Expert Opinions

Expert Opinions Archive
I suffer from the cramps, bloating, and digestive upset of irritable bowel syndrome. The thing that seems to help most is sucking on Altoids. Am I on to a new alternative therapy?

T.B., Toledo

The breath mints, Altoids--at least the peppermint flavor--contains oil of peppermint, which has long been used as an herbal medicine to treat a variety of digestive complaints, including irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, gas, and bloating. The oil, extracted from the leaves of the fragrant herb, contains menthol and other ingredients that relieve cramps and relax intestinal muscles. It's likely that the peppermint in the mints is what's working for you.

You may see even greater benefits with enteric-coated peppermint capsules, sold in health-food stores. The coating helps assure that the oil is released where it's most needed--in the intestines rather than the stomach. Take one or two capsules, containing 0.2 ml of oil per pill, two or three times a day between meals. Peppermint, though, is not a good idea if you suffer from heartburn, advises herbal expert Adriane Fugh-Berman, M.D., because it can aggravate the condition.

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