Sydney: Peppermint helps in relieving irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which affects up to a fifth of the population.
It is a disorder characterised most commonly by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhoea. It causes a great deal of discomfort and distress, but it does not permanently harm the intestines.
Researchers from the the University of Adelaide`s Nerve-Gut Research Lab explain how peppermint activates an "anti-pain" channel in the colon, soothing inflammatory pain in the gastrointestinal tract.
Stuart Brierley of the Nerve-Gut Lab says while peppermint has been prescribed by naturopaths for many years, there has been no clinical evidence to demonstrate why it is so effective in relieving pain, reports the journal Pain.
"Our research shows that peppermint acts through a specific anti-pain channel called TRPM8 to reduce pain sensing fibres, particularly those activated by mustard and chilli," Brierley says.
"This is potentially the first step in determining a new type of mainstream clinical treatment for IBS," he says, according to an Adelaide statement.
"Some people find their symptoms appear after consuming fatty and spicy foods, coffee and alcohol, but it is more complex than that."
"There appears to be a definite link between IBS and a former bout of gastroenteritis, which leaves nerve pain fibres in a heightened state, altering mechanisms in the gut wall and resulting in ongoing pain," said Brierley.
He said case studies in Europe and Canada showed that many people who contracted gastroenteritis from contaminated water supplies went on to experience IBS symptoms that persisted for at least eight years.