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What Is Camphor? Medicinal Benefits, Uses And Side Effects

Camphor is a waxy, white transparent or crystalline substance with a solid form and a strong aromatic smell. It is a by-product of camphor tree Cinnamomum camphora prepared by distilling its bark and wood. Camphor is also called pachakarpuram or karpoor in many Indian states.

The fragrant camphor tree and its by-products such as camphor and camphor oil have a rich history of traditional use, particularly during the era of the Black Death when it was used as a fumigant.

Camphor is both naturally and chemically produced. Camphor extracted from camphor trees is biosynthetically synthesised, while those which are chemically synthesized use turpentine as the starting material. [1]

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This aromatic substance has many uses and is allowed into the body through food, eye contact, skin and breathing. When consumed orally, it can cause nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and other difficulties. In large quantities, it is also lethal. The chemical formula for camphor is C10H16O.

Let's take you to the amazing medicinal benefits of camphor, its uses, side effects and other details.

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Medicinal Benefits And Uses Of Camphor

1. Treats cough

A study talks about the antitussive or cough-relieving effect of camphor. It says that camphor is considered an old remedy in the treatment of chronic cough. The aromatic vapours of camphor can desensitise the receptor cells which are responsible to cause cough and thus, treat the condition effectively. This is the reason why camphor is used as the main ingredient in many cough and cold rubs. [2]

How to use: Apply camphor-based rubs or add a few drops of camphor oil to one tsp of almond oil and gently rub it on to your chest.

2. Clears nasal congestion

Camphor may help clear the nasal congestion due to its strong smell. A study has shown that inhaling camphor causes a cold sensation in the nasal area with the sensation of the improved airflow. This effect is better compared to exercise which does not induce a nose sensation or cause improvement in airflow. [3]

How to use: Mix camphor or camphor oil with warm mustard oil and rub gently near your nose and chest. Caution, do not ingest the oil as it might be fatal.

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3. Treats aches and pain

Camphor based products are mainly used as a rubefacient to treat minor muscle aches and pains. According to a study, turpentines in camphor may help relieve pain by activating and then desensitising the pain receptors cells. It helps decrease the pain by acting more directly on the painful areas. Camphor also helps numbs and cool the nerves and promote blood circulation to reduce stiffness of the muscles. [4]

How to use: Rub camphor oil or camphor based products in the affected areas.

4. Kills head lice

Some studies talk about camphor as topical anti-lice and anti-scabies natural therapy. Camphor has a cooling and local anaesthetic effect against itching when applied topically. It can help treat the dryness of the scalp and itchy sensation, which are the most annoying symptoms of head lice. Topical exposure of camphor in pregnant ladies is also considered safe with no report of adverse fetal outcomes. [5]

How to use: Mix a few drops of camphor oil in coconut oil or simply melt the camphor in coconut oil and apply on hair. Wash hair after a few hours, followed by combing to remove the dead lice instantly.

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5. Treats face mite infection

Demodicidosis, a rare facial parasitic infection caused by Demodex mites may cause symptoms such as eczema, scaly skin, burning sensation, papules and itching. According to a study, freshly prepared camphor oil without any dilutions can completely help treat this skin infection within 5-10 days. [6]

How to use: Consult a medical expert before using camphor oil for demodicidosis as it is a severe medical condition.

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6. Treats bronchitis

Bronchitis is severe to cough and cold in which the bronchial tubes of the lungs get inflamed causing difficulties in breathing. A study has shown that Vicks vaporub or Petrolatum, whose primary ingredient is camphor, can help treat the restlessness caused due to acute bronchitis. Though the rub therapy of camphor cannot be considered the sole treatment, it is effective to a large extent in treating bronchitis. [7]

How to use: Place a few camphor in boiling water and then inhale the steam for ten minutes at a stretch.

7. Improves digestion and metabolism

According to a study, naturally produced camphor from camphor trees can help increase metabolism and improve digestion. This camphor is edible and can be consumed in small amounts after consulting a medical expert. It may help improve the digestive fire, according to Ayurveda, which is disturbed due to poor diet or toxins and thus, treat the condition. [8]

How to use: Consult a medical expert to know how to use camphor for digestive problems.

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8. Treats acne

Camphor is considered to be the cheap and effective way to treat acne naturally. It may help treat the breakouts of acne on the skin and also prevents them from spreading. This is due to the anti-inflammatory property of camphor which helps reduce swelling and redness on the skin caused due to acne.

How to use: Mix one tsp of camphor oil to coconut oil and apply it to affected areas to get the best results. You can also dissolve the camphor in coconut oil and then use it.

9. Treats pruritus

Pruritus, though seems a common condition, may get severe sometimes when left untreated. It can be caused due to various reasons like sunburns, dry skin, wounds, insect bites or infection. A study has shown that camphor or camphor based creams or lotions can help provide a cooling effect to the skin effects and this may help relieve the symptom. It is toxic in large doses. [9]

How to use: Apply camphor or its products on affected areas.

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10. Good for arthritis

According to a study, an intramuscular injection of iodine, guaiacol and camphor dissolved in oil can help treat the painful and stiff joints in people with rheumatoid arthritis. The analgesic and stimulating effects of camphor's turpentine can help treat this painful chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect not only the bones, but also the skin, lungs and blood vessels. [10]

How to use: If you are diagnosed with arthritis or any of its types, consult a medical expert before using camphor or camphor oil.

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11. Helps treat depressive symptoms

Some of the depressive symptoms include worries, restless and anxiousness that can make people lose interest in activities and concentration and may cause them to attempt suicide. A study has shown that camphor can help reduce depressive symptoms by decreasing the oxidative stress and inflammatory biomarkers, and increasing the brain contents of dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which helps in maintaining the proper functioning of neuronal cells. [11]

How to use: Consult a medical expert if you have depressive symptoms and to know how to use camphor to get relief from those symptoms.

12. Helps provide relief from piles

In people with piles or haemorrhoids, camphor may help rescue the burning sensation, pain and inflammation due to its analgesic properties. Also, some studies say that camphor can help speed up the healing of piles and provide relief.

How to use: Mix a few drops of camphor in coconut oil and apply on the piles area twice a day to manage the symptoms.

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13. Soothes cracked heels

Cracked heels or feet is a common problem, but may interfere with lifestyle if not taken care of. Camphor or camphor oil can help soothe cracked heels and promote the proliferation of cells to fill the gaps. This could be due to the anti-inflammatory, wound-healing and analgesic properties of this white and waxy compound. [12] Camphor may also help treat corns or lumps of muscles formed on the sole of the feet.

How to use: Mix a piece of camphor in warm water and soak your feet in it for a while, followed by cleaning and patting it dry.

14. Treats restless leg syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is characterized by an unpleasant sensation near the legs and a throbbing and an uncontrollable urge to move the legs while sleeping. This can cause uncomfortability and may disrupt a healthy sleep cycle. Camphor's therapeutic and antispasmodic properties may help relieve inflammation and reduce restless leg syndrome symptoms.

How to use: Rub camphor oil in the legs at night and wash off in the morning.

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Side Effects Of Camphor

  • Never ingest camphor as it may cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache and muscular excitability causing tremors and twitching depending on the dosage.
  • In severe dosage, it may cause epileptic seizures for several hours which may result in coma and death due to asphyxia or exhaustion.
  • In pregnant women, camphor ingestion may cause abortion when it crosses the placneta and reached foetus. Inhaling or topical use of camphor by pregnant women is probably safe. [13]
  • Some studies also mention that even small doses of camphor by toddlers, orally or through related products such as rubs, can trigger seizures and may lead to death. [14]
  • When applied to open wounds on the skin, camphor oil may aggravate the pain when applied.
  • Don't apply camphor for a longer time on your skin, as it might break the skin and cause further damages.
  • Some studies say that camphor may suppress sexual behaviours and libido and may affect the reproductive system. [15]
  • To Conclude

    Camphor is a popular product and is available in almost every Indian house due to its wide uses in religious rituals. However, if you are using it for any medicinal benefits, it is advised to consult a medical expert before to avoid any side effects.