Introduction: The use of peppermint oil in treating the irritable bowel syndrome has been studied with variable results probably due to the presence of patients affected by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, lactose intolerance or celiac disease that may have symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome.
Aim: The aim of the study was to test the effectiveness of enteric-coated peppermint oil in patients with irritable bowel syndrome in whom small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, lactose intolerance and celiac disease were excluded.
Methods: Fifty-seven patients with irritable bowel syndrome according to the Rome II criteria, with normal lactose and lactulose breath tests and negative antibody screening for celiac disease, were treated with peppermint oil (two enteric-coated capsules twice per day or placebo) for 4 weeks in a double blind study. The symptoms were assessed before therapy (T(0)), after the first 4 weeks of therapy (T(4)) and 4 weeks after the end of therapy (T(8)). The symptoms evaluated were: abdominal bloating, abdominal pain or discomfort, diarrhoea, constipation, feeling of incomplete evacuation, pain at defecation, passage of gas or mucus and urgency at defecation. For each symptom intensity and frequency from 0 to 4 were scored. The total irritable bowel syndrome symptoms score was also calculated as the mean value of the sum of the average of the intensity and frequency scores of each symptom.
Results: At T(4), 75% of the patients in the peppermint oil group showed a >50% reduction of basal (T(0)) total irritable bowel syndrome symptoms score compared with 38% in the placebo group (P<0.009). With peppermint oil at T(4) and at T(8) compared with T(0) a statistically significant reduction of the total irritable bowel syndrome symptoms score was found (T(0): 2.19+/-0.13, T(4): 1.07+/-0.10*, T(8): 1.60+/-0.10*, *P<0.01 compared with T(0), mean+/-S.E.M.), while no change was found with the placebo.
Conclusion: A 4 weeks treatment with peppermint oil improves abdominal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.