Typically derived from the herbs peppermint, eucalyptus and pennyroyal, menthol is a compound made from herbal volatile oils that has many potential health benefits. Applied topically or taken orally, menthol has been shown to help treat gastrointestinal problems, pain, inflammation and congestion. Consult your health care provider before using menthol on your skin or taking it internally to treat any medical condition.
Menthol has been used to help treat a wide variety of gastrointestinal ailments. For example, menthol can prevent or treat gas and bloating, making it a potential assistive treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion and colic, says the University of Michigan Health System. Menthol can also be applied topically to help to relieve itching and inflammation due to contact dermatitis and hives. Topical menthol also helps to relieve headaches, states the University of Maryland Medical Center. Additionally, people have taken menthol orally to treat asthma, bronchitis, colds, flu and other respiratory ailments. No widely-accepted, conclusive scientific evidence supports the use of menthol in treating any medical condition, however.
Menthol acts as a carminative, meaning that it prevents and treats gas in the intestines. Menthol also relaxes the intestinal muscles and prevents spasms. Additionally, menthol has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory actions, notes the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Menthol's potential use in treating respiratory conditions stems from its ability to dilate the bronchioles, says the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Menthol's use in treating colds, flu and bronchitis is also related to its expectorant actions, which involves thinning and loosening mucous congestion.
You can use extracted menthol or take it in the form of peppermint, eucalyptus or pennyroyal concoctions. Straight menthol for pain and inflammation is applied topically in the form of a cream, ointment or skin patch, says the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. You might also apply peppermint, eucalyptus or pennyroyal oils to the affected skin areas for analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. To achieve the desired effects, any herbal creams or ointments should contain 1 to 16 percent menthol, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center.
To treat gastrointestinal ailments, you can take menthol in the form of a peppermint tea, capsule or tincture. To make a tea, steep 1 teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 minutes, and drink three to four cups per day, says the University of Michigan Health System. Ask your physician about the correct application and dosage of menthol or herbs containing menthol before using them.
Taking peppermint oil capsules containing menthol effectively treated pain from intestinal spasms in double-blind clinical trials, according to a 1997 issue of the "Journal of Gastroenterology" and a 1984 issue of the "British Journal of Clinical Practice." A 1994 study in "Cephalalgia" found that applying peppermint oil to your forehead or temples may relieve tension headaches, says the University of Michigan Health System. The menthol in peppermint oil effectively treated symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome in a 2007 double-blind clinical trial published in the journal "Digestive and Liver Disease." Another double-blind trial reported in "Digestion" in 2004 discovered that menthol-containing herbal remedies helped in treating indigestion, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center. Finally, a study found that peppermint oil containing menthol had antispasmodic actions on the intestines during endoscopic bowel procedures, according to a 2006 issue of the "Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology."
Topical menthol treatments can cause skin irritation, rashes or allergic reactions, says the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Taking menthol orally might cause worsened gastrointestinal pain or a burning sensation. If you have gallstones, bile-duct obstruction, liver damage, gallbladder inflammation or acid reflux, you should avoid taking menthol internally, warns the University of Michigan Health System. Menthol could interfere with certain medications, such as cyclosporine, blood pressure drugs, diabetes medications and medications for treating acid reflux, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. Talk to your physician about these possible health risks and drug interactions before using menthol.