Menthol- Menthol is an organic compound extracted from peppermint and other mint oils, or produced synthetically. Menthol is a waxy, crystalline substance and solid at room temperature, with a melting point of around 42 degrees celsius. Since our core body temperature is within a few degrees of menthols melting point, this makes menthol ideal for use during colds, flues, and even for the stuffy noses related to allergies. Menthol containing mixtures placed on or around the nostrils, quickly vapourizes enters the nose during inhalation. As the menthol passes through the nostrils, it easily sticks on the swollen mucous membranes.
Menthol has local anesthetic qualities. It chemically triggers the cold-sensitive TRPM8 receptors in the skin. This stimulation of the TRPM8 receptors, is responsible for its' popular cooling sensation evoked when applied to the skin, inhaled, or ingested.
TRPM8 is an acronym for "transient receptor potential cation channel, subfamily M, member 8," also known as TRPM8, TRPM8 is simply a human gene. The TRPM8 gene produces a protein when stimulated by cold temperatures and certain chemicals, menthol being one of them. Once menthol, or cold stimulation causes TRPM8 protein production, this simply causes the entry of sodium and calcium and thus, a nervous impulse to be generated and transmitted to the brain. And of course, we interpret this sensation as cold. It's interesting that menthol stimulates these "cold" sensory nerves, although we are not actually feeling a colder temperature. The result is an "artificial" sensation of cold. This artificial cold sensory nerve stimulation is important in regards to making us feel a better when we are unwell. Because stimulating cold sensation, it can "overide" sensation generated from other types of pain. This is why menthol is sometimes the ideal remedy for aching and stuffy noses, superficial skin pain, and other types of discomforts. Keep in mind, that all types of discomforts are nothing more than nerves being simulated somewhere in the body, and your brain interpreting that stimulation. THe stimulation can be from traumatic injury, chemical, temperature, etc. This is where menthol can sometimes help.
Where can we find menthol?
Mentha arvensis is the primary species of mint used to make natural menthol crystals flakes. This species of mint is primarily grown in the Uttar Pradesh region in India. Menthol is also made in the laboratory setting, and is chemically identical to that obtained naturally, although different types can be produced and obtained from plants. Menthol producers take all the difficult work out for us, and we can simply buy menthol containing products, such as peppermint oil, etc. Of course, we can also buy and grow the plants for ourselves, if we prefere a more natural approach.
"Food for thought"
Menthol can be used for a variety of discomforts. Small amounts can be put on the skin for local minor skin pains, muscle cramps, joint pain, and sunburn. Menthol preparations can be inhaled to relieve the discomfort of stuffy noses, and sore throats. Small amounts of menthol (in preparations designed for this) can be ingested for stomach upset, and bloating. Keep in mind that although is considered by many, as a "natural remedy," menthol is a drug to be taken seriously. Historically, preparations of camphor and menthol were used as the first form of what we now call ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy. ECT is used today in the psychiatric setting to treat depression and other mental conditions. ECT delivers an electrical charge to the brain, causing "fits." In the past, camphor was used in a similar fashion. Although camphor and menthol do not transfer electricity to the brain, in amounts of merely 1-2 grams (the size of approximately 1 sugar cube), convusions can be caused. In essence, even with relatively harmless substances, there are things to be aware of.