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Peppermint oil is shown to reduce pain, improve sleep, and enhance memory

Researchers have confirmed that peppermint oil aromatherapy has incredible potential for relieving pain. The study was focused on patients who were facing postoperative pain following open heart surgery. 

Not only was the peppermint oil treatment effective in diminishing pain, but was also found to improve patients’ sleep quality. 

These preliminary findings, published in the BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care journal, offer a hopeful alternative to traditional pain management methods.

Studying peppermint oil for pain relief

Open heart surgery is a significantly invasive procedure. It involves the division of the sternum and the necessity for mechanical breathing assistance. 

The researchers note that both these aspects inherently carry a high risk of severe pain, anxiety, and sleep deprivation. Adequate pain management promotes swift recovery and may also minimize the likelihood of postoperative complications.

However, pain medication presents its own set of problems. Both the pain and the drugs utilized to alleviate it could extend the period of mechanical ventilation needed. This, in turn, escalates the risk of postoperative complications, mortality, hospital stay duration, and overall healthcare costs. 

Pain medication alternatives

As such, researchers are increasingly investigating alternatives or supplements to pharmaceutical solutions that could safely mitigate pain.

Aromatherapy is one such promising solution, although its effectiveness remains an area of contention. Previous studies have suggested the potential benefits of inhaled essential oils, with peppermint oil being a common choice in palliative care. 

This led the researchers to examine whether peppermint oil could lessen the postoperative pain and enhance sleep quality in heart surgery patients.

How the research was conducted 

The study involved sixty-four adults who were randomly divided into two groups. The first group was administered 0.1ml of 10% essential peppermint oil, while the second received 10 ml distilled water. 

These treatments were administered half an hour before their breathing tube removal and then thrice daily through a nebulizer until the second night post-surgery – seven doses in total.

There were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of gender, age, weight, surgical procedure, anesthesia duration, intubation length, amount of pain relief administered, and time spent on mechanical breathing support. 

The researchers used the Numeric Pain Rating Scale and the St Mary’s Hospital Sleep Questionnaire to assess the changes in pain severity and sleep quality, respectively. The final analysis included 59 patients: 30 from the aromatherapy group and 29 from the comparison group.

What the researchers learned 

After the two-day period, the average pain severity score in the aromatherapy group was 3.22, compared to 4.56 in the comparison group. This is a statistically significant difference, according to the researchers. 

Furthermore, sleep quality scores revealed a marked improvement in the aromatherapy group when compared to the comparison group. It’s noteworthy that those treated with peppermint oil aromatherapy needed less pharmaceutical pain relief than the other group.

The researchers attribute the pain-relieving properties of peppermint oil to its main components – carvone, limonene, and especially, menthol. Referring to previously published studies, they also mention the relaxing and sedative effects of peppermint essential oil. 

Reducing postoperative stress and pain, which are typically high when patients awake in intensive care after heart surgery, should improve sleep quality.

Implications of the study 

Although this trial was small, and researchers couldn’t fully exclude the possible environmental impacts of light and noise on sleep quality, their conclusions were promising. 

“The results show that inhalation of peppermint essential oil can reduce the pain intensity of patients after open heart surgery and consequently reduce the use of pain relievers by patients,” wrote the study authors.

“Also, the use of this herbal product can improve the sleep quality of patients in the first nights after surgery and bring them more comfort. Considering the effect of peppermint essential oil inhalation on pain and sleep quality… it can be concluded that this herbal product can be safely used as a complementary treatment in relieving pain and making patients comfortable after heart surgery.”

More about peppermint oil

Producers derive peppermint oil from the peppermint plant, which grows throughout Europe and North America. This plant is a cross between watermint and spearmint. Manufacturers obtain this potent oil through the steam distillation of the aerial parts of the plant, particularly the leaves.

The primary active ingredients in peppermint oil include menthol and menthone, which are responsible for many of its health benefits. Other significant components include limonene, pulegone, caryophyllene, and pinene.

Health Benefits

Digestive health

Researchers have found peppermint oil to be beneficial for gastrointestinal health. It can ease symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, including bloating, gas, and stomach pain.

Peppermint oil can relax the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, which can be beneficial for people suffering from indigestion.

Peppermint oil and pain relief

Research indicates that topical application of peppermint oil can help relieve certain types of pain, including headaches and muscle aches. Its cooling sensation can also alleviate the pain of minor burns.

Respiratory benefits

The menthol in peppermint oil can help clear the respiratory tract. That remedy makes it a choice ingredient in many over-the-counter cold and flu remedies. Manufacturers use it in balms and inhalants to alleviate symptoms such as congestion and coughing.

Mental health

Research has shown that the aroma of peppermint oil enhances memory and increases alertness.

Usage and precautions of peppermint oil

You can use peppermint oil in several ways. It can be inhaled for aromatherapy, applied to the skin after being diluted with a carrier oil, or used in a diffuser to spread the scent throughout a room. Some people also add a few drops to their bathwater for a refreshing soak.

Despite its benefits, individuals should use peppermint oil with caution. It is a potent oil, and when applied directly to the skin, it can cause allergic reactions or skin irritation in some people. It’s always advisable to do a patch test before applying it widely.

Children, or women who are pregnant or nursing, should use it only with the approval of a healthcare provider, as general recommendation does not typically support its use.

Typically, individuals do not ingest peppermint oil, and they should do so only under the guidance of a healthcare professional. It can cause side effects such as heartburn, flushing, mouth sores, and headache.


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