Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is much more than a flavoring agent in mouthwashes or lip balms. The herb increases peristalsis in the digestive tract, making food leave your stomach more quickly. At the same time, it ensures that the peristalsis well controlled so that it doesn’t cause spasms. Spearmint can also help control inflammation, a side effect of your immune system’s battle with internal and external threats, by fighting free radicals. Its many polyphenols exert a positive effect on your memory and attention as well.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata), garden mint, or common mint, call it what you will, you must have come across the herb in your mouthwash, lip balm, or iced tea. Besides the boost of freshness it blatantly promises, spearmint is known for its digestive benefits.
Why It’s So Great
1. Helps with Digestion
A good digestion is the first step to good health. So any food or herb that ensures that your digestive process remains efficient is always welcome. Spearmint is one such herb. Here’s how it helps.
- It makes the passage of food from the stomach faster: Food passes through your digestive tract due to continuous waves of muscle contraction. This movement is known as peristalsis. Carvone in spearmint speeds up the initial phase of digestion by increasing peristalsis.
- It keeps peristalsis regular: Peristalsis needs to follow a steady, regular rhythm so that you don’t experience spasms and pain. Carvone can help maintain this by modulating the influx of calcium ions into the muscle cells. Entry of calcium into the muscle cells is what drives muscle contraction. So any time the contractions become irregular, carvone can step in and block the entry of calcium.
Spearmint may be especially good for days when you have a high-fiber meal (think grains, beans, and cabbage).
2. Helps Reduce Inflammation
Whether you get a cut or a scrape, break a bone, or catch a cold, your immune system responds quickly by starting an inflammation. Then it uses highly reactive molecules called free radicals as ammo. Sometimes, however, these end up attacking the body’s own cells and start a fresh chain of inflammatory events. Antioxidants in your body carry out the task of removing them but can always do with some help from dietary antioxidants. These include fruits, veggies, and herbs containing a chemical called phenol.
- Fights free radicals: Spearmint has a rich store of phenols and polyphenols (rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, gallic acid, protocatechuic acid, catechin, salicylic acid, ellagic acid, and cinnamic acid) that can neutralize different types of free radicals. As a result, it can help your body deal with inflammation.
- Keeps joints healthy: Age and overuse of joints naturally causes wear and tear in the cartilage surround the tips of the bones in a joint. Rosmarinic acid in spearmint can help stop the release of cartilage-damaging enzymes (MMPs) and maintain joint health.
3. Helps Improve Memory
Memory is made by your nerve cells. But since they are made of lipids, they are particularly prone to damage by free radicals. Spearmint can help in two ways.
- Improves working and spatial working memory: Working memory is a type of short-term memory that usually decreases by 10% for every decade after you turn 40. Rosmarinic acid in spearmint could help reduce free radical damage in the area of the brain concerned with memory (hippocampus) and improve both working and spatial memory (the part of memory concerned with your environment and location).
- Improves attention: Along with salvianolic acid, rosmarinic acid can also stop an enzyme (cholinesterase) from breaking down a nerve chemical (acetylcholine) that is responsible for attention, memory, and learning.
Spearmint tea is very easy to prepare. Add a handful of leaves in a cup of boiling water. Steep for a mere 5 minutes and you are good to go. You could also use the leaves to flavor your smoothies, yogurt, and savory dishes. There’s no limit to how much you could have. Just listen to your body.