Peppermint and Menthol for Migraine Relief
Peppermint oil is concentrated from peppermint leaves, a hybrid of water mint and spearmint.
Peppermint’s key ingredient is menthol.
This article reviews the science behind why peppermint and menthol are popular migraine treatments.
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Thirteen Reasons Why Peppermint May Relieve Migraines
1. 2015 Menthol Gel Migraine Study
After two hours, 28 percent of patients had no pain and another 28 percent of patients had only mild pain.
The results were impressive, but there was no placebo group.
2. Menthol on 118 Migraine Attacks
In 2010, Iranian researchers used menthol to treat 118 migraine attacks in 35 patients (study).
Menthol was superior to the placebo for pain relief, pain freedom, nausea, vomiting, phonophobia (sound sensitivity), and photophobia (light sensitivity).
3. Placebo Effect of Menthol and Beyond
Placebos that are topical ointments work better than pill placebos (study).
Therefore, it’s impressive that menthol outperforms the high placebo effect of a topical ointment (study).
Use positive thoughts while applying peppermint oil to harness the placebo effect (full article).
4. Tension-Type Headache Relief
A German study published in 1996 found that peppermint oil applied to the forehead and temples was just as effective at controlling tension-type headaches as 1,000 mg of acetaminophen (study).
The study analyzed 164 headaches in 41 patients.
Peppermint oil was also more effective than the placebo. However, the co-author of the study, Dr. Göbel, disclosed to The Wall Street Journal that peppermint oil had no benefit over the placebo for migraines in unpublished work (WSJ).
It’s possible that peppermint oil was effective for migraine pain relief, but no more effective in the unpublished study than the high placebo effect of topical ointments.
The research suggests that peppermint oil could control tension-type headaches before they transform into migraines.
5. Nausea Relief
A study published in 2012 found that inhaled peppermint aromatherapy was more effective than both the placebo and a powerful anti-nausea medication called ondansetron (Zofran) (study).
The study was conducted on 35 mothers after C-section surgery. Peppermint’s ability to outperform the leading prescription anti-nausea medication is remarkable.
There is some conflicting research. Two reviews, also conducted in 2012, found that there wasn’t enough reliable information to conclude peppermint aromatherapy is effective for nausea (study).
However, a study published in 2013 found that peppermint reduced nausea and vomiting in 200 chemotherapy patients (study).
More than 90 percent of all migraineurs report nausea (study).
6. Peppermint Treats Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Nine studies with 726 patients have found that peppermint oil is safe and effective at treating IBS (meta-study).
A study published in 2007 found that peppermint oil successfully treated IBS symptoms in 75 percent of patients (study). Fifty-seven patients consumed peppermint oil pills twice per day and experienced a more than 50 percent reduction of IBS symptoms.
IBS increases the risk of migraines and migraines increase the risk of IBS.
Healing the gut is imperative to becoming migraine free (full article).
7. Menthol Treats Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
A small study of 10 slaughterhouse workers with carpal tunnel syndrome found that topical menthol reduced pain intensity in the hand, wrist, and arm when compared to the placebo (study).
The odds of a migraine diagnosis are three times higher in carpal tunnel patients, likely due to increased oxidative stress and inflammation (full article).
8. Menthol Reduces Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
Menthol reduces oxidative stress and inflammation in rats with gastric ulcers. It also increases antioxidant markers (study).
Menthol prevents tumor growth by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in mice exposed to carcinogens (study).
Oxidative stress is a universal migraine trigger (full article).
Inflammation is also a potent migraine trigger (full article).
9. Muscle Relaxation
Menthol relieves muscle soreness, tension, and pain (study).
Menthol is a key ingredient in most over-the-counter muscle rubs.
Migraines can trigger muscle tension in the neck and muscle tension in the neck can also trigger migraines.
Relaxing muscle tension in the neck may prevent migraines by stopping an inflammatory cycle between the neck and the vascular system (full article).
Fibromyalgia is widespread muscle pain. Menthol is a popular rub for treating fibromyalgia pain (study).
55.8 percent of fibromyalgia patients also suffer from migraines (full article, #41).
11. Menthol Relieves Sinus Congestion
Menthol sprays, vapor rubs, and cough syrups are one of the oldest and most effective treatments for sinus relief (study).
Peppermint helps ease congestion, but it also has an anti-bacterial effect that may help with infection (study).
Many migraineurs are misdiagnosed with sinus infections. Sinus pressure from congestion or infection can trigger migraines by irritating nerves associated with migraines (full article).
12. Peppermint Performance
Anxiety and emotional stress are top migraine triggers (full article, #6 and #19).
13. Cold Sensation and TRPM8
Menthol induces cooling and pain relief by activating the TRPM8 receptor (study).
A gene that controls the same TRPM8 receptor is linked to migraine patients in numerous genome sequencing studies (study).
TRPM8 is also a cold receptor that can give the perception of nerve pain, extreme cold, or a burning sensation. While the gene provides cooling relief from menthol, it also contributes to an oversensitive nerve pain in migraine sufferers that is known as allodynia.
Activation of the TRPM8 receptor can either trigger or alleviate migraines, depending on what is stimulating the receptor (study).
For example, inflammation is a migraine trigger that stimulates the TRPM8 receptor (full article).
Research published is 2016 proposes that activating or blocking the TRPM8 receptor could prevent migraines, depending on the individual migraine sufferer (study).
The research suggests that cold therapy, menthol, or future migraine drugs that manipulate TRPM8 depend on the biology of the individual migraine sufferer.
Although menthol helps most migraineurs, it is not a one-size-fits-all migraine treatment.
Five Possible Problems with Peppermint
1. Peppermint May Trigger Migraines
The Iranian menthol study that outperformed the placebo in 118 migraine attacks was a problem for two migraine sufferers (study). The two patients discontinued the study because of a burning sensation that aggravated their headaches.
The TRPM8 research published in 2016 suggested that menthol could potentially be a migraine trigger in some individuals and more research is needed (study).
I’ve seen a few migraine sufferers report online that any potent smells, including peppermint, are their personal migraine triggers. However, the majority of migraine sufferers in research and in online migraine communities have no problem with peppermint.
2. Peppermint, Allergies, and Migraines
Peppermint allergies are unlikely, but anything can be a personal allergen that triggers migraines (full article).
A study published by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that peppermint was neither an allergen nor an irritant when patch tested on 4,000 patients (study).
The study that measured peppermint oil on 164 headaches in 41 patients also found that there were no adverse reactions (study).
4. Peppermint Side Effects
Side effects may include heartburn and allergic reactions such as flushing, headache, and mouth sores (WebMD).
If you experience side effects, you should stop using peppermint because increased inflammation could trigger migraines.
5. Drug Interactions
Peppermint can change the way some medications are broken down, including amitriptyline, ondansetron, Valium, Soma, Ibuprofen, Allegra, and many others.
Antacids (Tums) should not be taken with peppermint oil because it can cause the peppermint oil to dissolve too fast and cause heartburn and nausea (WebMD).
“Not a cure, but every little bit helps.”
Some research and migraineurs claim that peppermint can stop a migraine. However, most migraineurs say that it helps with pain relief, but does not stop a migraine that has already started.
The research reviewed suggests that regular peppermint use could help to prevent migraines by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, relieving muscle tension, sinus congestion, and improving gut symptoms.
How to Use Peppermint or Menthol
Speak with a doctor before taking any supplement, especially if you are on medication.
One drop of peppermint oil can be applied behind each ear, on the neck, and on the shoulders. It can also be used on the temples and forehead, but avoid getting it close to the eyes.
Essential oils are not regulated by the FDA and many are fake. Purchase from a reliable source. Now Foods Organic Peppermint oil is one option.
Peppermint oil can be used as an aromatherapy with a diffuser. Here is a popular diffuser that I use.
Steep 1 teaspoon of peppermint leaves in hot water for ten minutes.
Peppermint tea appears to be safe in large quantities, according to the University of Maryland (research). You can drink peppermint tea four to five times per day to heal the gut and prevent migraines.
Purchase an organic tea that doesn’t have high levels of pesticides.
Peppermint Oil Pills
Some of the studies on IBS used 0.2ml capsules of peppermint oil two or three times per day (meta-study).
Heather’s Tummy Tamers are the most popular peppermint oil capsules. I’ve used these in the past and they are better than medication for IBS.
Now Foods also makes peppermint oil and the reviews are stellar. Now Foods is a reputable brand.
There are many fake supplements out there, so choose wisely.
Biofreeze is the most popular menthol product for topical pain relief. It’s been recommended by health professionals for over 25 years for muscle pain, arthritis, sprains and strains. Biofreeze is the most reputable for daily use in order to relieve neck tension and prevent migraines.
My-Grastick is a roll on peppermint and lavender oil for the temples and back of the neck. The lavender helps reduce stress.
Tiger Balm uses menthol and camphor, another pain reliever that is a main ingredient in Vicks VapoRub. Tiger Balm has more than double the menthol of Biofreeze and may irritate the skin of some migraineurs.
Stopain Migraine was the menthol gel used in the successful Thomas Jefferson University study (study). However, it has several other ingredients in it that don’t have enough research behind them for me to recommend it. There are many migraine sufferers that do recommend it on Amazon.
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