Tags: menthol | sucrose | cough

Minty Relief for Cough?

Wednesday, 13 Jun 2012 01:26 PM




Mint-flavored cough drops and syrups are sold by the millions each year, despite studies raising questions about whether the active ingredients in them actually work. But a surprising new study has found menthol and sucrose sweeteners used as flavoring in such products may, in fact, effectively reduce coughing.
The new findings, by researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, suggest that sucrose and menthol may somehow work to dull the sensitivity of nerves in the airways to block the reflex mechanism that triggers cough.
"This is the first study to empirically show that sweet taste reduces cough. This also is the first study to show that menthol alone can reduce coughing in response to a cough-eliciting agent," said Paul Breslin, a Monell sensory scientist and one of the study’s lead investigators.
Cough is a protective reflex that clears the respiratory tract of food, fluids, toxins and pollutants.
"Individuals with a weak cough reflex are at increased risk of pneumonia and of choking. Conversely, many acute and chronic conditions involve frequent coughing, leading to 30 million health care visits annually, with billions spent on over-the-counter medications and billions more lost due to reduced productivity," said the study’s lead author Paul M. Wise.
But many aspects of coughing are not understood, including how some chemicals may trigger or suppress cough.
For the new study, published in the journal Pulmonary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, researchers had 12 healthy young adults inhale capsaicin, the spicy ingredient in chili peppers and a cough stimulant. Some participants were then asked to hold a very sweet sucrose or plain water in their mouths for three seconds, spit the liquid into a sink, and then inhale more capsaicin. Other test subjects inhaled three breaths of either menthol-saturated air or clean air before each capsaicin inhalation.
Researchers found that participants given sucrose and menthol could tolerate higher levels of capsaicin before coughing than the others. Sucrose increased the “cough threshold” by about 45 percent, while menthol increased it by approximately 25 percent.
The investigators said the findings may explain why past studies have shown menthol cigarettes are often the choice of first-time smokers, because they help suppress the cough reflex.
"Menthol may dull the sensitivity of sensory nerves in the airways and thereby actually disable an important reflex mechanism that would otherwise protect smokers from the chemical and particulate irritants present in cigarette smoke," said Wise.

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Menthol and sucrose sweeteners in cough drops, syrups may actually be what makes them effective.
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2012-26-13
Wednesday, 13 Jun 2012 01:26 PM
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