Menthol--pharmacology of an important naturally medicinal "cool"

Mini Rev Med Chem. 2013 Jan;13(1):124-31.


Menthol, a natural product of the peppermint plant Mentha x piperita (Lamiaceae), is a monoterpene which is widely used as a natural product in cosmetics, a flavoring agent, and as an intermediate in the production of other compounds. Various extracts from peppermint contain menthol as a major active constituent and have been used for centuries as traditional medicines for a number of ailments including infections, insomnia, and irritable bowel syndrome as well as an insect repellent. Menthol's characteristic cooling sensation is due, in part, to the activation of sensory neurons generally termed transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, in particular transient receptor potential melastatin family member 8 (TRPM8) and transient receptor potential subfamily A, member 1 (TRPA1). Menthol acts upon TRPM8 receptors by rapidly increasing intracellular calcium and mobilizing calcium flux through the channels to induce cold response signals at the application site. Aside from its cold-inducing sensation capabilities, menthol exhibits cytotoxic effects in cancer cells, induces reduction in malignant cell growth, and engages in synergistic excitation of GABA receptors and sodium ion channels resulting in analgesia. Notwithstanding its plethora of benefits, menthol's coldsensitivity response mechanism has been shown to inhibit mucosal recognition of nicotine and cigarette toxins common in mentholated cigarette brands thus potentially leading to toxic effects. Menthol may prove a valuable lead structure for the synthesis of drugs that target multiple receptors involved with a number of pharmacological effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Products / adverse effects
  • Biological Products / chemistry
  • Biological Products / pharmacology*
  • Biological Products / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Menthol / adverse effects
  • Menthol / chemistry
  • Menthol / pharmacology*
  • Menthol / therapeutic use
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels / agonists
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels / metabolism


  • Biological Products
  • Transient Receptor Potential Channels
  • Menthol