Peppermint Gets Clinical Respect – Activates “anti-pain” channel in gut, IBS researchers prove

Quells certain nerve pain fibers, which are in a state of heightened sensitivity that alters the gut wall and perpetuates pain in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Peppermint has been prescribed by naturopaths for many years to address gastrointestinal pain and as a topical to help musculoskeletal pain), but there has been no clinical evidence until now to demonstrate why it is so effective in relieving pain.

A crew of Aussie researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Nerve-Gut Research Lab recently demonstrated for the first time how peppermint helps to relieve Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

In a paper published online Apr 14 in the international journal Pain, the team explains how peppermint activates an “anti-pain” channel in the colon, soothing inflammatory pain in the gastrointestinal tract.

Their research, involving studies of GI tract nerves & tissues in lab animals and cultures, “shows that peppermint acts through a specific anti-pain channel called TRPM8 to reduce pain sensing fibers, particularly those activated by mustard and chili [capsaicin],” says co-author Dr. Stuart M Brierley (

“This is potentially the first step in determining a new type of mainstream clinical treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS),” Dr. Brierley suggests.

IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder, causing abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. It affects perhaps 20% of Australians and costs millions of dollars each year in lost productivity, work absenteeism and health care. “This is a debilitating condition and affects many people on a daily basis, particularly women, who are twice as likely to experience Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” says Dr. Brierley. “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 fibers in a heightened state, altering mechanisms in the gut wall and resulting in ongoing pain.”

Dr. Brierley says the recent floods in Queensland and Victoria could result in a spike of gastroenteritis cases in Australia due to the contamination of some water supplies in affected regions. He cites case studies in Europe and Canada which showed that many people who contracted gastroenteritis from contaminated water supplies went on to experience IBS symptoms that persisted for at least eight years.

There is no cure for IBS and it often comes and goes over a person’s lifetime.

Apart from gastroenteritis and food intolerance, it can be brought on by food poisoning, stress, a reaction to antibiotics, and in some cases is genetic.

Dr. Brierley is one of 25 researchers who work at the University of Adelaide’s Nerve-Gut Research Lab, hoping to find cures and treatments for a range of intestinal diseases.

Source: University of Adelaide news release, Apr 19, 2011

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