There’s probably not one among us who hasn’t suffered from a wicked tension headache from time to time. And some unlucky souls struggle regularly with migraine headaches that offer a whole new level of misery.
Either scenario can painfully mess up a perfectly fine day. But what’s the solution? Over the counter or prescription medicines may provide relief, but Mother Nature can lend a hand, too.
One of the best ways is with the soothing oil of peppermint. Let’s take a minute to delve into the migraine-erasing magic of peppermint.
Essential oils such as peppermint have been used to treat pain for thousands of years. Sadly, peppermint oil hasn’t gotten much attention in modern scientific circles. And that’s a mistake, says one integrative doctor.
“A lack of research studies on essential oils doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t work,” says Dr. Yufang Lin, of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.1
“For example, peppermint oil has been classically used for migraine headaches, yet there’s not many studies on it; as herbalists, we know that certain herbs can benefit you because of their mechanism.”
Safe and soothing for the body
Dr. Lin goes on to explain that peppermint has menthol in it, and menthol has long been used as an analgesic; it numbs the pain by triggering the pain fibers. In turn, this “supersedes the actual sensation of the headache pain.”
Dr. Lin adds that peppermint oil is safe and can also help reduce anxiety and calm the nervous system without sedating its users.
As powerful as acetaminophen
While the research on mint isn’t robust, several studies offer encouraging results.
A German study focused on patients with tension headaches.2 The participants were asked to apply peppermint oil to the forehead and temples at the beginning of the headache. The results were impressive.
Researchers reported that the peppermint treatment was “as effective as 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen, the same dose as two extra-strength Tylenols, and more effective than a placebo oil that contained only trace amounts of peppermint.”
Another study pitted peppermint against lidocaine, which is a prescription acute migraine treatment administered via nasal spray. It turns out that peppermint gave lidocaine a run for its money.3
Researchers compared four percent lidocaine treatments with 1.5 percent peppermint oil, or a placebo. An impressive 40 percent of the people who got peppermint reported relief of their symptoms, which is equal to the lidocaine group and far better than people in the placebo group.
Researchers aren’t 100 percent certain why peppermint works so well. Some suspect that the oil helps control blood flow in the body and opens the sinuses for improved oxygen flow.
How to use peppermint for real relief
From topical oils to chewable peppermints there’s no shortage of peppermint products. But be careful when buying peppermint oil. I encourage you to buy only from a reputable source and make sure it’s food-grade quality—even if you’re using it topically. So, next time you feel your head start to throb, reach for some and try:
- Using peppermint oil in the bath: Dim the lights and put a few drops of peppermint oil in your bath to increase the relaxation benefits.
- Inhaling peppermint oil with steam: It’s as simple as adding three to seven drops of essential oil into a bowl of hot water. Next, cover your head with a towel, close your eyes, and breathe through your nose. Set the timer for two minutes. This method is great for sinus headaches, too.
- An invigorating peppermint oil massage: Essential oils, such as peppermint, are too strong to be applied directly to the skin. Instead, add three to five drops to an ounce of sweet almond oil or coconut oil. Massage into temples, the base of neck, shoulders, or any other tense areas.
- Diffusing the oil: Use a diffuser to disperse the oil into the air. You can also go low-tech and simply inhale peppermint oil directly from the bottle.
Will peppermint oil put an end to all your headaches? Probably not, but it can help squash some of the pain. And at the very least, it can help you relax during stressful, headache-triggering times.
Unfortunately, stress is not the only headache trigger. Other culprits include alcohol consumption, dehydration, bright lights, and certain foods.
If you can’t shake a headache within a few hours or days, it may be time to visit a trusted healthcare professional. This is especially prudent if your headache comes on very suddenly for no apparent reason.