Under The Microscope - Using Peppermint Essential Oil For Arthritis
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The Short Answer –
Some essential oils are perfect for arthritis – promoting both anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities. They have specific trials to back this up. Unfortunately, using peppermint essential oil for arthritis is not one of them.
Today, we look at what benefits, if any ,might exist when using peppermint oil as a treatment for arthritis. Sadly, the cupboard here is pretty bare – unless you look a lot deeper…
The Importance Of Independence…
Anyone who has read our other articles on essential oils will know two things about myself and this site –
- I don’t mind telling you when there is absolutely no evidence that something will work.
- It makes my skin crawl when I see other sites casually listing long lines of benefits for something with no actual proof that is works.
As a pain specialist I recognise that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else. Similarly, I also accept that if 20 people try something, there will always be a few people that report an improvement due to what we call the ‘placebo effect’ (The Placebo And Pain Relief)
But I have to deal in percentages. I need to be recommending the solutions that provide improvements for a good percentage of sufferers and accepting a margin for the very personal nature of pain response.
So when I conclude upfront that there is very limited reason to think that applying peppermint essential oil for arthritis will work, it is not to say that someone somewhere hasn’t felt it made a difference.
It is really to say that as a truly independent mouthpiece, I can not recommend it.
The Evidence Behind Using Peppermint Essential Oil For Arthritis
And that is the problem. How do you draw ‘nothing’.
But it’s not all bad. As with all studies, you need to set a structure for testing any hypothesis, and as we’ve done with other oils, that means identifying the traits or benefits that we would want to see in peppermint essential oil for treating arthritis.
In essence we can break these down in to 3 basic areas –
- Pain Relief
- Increased Mobility
- Anti-Inflammatory Properties
I appreciate these are fairly general goals, and that a proper treatment plan will be different according to the type of arthritis you suffer wtih (rheumatoid / osteoarthritis/ psoriatic arthritis etc).
However, if I dealt with each type of arthritis separately, I’d just be repeating a report over and over again.
I have dealt with fibromyalgia separately as it’s a relatively newly diagnosed syndrome that has very little research around it, but understandably so.
Peppermint oil, because of it’s high menthol content, is famed for it’s ability to calm headaches/ migraines, as well as for treatment of IBS – so it has some key benefits to some areas of pain relief. The question is could these be applied to arthritis…
In most arthritis patients, this is the key (and first) priority.
Unfortunately, with peppermint oil there is little direct evidence around pain relief.
One study in The journal Of Pain Research (Akbari et al) suggests it does have analgesic qualities, but this is on cardiac patients about to undergo intravenous catheterization.
A significant part of their pain will be increased due to the anxiety they feel and so the high content of menthol in peppermint oil may be reducing pain by reducing the anxiety.
These is no reason to believe the same result would occur in a normal arthritis patient and certainly no evidence elsewhere on arthritis sufferers.
There is also significant evidence behind peppermint essential oils’ qualities for headache and migraine relief. If your arthritis pain is also giving you tension headaches, for example, then it will have a role.
However, arthritis is generally unrelated to headaches/ migraines so we have to give pain relief a
NET EVIDENCE – FAIL
Now this is an interesting one. I have dealt with the anti-inflammatory effect separately, because both are key to getting exercise and exercise in turn is essential to prevent the progress of arthritis.
There is no evidence to suggest that peppermint oil can stop or even reduce early morning stiffness – the crunching or locked fingers etc.
However, peppermint oil was found to have relaxed the bronchial muscles in young athletes allowing them to further improve their athletic performance (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition).
Now this may seem a long way from someone in their 50s with osteoarthritis. However, in the athletes it worked by providing more oxygen to the body through the relaxed muscles.
There is no obvious reason that it would not have the same effect on the lungs of a less-fit person too, giving them more energy and helping them to be more active as we explained earlier.
So it could have some benefit for helping you to increase mobility.
NET EVIDENCE – PASS
Now this is another tricky one to assess.
A review in ‘Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics’ cites a clear anti-inflammatory effect. But on this occasion, it is referring to peppermint oils effect on your gut.
Given the effect of eating foods with anti-inflammatory properties of rheumatoid arthritis in particular, then it is not unreasonable to assume a similar mode of action to be effective with peppermint oil.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility then to recommend peppermint oil for it’s anti-inflammatory potential.
This is despite the fact that there is no actual evidence on it’s efficacy. But given what we do know about it’s mode of action, we can say that is at least very likely that it should have some anti inflammatory effect.
NET EVIDENCE – DRAW
The Final Word –
So how effective is peppermint essential oil for arthritis? On it’s own, it can not be considered effective. The lack of evidenced pain relief for arthritis sufferers is a major problem from the start.
However, in combination with another oil, such as lavender oil that is famous for it’s pain relief, it could have a realistic role.
The study that shows a relaxing effect on your bronchial smooth muscles and increased the oxygen levels in your brain is particularly interesting as it may help to give you the impetus to be more active.
However, overall and in isolation, peppermint essential oil is not effective for arthritis.
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References Used –
1. Akbari F, Rezaei M, Khatony A. (August 2019). Effect Of Peppermint Essence On The Pain And Anxiety Caused By Intravenous Catheterization In Cardiac Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Pain Research.
2. Abbas Meamarbashi & Ali Rajabi. (2013). The effects of peppermint on exercise performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
3. B. P. Chumpitazi, G. L. Kearns, R. J. Shulman (Jan 2018). Review article: the physiological effects and safety of peppermint oil and its efficacy in irritable bowel syndrome and other functional disorders. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
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