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Camphor is a naturally occurring chemical compound obtained from the bark of camphor tree. The waxy camphor balls are primarily made of terpenes (organic compounds produced by plants) which are responsible for its strong aroma. In nature, these terpenes are important parts of the natural defence system in plants. Terpene is toxic when eaten, so, its aroma protects camphor plant from being eaten by herbivore animals. But the benefits of camphor are plenty.

Camphor is well known for its medicinal and healing properties in traditional and western medicine systems. It is a go-to folk remedy for various conditions like congestion, pain, and inflammations. In fact, some studies suggest that camphor may be effective in healing burns and fungal infections.

Originally a native of India, China and Japan, camphor is widely cultivated in most of the tropical areas of the world. Interestingly, it has been listed as a noxious plant in the 'Global Invasive Species Database'.

Camphor is an evergreen tree growing up to a height of 60 feet. Camphor tree can take over the native forests and spread pretty quickly.  Its branches tend to spread, giving the tree an umbrella-like appearance. Camphor tree bears elliptical leaves and tiny white flowers. Its fruit is round in shape and is generally purplish to black in colour.

Did you know?

Camphor is not just a tree but it is also an oil and a chemical compound. As a chemical compound, it can be obtained from the essential oils of plants like lavender, camphor basil, and rosemary.

Some basic facts about camphor laurel or camphor tree:

  • Botanical name: Cinnamomum camphora
  • Family: Lauraceae
  • Common names: Camphor laurel, Camphor, Camphor tree, Kapoor
  • Parts used: Leaves, bark
  • Native region and geographical distribution: Camphor varieties are native to tropical regions like China, India and Japan, but it has also been introduced in the USA, especially in Florida.
  • Energetics: Cooling
  1. Camphor health benefits
  2. How is camphor used
  3. Camphor dosage
  4. Camphor side effects

Camphor is a go-to remedy for a number of skin conditions like itching, burns, and fungal infections.  It can be easily absorbed by the skin and thus, is beneficial in alleviating inflammation and pain. Let us explore some of the healing benefits of camphor.

  • Relieves itching: Camphor has been found to reduce wound based pruritis in research studies. It inhibits the action of an ion channel TRP1, which is responsible for chronic itching.
  • Delays skin ageing: Camphor is suggested to increase collagen synthesis and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. It also improves blood circulation in skin, which leads to improved nutrition and better oxygen supply, making your skin look younger and refreshed.
  • Relieves arthritis symptoms: Traditionally, camphor is used for relieving arthritic inflammation. It has been scientifically proven that camphor contains active compounds that reduce swelling and pain in case of arthritis.
  • Reduces cough and congestion: Camphor makes an important ingredient in some topical formulations for cough. Inhaling camphor is believed to open airways.
  • Anti-fungal: Lab studies indicate that camphor is an excellent anti-fungal compound. Topical application of camphor has been found to be effective in clearing out toe-nail fungus within 48 weeks.
  • Clears head lice: In vivo (animal-based) studies suggest that topical application of camphor along with coconut oil is helpful in clearing head lice and preventing its recurrence.
  • Natural mosquito repellent: Research studies demonstrate that camphor essential oil and camphor have natural mosquito repellent. This is because of the presence of bioactive compounds such as p-menthane.

Camphor for itching

Pruritus is a condition marked by an itching sensation in the body which is usually relieved by scratching. Presently, there is no known cause or mechanism which leads to the development of this condition. So, the current line of treatment includes the use of topical agents that work as immune enhancers or target the nervous system. Studies suggest that TRPA1, which is an ion channel in the body, may be one of the factors responsible for the development of chronic itching. It initiates the brain signal that mediates the itching response in the skin.

A recent review article agrees with the TRPA1 inhibition theory. It was further stated that the application of menthol or camphor provides a cooling sensation in cases of wound based pruritus. According to a study published in the 'Journal of Investigative Dermatology', camphor reduces the intensity of itching by inhibiting the action of TRPA1.

But there has been no clinical study to prove safety and dosage of the antipruritic effects of camphor in humans.

(Read more: Itching treatment)

Camphor benefits for skin

Camphor has traditionally been used for the treatment of various skin conditions, like skin allergies and infections. It is considered an excellent anti-ageing compound. In fact, camphor is used to prepare various creams and lotions that fight signs of ageing, like wrinkles and dark spots.

(Read more: Treatment of allergy)

Initial studies have suggested that camphor stimulates the growth of skin cells and significantly improves the levels of collagen, which is a skin-tightening protein present in our body. It was further proposed that topical application of camphor reduces UV damage in animal models.

A study conducted in Japan indicated that camphor increases blood circulation of the skin tissue. Adequate blood circulation leads to healthier and glowing skin due to the increased supply of oxygen and nutrients.

Looking at the current research, it can be said that the use of camphor may increase within the cosmetic industry.

Camphor for arthritis

Arthritis is a condition marked by inflammation and pain in and around joints like knee, fingers or wrists. It could either be due to over-straining of a particular joint, as observed in sportspersons (osteoarthritis) or due to the development of an autoimmune disorder (rheumatoid arthritis). In the latter, the body’s immune system destroys its own bone tissues. In traditional and folk medicine, camphor has been used for the treatment of various inflammatory disorders, like arthritis and bronchitis since long.

Several studies suggest that camphor interferes with the action of inflammatory agents, like cytokines and nitric oxide. Recent animal-based studies indicate that a formulation made from camphor, menthol and thymol had significant anti-inflammatory potential at a dosage of 250-500 mg/kg.

This evidence provides some insight into the traditional use of camphor in arthritic inflammation.

Apart from the inflammation-reducing properties of camphor, it is also known to be a strong analgesic (pain reliever) for osteoarthritis patients. According to a random clinical trial on 63 patients, topical application of a cream with camphor as a primary ingredient has a marked pain-relieving effect.

Camphor relieves pain

Camphor is a known analgesic (pain reliever) in traditional medicine. It is one of the primary ingredients of various pain relieving creams and lotions. Research indicates that camphor acts as a pain reliever by interfering with signalling pathways in the body. These pathways are known to be responsible for many sensory perceptions including pain, which explains the analgesic action of camphor.

Recent studies suggest that a formulation/spray with camphor as one of its ingredients is very useful for alleviating pain associated with most physiological conditions.

Camphor for cough and congestion

Nasal and chest congestion is one of the common problems associated with cough and cold. The current line of treatment includes cough suppressants or decongestants (removing congestion). Camphor as a chemical compound is one of the major components of a number of cough and congestion relieving topical formulations. These formulations have been evidenced to be useful in reducing nocturnal cough and congestion, particularly in children. Another study has suggested that inhaling camphor can increase airflow through the nose.

However, there isn't enough evidence to confirm the independent benefit of camphor as a decongestant.

(Read more: Nasal congestion causes)

Camphor for fungal infection

Fungal infections are one of the most common types of skin, nail, and hair infection. Fungi grow easily in hot and humid conditions of the tropics and are particularly difficult to get rid of. Of the many home remedies used for treating fungal infections, camphor ranks at the top. Numerous studies have been done to test the efficiency of camphor in destroying various kind of fungus. In vitro (lab-based) studies suggest that camphor is efficient in killing several soil-borne fungi like Fusarium, Phytophthora, and Aspergillus niger. This may correlate to a similar antifungal effect on skin fungal infections.

As per a clinical study published in the 'Journal of American Board of Family Medicine', topical application of camphor-based cream can efficiently remove toenail fungus in a duration of 48 weeks.

However, more studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness of camphor in the particular treatment of human fungal infections.

(Read more: Treatment of fungal infections)

Camphor for burns

In vivo (animal-based) studies suggest that a formulation made of camphor, sesame oil, and honey is very beneficial in the treatment of second-degree burns. It was reported that the application of this formulation not only lead to a faster healing, but also improved the blood circulation of the burnt skin.

A continuous study (running for many years) was done on 2000 people with superficial burns in India. At the end of the study, it was reported that using camphor along with coconut oil has a marked efficiency in healing burn wounds and burn-related pains.

Camphor for hair

Camphor may have a lot of benefits for the hair. It is a potent antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Together, these properties may not only help in dealing with conditions like fungal infections, but it has some benefits in slowing the rate of hair fall. It has also been evidenced to be useful in reducing itching.

However, long-term use of camphor has been associated with skin irritation. So, before using camphor for its hair benefits, talk to your doctor.

Camphor for lice

Hair lice are both a social and physical problem. According to doctors, hair lice are quite easy to spread by contagious clothes or hats. The presence of lice is usually marked by an itchy skin which is irritating to the skin.

Most of the currently used chemicals are starting to lose their efficiency due to the development of resistant strains of lice. So, there has been a growing trend towards natural and organic lice-killing agents. According to an in vitro study, camphor and coconut oil make for an excellent formulation for getting rid of hair lice. It was further suggested that this formulation doesn’t only kill lice, but also prevents their recurrence.

However, camphor can cause skin irritation as stated above. Additionally, there are no clinical studies to evidence the exact mechanism of action of safety concerns of camphor for hair.

So, it is best to check in with a dermatologist to know about the benefits of camphor in keeping off hair lice.

(Read more: Head lice treatment)

Camphor as mosquito repellent

Insect-borne diseases are one of the leading causes of death all over. According to WHO, diseases like malaria and dengue are endemic (occurring in restricted areas) to at least 91 countries in the world and dengue is one of the most widespread mosquito-borne diseases. Resistance to the current mosquito repellents worsens the scenario, so, modern science suggests making a turn towards natural and plant-based repellents. Camphor is one such compound. Traditionally, camphor balls are kept in the cupboards to ward off common insects and pests. This also prevents the development of microbes in an enclosed environment.

A recent research claims that camphor can be used along with lavender, tulsi (basil) and neem to make mosquito repellent cakes. Another study suggests that camphor essential oil is more potent repellent than whole camphor. This suggests the extraction of certain active compounds in camphor essential oils, which can be utilised.

According to a study published in the 'International Journal of Mosquito Research', camphor oil contains chemical compounds known as p-Menthane and champene, which are responsible for repelling mosquitoes like Aedes aegypti (that spreads dengue and chikungunya).

So, it can be safely considered that camphor can keep you safe from these common disease vectors.

Camphor for libido

As per the traditional belief, camphor is very effective in improving libido or sexual desire. But when it comes to scientific evidence, the results are unclear. Two different in vivo studies claim that camphor has some libido enhancing benefits, but a study published in the 'International Journal of Molecular and Cellular medicine' suggests that camphor doesn’t have any significant effect on libido or sex hormones.

(Read more: How to increase libido)

  • Though camphor is considered toxic for human consumption, camphor powder  decoction (kadha) has been used in ayurveda for the treatment of various health conditions like cough and high cholesterol.
  • It is one of the primary ingredients in various creams and lotions that are commonly used for relieving congestion, cold and cough.
  • Camphor oil and Camphor is used along with coconut oil for various skin and scalp conditions.
  • The essential oil of camphor finds its use in the form of a stimulant and an antiseptic.
  • Camphor tablets are widely used as a repellent for keeping off common pests and mosquitoes.
  • Due to its toxicity for human consumption, camphor is usually not eaten. However, if you are into ayurveda or want to take camphor orally, it is best to check in with an ayurvedic doctor.
  • According to Bhavprakash Nighantu (an ancient ayurvedic text), 125-375 mg of camphor can be ingested divided into small doses throughout the day.
  • As per the FDA guidelines, a 3-10% formulation of camphor paste can be used safely for relieving pain.
  • Camphor reduces the production of milk in nursing mothers and it has been found to be an abortifacient (induces abortion). So, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is best to stay away from camphor.
  • Even though camphor has been in use as a fertility booster, studies suggest that camphor leads to a decrease in sperm count and mobility. It’s preferable to ask your doctor before consuming camphor.
  • Camphor is highly toxic when consumed. A dosage as less as 2 grams can lead to toxicity in humans. The initial symptoms of toxicity include nausea, headache, vomiting, warmth in the stomach.  Generally, these symptoms show up within the first 5 to 10 minutes of consuming camphor. If left untreated, it can lead to fits, coma and in severe cases, death. Fortunately, camphor toxicity can be effectively treated within the first 24 hours. So, you are advised to consult your doctor if any symptoms are noted.
  • Camphor should never be used in infants as it is listed “unsafe” for them.
  • Long-term camphor use may be associated with severe liver toxicity.
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References

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