Sweaty, febrile to over 101 F temperature, and feeling like 10-pound ball-and-chains were weighing my legs down, I was willing to try anything to feel better. Two drops under the tongue of this pungent oregano oil promised to tackle the unruly virus invading my body. Here goes, I thought, as I inhaled the vapors from the spicy drops hitting my tongue. If it doesn’t kill the virus, I feared the taste might just end up killing me! But then, just as fast it hit me, the bitterness dissolved. I felt my cheeks burn a little bit and a warmth spread throughout my body. An hour (and a hot flash) later, my fever sweat itself out, and I was on my way to recovering from what I suspect was a typical cold-virus. What is really IN this stuff, I wondered? The scientist in me was intrigued…
What it is: Oregano is a plant that has been used as a food seasoning since ancient times. The common name of oregano is given to several species: The most common are the Origanum (family: Lamiaceae) native of Europe, and the Lippia (family: Verbenaceae), native of Mexico. You will probably encounter it most often as a seasoning used in marinara sauce, pizza, and numerous Italian dishes, among many others.
The Hype: According to multiple claims, Oil of Oregano can treat everything from sinus infections and colds, parasites and infections, to foot or nail fungus. It is purported to be antimicrobial (antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal), anti-inflammatory, and a potent anti-oxidant. But how much of this is rooted in actual fact?
The Science: Aromatic plants, like oregano, have been used since ancient times for their preservative and medicinal properties, in addition to aromatizing and flavoring food. These properties can be attributed to the essential oils: complex mixtures of volatile compounds. Two main compounds of oregano are carvacrol and thymol, which are responsible for the characteristic odor, antimicrobial, and antioxidant activity of oregano oil. Scientists looked at interactions of the oil and its major component, carvacrol, against the human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV), a major cause of pneumonia in children and in the elderly. Carvacrol alone was effective against HRSV, but oregano oil as a whole was more effective against HRSV and other viruses* tested with low cytoxicity. On a cellular level, carvacrol and thymol also work as antibiotics by increasing the permeability of bacterial cell membranes, and thus, threatening the integrity of the invading bacteria, especially those causing sinusitis and skin infections. In addition, oregano oil has antioxidant properties and can scavenge free radicals in your body[4, 5]. Increasing evidence shows indicates that brain dysfunction, heart disease, immune system decline, and inflammation may result from free-radical induced cellular damage, which could, in part, be prevented by the action of essential oils. Carvacrol may also exhibit anti-cancer effects, inhibiting growth of oral squamous cell cancer and prostate cancer cells**.
How to Use: 2 drops under the tongue or 4-6 drops in tea or juice. Not meant for long-term use. Use for 1-week maximum at a time.
The Fine Print: Side Effects of Oregano Oil. Oregano oil may cause some people to experience a stomach ache after ingestion. Avoid this oil if you are allergic to other plants from the same Lamiaceae family, which include: mint, lavender, sage, and basil. Oregano oil is also NOT advisable for infants and children. Pregnant or nursing women should avoid oregano oil both topically and orally; it can increase uterine blood circulation and deteriorate the womb lining protecting the fetus. Oregano oil also has a potential to induce menstruation, and may be dangerous to an unborn child. If you are taking medication, please check with your doctor first before trying oil of oregano, as it can change the effect of medication in your body.
Bottom Line: If you are not on other medication and are suffering from a cold, this spicy oil might just do the trick for you. Studies do seem to show antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor properties of oregano oil and its active components.
*Currently, however, no studies have been done with oil of oregano and rhinovirus, the main cause of the common cold.
**Mechanism of inhibition for oral squamous cell cancer: upregulation of cell cycle inhibitor P21 and in prostate cancer: inhibition of TRPM7 channels and suppression of PI3K/Akt and MAPK signaling pathway
1. Perez-Roses, R., et al., Biological and Nonbiological Antioxidant Activity of Some Essential Oils. J Agric Food Chem, 2016. 64(23): p. 4716-24.
2. Pilau, M.R., et al., Antiviral activity of the Lippia graveolens (Mexican oregano) essential oil and its main compound carvacrol against human and animal viruses. Braz J Microbiol, 2011. 42(4): p. 1616-24.
3. Lambert, R.J., et al., A study of the minimum inhibitory concentration and mode of action of oregano essential oil, thymol and carvacrol. J Appl Microbiol, 2001. 91(3): p. 453-62.
4. Miguel, M.G., Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of essential oils: a short review. Molecules, 2010. 15(12): p. 9252-87.
5. Amorati, R., M.C. Foti, and L. Valgimigli, Antioxidant activity of essential oils. J Agric Food Chem, 2013. 61(46): p. 10835-47.
6. Dai, W., et al., Carvacrol suppresses proliferation and invasion in human oral squamous cell carcinoma. Onco Targets Ther, 2016. 9: p. 2297-304.
7. Luo, Y., et al., Carvacrol Alleviates Prostate Cancer Cell Proliferation, Migration, and Invasion through Regulation of PI3K/Akt and MAPK Signaling Pathways. Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2016. 2016: p. 1469693.