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Tokyo University of Science researchers have developed new menthol derivatives, commonly associated with mint, which may serve as an innovative treatment for weight loss and inflammation relief. Their study, published in the journal Immunology, suggests that these compounds could be a promising new tool in the fight against obesity and related health problems.

Menthol merged with amino acids to produce methyl esters

Menthol is well-known for its cooling effect and therapeutic benefits, such as pain relief and inflammation reduction. Researchers, led by Prof. Gen-ichiro Arimura, aimed to improve these properties by chemically altering menthol. They experimented with merging menthol with amino acids, the fundamental components of proteins, to form compounds called menthyl esters.

Researchers created various menthyl esters and examined their impact on inflammation in macrophages, a type of immune cell. Macrophages are essential for the body’s response to infection or injury, acting as first responders. However, if macrophages are excessively active, they can cause chronic inflammation, which is associated with numerous health issues.

The research team discovered that two menthyl esters, MV and MI, exhibited strong anti-inflammatory effects in macrophages, significantly lowering the production of inflammatory molecules such as TNF-α and IL-6. These compounds proved more effective in reducing inflammation than menthol itself. Prof. Arimura noted that their interest in plant-based components that benefit human health led them to develop these menthol derivatives.

Methyl esters interact with liver X receptor

Menthyl esters MV and MI exhibit anti-inflammatory properties through a mechanism distinct from menthol. Unlike menthol, which targets TRPM8, MV and MI penetrate cells and engage with the liver X receptor (LXR). LXR serves as a key regulator of inflammation and lipid metabolism, dampening inflammatory responses when activated. MV and MI bind to and activate LXR, collaborating with it to mitigate inflammation. Their interaction with LXR differs from other LXR-activating compounds, indicating a unique mode of action for these menthyl esters.

Researchers discovered that menthyl esters (MV and MI) possess potent anti-inflammatory and anti-obesity properties. These compounds hindered fat accumulation in adipocytes, the fat cells, by impeding adipogenesis, the process of immature fat cells maturing into fat-storing cells.