Camphor is a substance that can be created in a lab or found naturally in the wood of the tree, Cinnamomum camphora -- also called a camphor tree. Camphor has a characteristically strong odor and is used in a wide range of products, from industrial lacquer to medical stimulants. It has chemical properties and side effects that may be a concern if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Where Do You Find It
According to Acupuncture Today, camphor is native to Asia, and was traditionally used as an insect repellent. While still used in repellents and moth balls, camphor is also commonly found in inhalants used to treat asthma, congestion and other respiratory conditions, as well as in topical pain relievers for muscle and joint discomfort. In addition to products available in herb stores, camphor is found in widely known over-the-counter products.
Cause for Concern
As NIH’s Toxicology Data Network reports, camphor is not classified as a human carcinogen, but it does have mild levels of toxicity, which primarily affects the body’s central nervous system and kidneys. In a study conducted by Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia, pregnant lab rats that were given camphor experienced varied degrees of bleeding and significant structural changes in ther uterus. While there haven’t been extensive studies on human subjects, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that camphor has been shown to cross the placenta, and therefore presents a potential danger to the fetus. Acupuncture Today.com points out that it’s recommended that those who are pregnant or breast-feeding avoid using camphor.
According to Acupuncture Today, even for the general population, large doses can irritate the lining of the stomach, which can cause nausea and vomiting. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that overdosing or swallowing camphor can cause other symptoms such as slow breathing, skin irritation, excessive thirst and burning of the throat or mouth. In some cases, convulsions, muscle spasms, rapid pulse, and even unconsciousness may occur.
In cases of overdosing, the University of Maryland Medical Center advises seeking immediate medical attention rather than using a home remedy. The center says that overdose patients may be given activated charcoal, undergo gastric lavage (washing out of the stomach) and receive breathing support, with monitoring of vital signs and treatment of each symptom as appropriate.
- Encyclopedia.com: Camphor
- Acupuncture Today: Camphor
- NIH National Library of Medicine - Toxicology Data Network: Camphor
- King Abdulaziz University - Saudi Arabia: Effect of Camphor on Uterus Histology of Pregnant Rats
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Camphorated Oil Intoxication During Pregnancy
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Camphor Overdose