Extracts of several members of the monoterpene-rich Lamiaceae sub-family Nepetoideae, including those from the Salvia (sage), Melissa (Lemon balm) and Rosmarinus (rosemary) genera, evince cognitive and mood effects in humans that are potentially related to their effects on cholinergic and GABAergic neurotransmission. To date, despite promising in vitro properties, the cognitive and mood effects of the closely related Mentha spicata (spearmint) and Mentha piperita (peppermint) remain unexplored. This study therefore assessed the human cognitive/mood effects of the M. spicata/piperita essential oil with the most promising, brain-relevant in vitro properties according to pre-trial in vitro screening. Design: Organic spearmint and peppermint (Mentha spicata/piperita) essential oils were pre-screened for neurotransmitter receptor binding and acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, balanced cross-over study, 24 participants (mean age 25.2 years) consumed single doses of encapsulated placebo and 50 µl and 100 µl of the most promising essential oil (peppermint with nicotinic/GABAA receptor binding and AChE inhibitory properties, that increased calcium influx in a CAD cell neuronal model). Psychological functioning was assessed with mood scales and a range of standardised, cognitively demanding tasks pre-dose and at 1, 3 and 6 h post-dose. Results: The highest (100 µL) dose of essential oil improved performance on the cognitively demanding Rapid Visual Information Processing task (RVIP) at 1 h and 3 h post-dose and both doses attenuated fatigue and improved performance of the Serial 3 s subtraction task at 3 h post-dose. Conclusion: Peppermint (Mentha piperita) essential oil with high levels of menthol/menthone and characteristic in vitro cholinergic inhibitory, calcium regulatory and GABAA/nicotinic receptor binding properties, beneficially modulated performance on demanding cognitive tasks and attenuated the increase in mental fatigue associated with extended cognitive task performance in healthy adults. Future investigations should consider investigating higher doses.
Keywords: Mentha; cognition; mint; terpenes.