Is Peppermint Oil Poisonous?

An aromatherapy enthusiast asks: "Did you read the [name of a popular religion-focused website] article about the woman who says she poisoned herself with peppermint essential oil? Can that really happen?"

Is peppermint oil really poisonous?
Is peppermint oil really toxic? Let's examine a claim made in a recent online article.

First a disclaimer:  I live in a state that specifically prohibits the practice of nearly all "alternative medicines"--including aromatherapy--by anyone other than a licensed physician. So, nothing in my answer should be considered medical advice.

Having said that, I can tell you that there are a number of case histories of people making themselves seriously ill by consuming volatile plant extracts, including peppermint.

The November 2012 issue of the Indian Journal of Anaesthesia documented what emergency room doctors characterized as a "near fatal" response to peppermint oil in a 40-year-old woman who consumed an undetermined "dose'.  She was comatose with her blood pressure unreadable and a blood oxygen level of only 30%.

In that case, the patient was trying to take her own life and probably consumed a large dose in one try. But what about accidental poisonings?

A more recent case--this one fatal--was discussed in a 2016 issue of the International Journal of Applied & Basic Medical Research. In this case, the victim's death was ultimately blamed on menthol exposure he is believed to have suffered at his job in a factory that processed peppermint.

So What About Peppermint For IBS?

I don't want to tear the web article apart claim by claim but I do want to address one specific statement the author of the web article made:

"Peppermint oil is not safe for consumption." 
That is simply not true. Again, I have to stress that I am not a physician and I cannot say whether peppermint oil is safe for you, but peppermint oil capsules are recognized by major medical organizations as safe and effective for certain digestive conditions, most notably irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.

The U.S.'s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, for example, says, "Peppermint oil appears to be safe when taken orally (by mouth) in the doses commonly used." It notes that "excessive" doses can be toxic and suggests users take peppermint oil in enteric-coated capsules to reduce the chance of heartburn.

Peppermint essential oil is currently listed as one of the Substances Generally Recognized as Safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, as a food additive.

The World Health Organization, or WHO, formally recognizes it as effective for irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis and flatulence. It also recommends the use of enteric-coated capsules and does not recommend its use in or on children.

Lisa's Takeaway On "Poisonous" Peppermint

I have long criticized the hawking of herbal remedies, including volatile organics, by multi-level-marketing salespersons. They simply are not trained to accurately diagnose and effectively treat their customers. And as the author of that article demonstrates, some of the "advice" about herbal extracts can even be dangerous.
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