge a bit during the holidays. While sugary treats aren’t exactly healthy, common ingredients in holiday candies and desserts do have some potential health benefits to celebrate. Here are some fun facts on a few.

It doesn’t take long to run into a candy cane these days, so we can’t talk about sugary treats without bringing up peppermint. Peppermint and peppermint oil have a variety of effects on the body, including antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Oral, inhaled, and topical peppermint all have a history of medicinal use. Clinical data show that taking peppermint oil by mouth reduces stomach pain, bloating, gas, and bowel movements in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – it’s conditionally recommended by the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) for reducing IBS symptoms. Clinical research also shows that inhaling peppermint or taking it by mouth reduces nausea and vomiting following chemotherapy treatments. And topical peppermint seems to reduce cracked skin and pain from breastfeeding. It might also relieve tension headaches.

Cinnamon is fairly synonymous with the holidays as well – it’s used in everything from candles and flavored lattes to festive cookies and cakes. There are several varieties of cinnamon, but there’s been a lot of interest in using cassia cinnamon specifically for diabetes over the years. Some clinical research shows that taking cassia cinnamon helps control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. But the overall evidence remains conflicting – whether it affects HbA1c isn’t clear.

Lastly, we can’t forget ginger and nutmeg. Ginger seems to help with menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis pain, and nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. As for nutmeg, there’s interest in using it for diarrhea and cavities in kids, but there’s no good scientific evidence to support its use for any condition.

While it’s fun to talk about the potential benefits of holiday treats and candies, remind patients that the reported clinical benefits from these ingredients are typically seen from standardized extracts. For example, pharmaceutical-grade peppermint oil is typically standardized to contain at least 44% menthol. It might benefit IBS symptoms when taken in capsule form, not as a candy cane. 

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