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On September 17th, 1998 the Ithaca Journal ran its first "Ask A Scientist!" article in which Professor Neil Ashcroft , who was then the director of CCMR, answered the question "What is Jupiter made of?" Since then, we have received over 1,000 questions from students and adults from all over the world. Select questions are answered weekly and published in the Ithaca Journal and on our web site. "Ask A Scientist!" reaches more than 21,000 Central New York residents through the Ithaca Journal and countless others around the world throught the "Ask a Scientist!" web site.

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Previous Week's Question Published: 7 February, 2007 Next Week's Question
Peppermint: Good for heartburn, but won't make you smarter
Question
I heard that peppermint candy will help you do better on a test. Is this true? And, is there anything in peppermint candy that will boost my scores?

Question
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a medicinal herb that has been used since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Drinking peppermint tea or eating peppermint helps to calm an upset stomach and sooth heartburn.

Peppermint oil contains much higher levels of antioxidants than fruits, cereals, and vegetables, and antioxidants are good for your health. It can also be used to dull some aches and pains. Peppermint flavored candies, ranging from chewing gum to chocolate mints, can help with digestion if used after eating a meal. Even toothpaste can have a peppermint flavor. Smelling peppermint while you are asleep has been shown to raise heart rate and increase brainwave activity.

Claims have been made that simply smelling peppermint also will improve athletic performance and mental alertness.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some peppermint smelling products now are marketed as an "ergogenic" aid, with claims that they will boost your performance.

Unfortunately, the research studies that have been conducted have produced very mixed results, and many of the studies that claim to have shown benefits turn out to have been poorly conducted. The most recent scientifically rigorous research studies that have been well conducted mostly have failed to show any significant benefits to performance from either eating or smelling peppermint.

So, will eating peppermint candy help you to do better on a test?

Probably not; there is no solid scientific evidence that peppermint will boost test performance. Also, there is no evidence that eating peppermint candy will make you do worse on a test. It is possible that for some people and in some situations, eating peppermint candy might influence test scores for other reasons.

If you have an upset stomach because of exam nerves, then eating peppermint candy will help to calm this and that in turn might help you to do better.

Chewing peppermint gum might help you concentrate better, but this is because of the act of chewing and not the peppermint flavor.

Peppermint candy contains sugar and, depending on the time of day and how hungry you are, when you eat a candy you might feel more energetic because your blood sugar will rise. But once you've finished the peppermint candy your blood sugar level will quickly fall, and sometimes it will go below its original level.

If you are taking a long test then you will be better off eating something that helps to keep your blood sugar at a constant level, such as energy bar containing protein, fruits and nuts. So, if you really like the taste of peppermint, eating a mint flavored powerbar just before a test might help you.