IBS affects as many as 45 million Americans. While the exact cause is unknown, IBS can result in uncomfortable symptoms, including stomach cramps and pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.

Lifestyle and dietary changes can help lessen these symptoms. There are also several pharmaceutical options available. For many, natural solutions like peppermint oil may make digestion more tolerable. Read on to learn what peppermint oil can do and how to use it.

Traditional treatments

The first line of treatment for IBS symptoms is generally lifestyle and dietary changes. This may include getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep, staying hydrated, and avoiding foods that exacerbate your symptoms. Avoiding gluten may help.

For people with IBS-C, which is more likely to cause constipation, fiber supplements and laxatives may be recommended.

For those with IBS-D, which is more likely to cause diarrhea, antidiarrheal and antispasmodic medications may be used.

Antidepressants and antibiotics may be used by both groups. There are also drug treatments your doctor may prescribe, often only after other less invasive approaches have proven ineffective.

Complementary treatments

There are many dietary changes, herbs, supplements, and behavior changes that have been studied to help manage IBS. Peppermint oil is one of these potential solutions.

Natural supplements that work to lessen the symptoms of IBS may offer relief with fewer chances of side effects. It’s important to share with your doctor if you’re trying any complementary methods. Complementary therapies, even natural ones such as peppermint oil, can interfere with other treatment approaches and medications.

The FDA does not regulate supplements, herbs, or essential oils in the same way it regulates prescription drugs. So, purchasing from a reliable source is important. Do your market research.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence available online through message boards and blogs that peppermint oil may help fight IBS symptoms. But scientific evidence points to its efficacy as well.

A major study from 1998 hinted that peppermint oil could be somewhat useful in the treatment of IBS symptoms. Other research since then has confirmed that finding. In 2014, researchers concluded in a meta-analysis that peppermint oil is a safe and effective short-term treatment for IBS. They found minimal side effects, the most common being heartburn.

Essential oils are intended to be inhaled, used in room diffuser, or diluted in a massage oil. Oral intake of essential oils is not recommended, as they may contain dangerous levels of some ingredients. Some essential oils can be toxic or burning. It’s also possible to be allergic to peppermint oil.

Do not apply essential oils directly to the skin. You should always dilute them in a carrier oil, such as mineral oil or sweet almond oil.

You should only ingest essential oils under the recommendation and supervision of a licensed aromatherapist or a doctor.

If you are advised to take peppermint orally, it’s important that you seek out products that are made for consumption. Some peppermint oils may be blends or otherwise not intended for internal use. Essential oils that are labeled “therapeutic grade” are safer to swallow. You can try straight peppermint oil, which can be dropped into empty veggie capsules for easier swallowing. You can also find capsule options or soft gels that are enteric-coated, which can lessen the likelihood of heartburn as a side effect.

Treating IBS often involves trial and error in a range of approaches. Along with lifestyle and dietary changes, peppermint oil is a safe, natural solution that could deliver relief with minimal side effects. Start with aromatherapy. If you notice some benefit, consider talking to your doctor about therapeutic doses.