If you chew a mint leaf, you will feelas your mouth begins to spread a pleasant coolness. This is due to the substance of menthol, which is contained in mint and affects the system of receptors that are located on the mucous membranes in the mouth. Scientists have found that in the mint, this substance appeared by chance. Thanks for this follows the evolution of the plant. In addition, the researchers decided to dig deeper and find out exactly how menthol creates a feeling of coldness in the mouth.
How did menthol appear in mint?
According to biologist and chemist Paul Wise, ancestorsmodern mint plants (and there are 42 species in the world today) have developed the ability to synthesize menthol and use it as a protective mechanism. Mint is known to have a very strong cooling effect and odor, which may not like and scare animals. In other words, those plant species that were able to adapt to external threats, as well as pass on their genes to subsequent generations, were able to survive to the present day.
Today, mint is widely used in the production of a variety of products. From food to cosmetics. And mint due to its properties used in medicine.
Why does mint cool?
Simply put, menthol contained in mintdoesn't really cool our mouth. It only creates the illusion of this, forcing our brain to think that it’s cold in the mouth. Brain menthol influences through a system of sensitive receptors. These are nerve cells (neurons) and nerve endings, thanks to which we can feel the impact on our body of external stimuli (cold or heat), as well as pain. This is a kind of defense mechanism that allows us to protect ourselves from injury.
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Located on our skin and mucous membranereceptor neurons monitor the environment with the help of special proteins that are in the cell membrane (membrane). These proteins control access to the membrane and the tiny tunnels behind it, called ion channels. Through these channels to the neuron receives information about some kind of external stimulus. Usually, ion channels always remain closed. But as soon as a receptor protein detects some kind of irritant, the cell membrane opens, passing information and particles of this stimulus (ions) about this stimulus to the neuron.
As soon as the receptor proteins feel the effects of a chemical or temperature change, they enter into the work and allow ions to penetrate the membrane, explains Paul Wise.
These ions cause nerve cells to createtiny electrical signals (pulses) that are sent to the brain. These signals contain information that tells the brain that our language, for example, is cold.
It should be clarified that receptor proteins are arrangedso as to respond only to certain (their) stimuli. For example, scientists say that the receptor protein with the complex name TRPM8 is responsible for transmitting information about the effects on the cold receptor. It is activated, for example, when we eat ice cream. Or drink cold water.
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The reason menthol creates similarthe feeling of cold mouth is that TRPM8 also reacts to this substance. Getting to the receptor, it causes the neuron to create a nerve impulse, as when exposed to a real low temperature. As a result, our brain believes that the language is cold, although in reality it is not. At the same time, a high concentration of menthol, which has fallen on the mucous membrane of our tongue, can also cause pain. Usually, a glass of some dairy product (milk, kefir, ryazhenka, etc.) helps to remove them.
Researchers add that in a similar way,but with the opposite effect, capsaicin acts on our receptors. It is contained in various types of chilli peppers and a burning taste will come to it. Therefore, when we eat food that is abundantly sprinkled with pepper, it seems to us that it is very hot.
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