by Karen Mullins, DOM and Human Para
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a perennial herb in the mint family that is native to the Mediterranean region and has been used in cooking and medicine for centuries. It is sometimes referred to as “wild marjoram” in Europe. The compounds that give oregano its unique aroma include:
- Thymol – also found in thyme, this is an antiseptic compound.
- Pinene – may have anti-cancer effects.
- Limonene – the oil of citrus fruit peels.
- Carvacrol – a safe, yet powerful antimicrobial.
- Ocimene – may have anti-fungal properties.
- Caryophyllene – more commonly found in cloves, this has anti-inflammatory properties.
However, oregano can be harmful if not used correctly.
Essential Oil vs. Supplement Form
Knowing the difference between the essential Oil of Oregano form and the supplement form of Oil of Oregano is critical. The essential oil form (purchased from vendors like Young Living or doTERRA) is many times more concentrated than the supplement form and needs to be properly diluted. Do not take an essential oil blend of oregano oil orally! It will burn any tissue that it contacts. While both forms are produced from the leaves of the oregano plant, the distinguishing factors are potency and dilution.
Essential oil blends go through a refined steam distillation process and are bottled at full concentration. This form of oregano has very different properties because of its potency.
The supplement form of Oil of Oregano contains therapeutic levels of carvacrol and thymol. When purchased in a liquid or capsule supplement it is diluted by using a fat carrier, often olive oil. Proper dilution makes it consumable.
The Difference between Medicine and Poison is the Dose
Carvacrol and Thymol
Carvacrol and thymol are plant phenols (a group of chemical compounds) not only found in Oil of Oregano, but thyme, pepperwort and wild bergamot. Oil of oregano has a very high concentration of carvacrol, which gives it medicinal properties. However, carvacrol can also be produced synthetically. While some synthetic versions might list a higher percentage of carvacrol, this “potency” may not prove as effective as the non-synthetic version.
Some oil of oregano products are made in a less than ethical fashion. Certain companies are genetically engineer the oregano stalks with a noxious bacterial protein to manipulate high levels of carvacrols. Naturally made, wild crafted oregano oil cannot be standardized. The amount of carvacrol varies between 63% and 79%, so each batch has slight variation. The synergy between the active ingredients is altered by the engineering of synthetic carvacrol. Any product claiming to contain 85% or more carvacrol is suspect, as this is not realistic in nature.
Thymol, in high levels, is very toxic and can harm the heart and the liver. In low doses (less than 2% in a solution) it can be therapeutic. Wild grown, naturally produced Oil of Oregano contains 1-2% thymol. Engineered products contain up to 40% thymol, which may be detrimental.
One study has shown that carvacrol and thymol can reduce antibiotic resistance of certain zoonotic bacteria.
Oil of Oregano for Digestive Issues
Digestive conditions most likely have an infectious component. Therefore, people with digestive illnesses (such as IBS or SIBO) may benefit from natural anti-microbials such as Oil of Oregano, which can disrupt the cell membrane of harmful bacteria. Candida, a fungal infection, is another common issue with digestive diseases. Oil of Oregano has shown effectiveness against Candida. This oil is also highly recommended for any food-borne illness such as salmonella or e-coli. It has also been found an effective treatment for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and C. difficile, as it has an effect an gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.
Oil of Oregano for Crohn’s Disease
Mycobacterium avium spp. paratuberculosis (MAP) appears to play a critical role in Crohn’s disease. Some Crohn’s patients have found relief from Oil of Oregano, as it has been proven to kill MAP. In one study, oregano and carvacrol were found to have an inhibitory effect on the growth of MAP in vitro. A 2017 follow-up study showed that the mechanism by which oregano and carvacrol may inhibit MAP is by disrupting the cell membrane, rather than inhibiting its energy production.
Oil of Oregano for Ulcerative Colitis
Like Crohn’s disease, there is some indication that ulcerative colitis (UC) may be caused by an infection. Both Fusobaterium varium and MAP have been found in UC patients. Oil of Oregano may therefore benefit UC patients by inhibiting bacterial growth. A 2011 trial of a medication in 27 patients where the main component was carvacrol was found to have a significant effect on disease flares and remission in UC patients. Another 2015 study in rats showed carvacrol significantly reduced inflammation in the colon which triggers colon cancer.
Tips for Oil of Oregano Supplementation
Since all bodies are different, discussing supplementation of Oil of Oregano with a qualified functional medicine doctor or health care professional is strongly recommended. Listening to the body, assessing symptoms, and monitoring how your body is reacting to the oil is crucial. Some people can tolerate much higher doses than others. There are many factors involved; including weight, sensitivity, state of illness, bacterial load, etc. The most important thing to remember when exploring this oil is to START SLOW and build your way up to comfortable doses.
For further information on Oil of Oregano, see the Digestive Warrior blog.
Thank you to Dr. Mullins for contributing a significant portion of this article for use on the Human Para website.
Karen Mullins, DOM, is a nationally certified Doctor of Oriental Medicine, licensed as a Primary Healthcare Provider in New Mexico, as well as a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner. Her site, Digestive Warrior, seeks to provide healing through education, mindfulness and discipline.
None of the information on this site should be regarded as medical advice. Please consult a qualified health care practitioner for treatment and questions.