Background: Spearmint is commonly used as an antispasmodic and as a flavouring in several medications including antacids. It can produce heartburn, presumably by lowering lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) tone, but the mechanism has not previously been objectively examined.
Aim: To study the effect of spearmint on LES function, acid reflux and symptoms.
Methods: In healthy volunteers, a Dent Sleeve and a pH electrode were placed in the distal oesophagus. They were then given spearmint either in a flavouring (0.5 mg), or a high (500 mg) dose, or a placebo, using a double-blind randomized crossover design. LES pressure, oesophageal pH and symptoms were recorded for 30 min before and after administration.
Results: LES pressure was not affected by spearmint, either high dose (19.6 vs. 16.0 mmHg), flavouring dose (20.2 vs. 19.8 mmHg) or placebo (20.5 vs. 19.2 mmHg, all N.S.). There were no differences in reflux occurrence following high dose (mean = 0.65 vs. 0.85 episodes), low dose (0.4 vs. 0.5 episodes) or placebo (0.7 vs. 1.10 episodes, all N.S.). There was a significant increase in mean symptom scores following high-dose spearmint (0 vs. 0.35, P = 0.03), but not low dose (0 vs. 0.2) or placebo (0 vs. 0.5, both N.S.). One subject reported symptoms with placebo, one with low dose, and six with high dose; all without increased reflux episodes or decreased sphincter pressure.
Conclusion: Spearmint has no effect on LES pressure or acid reflux. Flavouring doses of spearmint do not produce more symptoms than placebo while high doses can be associated with symptoms, presumably from direct mucosal irritation but not reflux.