Mint: Health Benefits, Uses and Risks

Mint: Health Benefits, Uses and Risks

written by: Megan Ware

by: Megan Ware
Mint-leaves Mint-leaves

When discussing the world's healthiest foods, fruits and vegetables are often highest on the list because of their high antioxidant capacity, the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients they contain, and the myriad health benefits with which they are associated.

Unfortunately, fresh herbs are often ignored when talking about what it takes to make up a healthy diet, but herbs also contain a wide variety of nutrients and offer a significant number of health benefits.

Mint has one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any food. Learning how to use fresh herbs and spices such as mint to add flavor when cooking can also help to cut down on sodium intake.

Mint, also known as mentha, is actually a genus or group of around 15-20 plant species, including peppermint and spearmint. Mint oil is often used in toothpaste, gum, candy and beauty products while the leaves are used either fresh or dried for teas and food.

This Medical News Today Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articleson the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of mint and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, as well as how to incorporate more mint into your diet and any potential health risks associated with consuming mint.

Possible health benefits of mint

Allergies: Mint plants contain an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent called rosmarinic acid which has been studied for its effectiveness in relieving seasonal allergy symptoms, revealing a promising natural treatment.

Breast feeding: Although breastfeeding can offer significant benefits for both infant and parent, it can cause pain and damage to nipple. A study published in April 2007 in the International Breastfeeding Journal suggested that peppermint water is effective in preventing nipple cracks and nipple pain in first-time mothers who are breastfeeding.

Common cold: Mint contains menthol, a natural aromatic decongestant that helps to break up phlegm and mucus, making it easier to expel. Menthol also has a cooling effect and can help relieve a sore throat, especially when combined with tea.

Indigestion and gas: Mint is a calming and soothing herb that has been used for thousands of years to aid with upset stomach or indigestion. Mint is thought to increase bile secretion and encourage bile flow, which helps to speed and ease digestion (and which may also support healthy cholesterol levels). Peppermint is also thought to relieve pain and discomfort from gas and bloating. Peppermint tea is a common home remedy for flatulence.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): The use of peppermint oil has been found to be an effective and safe treatment for those suffering from abdominal pain or discomfort associated with IBS. Enteric-coated capsules are most effective and prevent the capsule from dissolving in the stomach, which could cause heartburn.

In one double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, 75% of patients with IBS who took enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules twice daily for 4 weeks had at least a 50% reduction in total IBS symptoms (compared to no significant change in patients taking a placebo).

Gastric ulcers: In a study in animals, menthol was found to help protect the lining of the stomach from the negative effects of indomethacin and ethanol, giving it a potential role in preventing gastric ulcers associated with alcohol consumption and regular use of painkillers.

Pain relief: Applying peppermint extract externally has been found to increase pain threshold in humans. Part of the bushmint family (Hyptis), Brazilian mint (Hyptis crenata) has been found to be as effective for pain relief as a synthetic aspirin-style drug indomethacin when taken as a "tea."

Skin: When applied topically in oil, ointment or lotion, mint has the effect of calming and cooling skin affected by insect bites, rash or other reactions.

Oral health: Mint is a natural anti-microbial agent and breath freshener.

Nutritional breakdown of mint

Two tablespoons of fresh peppermint provides 2 calories, 0.12 grams of protein, 0.48 grams carbohydrates, 0.03 grams of fat and 0.30 grams of fiber. Mint contains small amounts of potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C, iron and vitamin A.

How to incorporate more mint into your diet

Adding mint is a great way to add flavor to a dish or beverage without adding excessive calories, sugar or sodium. Mint leaves are a tender herb (along with cilantro and basil) that have gentle stems and are best used raw or added at the end of cooking in order to maintain their delicate flavor and texture.

When buying mint, look for bright, unblemished leaves. Store in a plastic bag or loose plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Mint is relatively easy to grow and can even be grown in small pots on a sunny windowsill. Growing mint in your garden can help ward off ants and flies.

When preparing mint, use a sharp knife and cut gently. Using a dull knife or over-chopping will bruise the herb and much of the flavor will be lost on the cutting board surface.

Mint is commonly used to flavor Middle Eastern dishes, such as lamb, soups and vegetable salads.

Try a mint limeade by mixing lime juice with sugar or stevia and muddled mint leaves. Top off with filtered water and ice cubes.

Incorporate mint into a fresh fruit salsa with chopped apples, pear, lemon or lime juice, jalapeno and honey. Serve with cinnamon pita chips or on top of baked chicken.

Jazz up your water by adding mint leaves and cucumber for a refreshing treat.

Add a few chopped mint leaves to your next chocolate chip cookie dough.

Pour hot water over mint leaves and steep for 5-6 minutes for homemade mint tea. Try using chocolate mint leaves for a twist.

Chop mint and toss with fresh pineapple for a quick snack.

Potential health risks of consuming mint

Do not use mint in an attempt to soothe digestive issues if your symptoms are related to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); mint may exacerbate this condition.

Peppermint oil, if taken in large doses, can be toxic. Pure menthol is poisonous and should never be taken internally.

Do not apply mint oil to the face of an infant or small child, as it may cause spasms that inhibit breathing.

Use caution with mint products if you have or have previously had gallstones.

Speak with your health care provider to determine whether any of your medications could interact with mint or mint oil.