Menthol: What it Is, How it Works, and the Health Benefits
While we’ve seen menthol as an ingredient in our health and beauty products, many of us don’t know that much about it. Where does it come from? What does it do? Is it good for us?
Menthol is an organic compound extracted from the oils of Mentha, a genus of plants in the mint family. It can be synthesized and is used as a flavoring or fragrance in a variety of products.
Known for its cooling sensation and healing properties, menthol is popular in toothpastes, mouthwashes, cough drops, cold remedies, lip balms, body balms, and more. It’s used to treat plaque or bacteria in the mouth, cough, sore throat, and minor aches and pains.
How Does Menthol Work?
Menthol produces a cooling effect that “creates a pleasant diversion from pain or other irritations.”
While menthol doesn’t actually lower body temperature, it stimulates the body’s thermoreceptors. This sends a signal to the brain that the body is cooling down.
Menthol is often paired with other active ingredients in cough suppressants, skin protectants and other products. Since it helps refresh and revitalize, menthol can be used in numerous ways - whether it’s a cooling patch for headaches or a soothing skin lotion to treat overexposure from the sun, itching and inflammation.
Along with pain relieving and anti-inflammatory capabilities, menthol acts as a carminative. It helps relax the intestinal muscles and treat gastrointestinal ailments.
It can be ingested, inhaled or applied topically to the skin. Topically, it is used for pain and inflammation. For more information on topical dosage, you can check out specific guidelines here.
To help with digestive issues, you can take menthol orally in peppermint tea, capsule or tincture.
Want to make peppermint tea at home? Try this easy recipe:
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.
- Turn off the heat.
- Add four torn peppermint leaves to the water.
- Let the leaves steep for 5 minutes, and cover the pot.
- Strain the tea into a mug.
The Health Benefits of Menthol
- Relieves indigestion and alleviate IBS symptoms
One of the main ingredients in peppermint oil is menthol. Research shows that people digest food faster when taking peppermint oil with meals, which is especially helpful for people with gastrointestinal disorders.
Menthol is also beneficial for alleviating IBS symptoms. According to one study, 75% of patients who took peppermint oil for one month had fewer IBS symptoms than the placebo group, where only 38% saw an improvement.
- Boosts brain function
Peppermint oil is scientifically-proven to improve memory. Researchers found that participants who smelt peppermint oil for five minutes before testing had a better memory compared to those who didn’t.
According to another study, smelling peppermint oil while driving increased alertness and decreased frustration and fatigue.
- Combats cold symptoms
Menthol helps provide cold and flu relief by improving nasal breathing.
Peppermint oil also contains antimicrobial properties, which can help treat your cold symptoms, specifically the infected mucus receptors in your sinuses. The menthol helps open the airways and clear the mucus.
- Lessen headache pain
Applying peppermint oil to your forehead and temples is proven to help with headaches. The menthol relaxes muscles and eases pain.
It’s important to note that the peppermint oil should be diluted before use. You can pair it with another carrier oil such as coconut oil.
- Boosts energy
If you want to feel more energized during the day, menthol can get the job done. One study showed that peppermint oil can help fight fatigue and enhance exercise performance.
Along with the menthol helping to “relax bronchial smooth muscles,” there was also an “increase in the ventilation and brain oxygen concentration, and decrease in the blood lactate level” all of which contributed to the energy boost.
- Fights bacteria
One of the biggest benefits of peppermint oil is its antimicrobial properties. Numerous studies have demonstrated its effectiveness when it comes to fighting bacteria.
According to one study, incubating peppermint oil with the antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus aureus, blocked the production of bacterial toxins. The effectiveness increased as the dosage went up.
Menthol is FDA-approved, and safe when used in accordance with the Drug Facts label. If you have any specific questions about a product, you should consult with your healthcare provider.