The holiday season is upon us and that means an influx of peppermint-flavored products everywhere. Peppermint coffees, candies, cocktails, and cookies are hallmarks of this festive time of year. Peppermint may be known for its fresh minty flavor and alluring scent, but did you know that it also has many health benefits for cancer patients?
Peppermint, also known by its scientific name of Mentha piperita, is a cross between a water mint and spearmint plant. It is native to Europe but is very popular in the U.S. Peppermint has been used since ancient time for medicinal purposes. Some dried peppermint leaves were even found in pyramids that dated back to 1,000 B.C. Peppermint was originally used as a pain reliever and to help with digestion. Over time, the medicinal uses of peppermint expanded and have been regularly utilized by cancer patients to soothe some of their most debilitating symptoms.
Peppermint Calms Nausea from Chemotherapy
Cancer treatment often involves the use of chemotherapy. One of the unfortunate side effects of chemotherapy is that it can induce nausea and vomiting. These types of stomach issues are some of the most dreaded aspects of cancer treatment. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that up to 70% of patients will experience some type of nausea during their cancer treatment. The good news is that peppermint is here to help!
Peppermint contains menthol, an organic compound that is responsible for the fresh odor and cooling sensation that we associate with peppermint. The menthol in peppermint blocks calcium channels, which relaxes the muscles of the intestinal wall and can help to relieve various stomach problems. Peppermint is also a known antispasmodic, so it decreases nausea and vomiting once ingested. Even simply inhaling the scent of peppermint extract, without even ingesting it, has been known to sooth a nauseated stomach. Thus, keeping a stash of peppermint tea around is a simple thing that you can do to help calm your stomach down during chemotherapy treatment.
Peppermint Soothes the Respiratory Tract
Lung cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the U.S. Smoking and exposure to hazardous substances like asbestos are some of the reasons that lung cancer is so prevalent in the U.S. Individuals suffering from lung cancer will often experience hacking coughs, shortness of breath, and an increase in the amount of sputum, or mucus, in their lungs. Thankfully, peppermint can help to relieve all of these symptoms.
The menthol in peppermint is able to relax the respiratory tract and muscles, which helps people to breathe better. Peppermint also contains other compounds, like limonene and pulegone, which serve as natural decongestants. The fact that peppermint can thin out mucus has made it a common ingredient in many respiratory and congestion medications. Because of this, peppermint is a valuable weapon for lung cancer patients dealing with hacking coughs and congestion.
Peppermint Boosts the Immune System & Has Valuable Healing Properties
Peppermint is a known antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral agent. Cancer patients can use peppermint oil to help boost their immune systems as their cancer, and the harsh cancer treatments, start to compromise their immunity.
Peppermint has also long been used as a balm to help with skin ailments like bug bites and hives, but preclinical findings have also shown that peppermint may have the power to protect healthy cells, and even repair damaged cells, during radiation. More studies need to be completed on humans to determine the exact healing effects that peppermint can offer during radiation therapy, but it is promising all the same. As always, consult your doctor before adding any new medication, supplement, or herb to your treatment plan.
Embrace the Power of Peppermint This Holiday Season
Peppermint is much more than a tasty plant which makes your apartment or home smell like a winter wonderland. As Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, proclaimed, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” He was right. Peppermint has the power to both flavor your next holiday treat, while simultaneously enhancing your health, especially if you or a loved one is dealing with cancer and corresponding treatments this holiday season. So indulge yourself with a few peppermint snacks this winter. ‘Tis the season after all! To get you on the right track, below you will find a simple recipe for peppermint candy.
Total prep time: 25 minutes, plus chilling
Makes: 64 servings
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk, divided
- 1 cup white chocolate baking chips
- 3 teaspoons peppermint extract
- 2 to 3 drops green food coloring (or red if you prefer)
- In a small saucepan, melt semisweet chocolate chips with ¾ cup condensed milk over low heat, stirring occasionally. Line an 8-inch square dish with waxed paper. Butter the paper.
- Spread half of the melted chocolate mixture into the pan, and chill for 5 to 10 minutes (letting remaining melted chocolate mixture stand at room temperature).
- In another saucepan, melt white chocolate baking chips. Stir in remaining condensed milk until smooth. Remove from the heat. Add peppermint extract and food coloring. Refrigerate until set. Spread over the chilled semisweet chocolate layer. Spread the reserved semisweet chocolate mixture on top. Refrigerate until set. Cut into 1 inch pieces.
Now go and enjoy your holiday season!