By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.
Oregano oil is the extract and, although it's not as strong as the essential oil, it appears to be useful both when consumed or applied to the skin. Essential oils, on the other hand, are not meant to be consumed.
Interestingly, oregano oil is an effective natural antibiotic and antifungal agent, and it may help you lose weight and lower your cholesterol levels.
What Is Oregano Oil?
Botanically known as Origanum vulgare, oregano is a flowering plant from the same family as mint. It's often used as an herb to flavor food.
Although it's native to Europe, it now grows all over the world.
Oregano has been popular ever since the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations used it for medicinal purposes. In fact, the name oregano comes from the Greek words "oros," meaning mountain, and "ganos," meaning joy or delight.
The herb has also been used for centuries as a culinary spice.
Oregano essential oil is made by air-drying the leaves and shoots of the plant. Once they're dried, the oil is extracted and concentrated by steam distillation.
Oregano essential oil can be mixed with a carrier oil and applied topically. However, it should not be consumed orally.
Oregano oil extract, on the other hand, can be produced via several extraction methods using compounds like carbon dioxide or alcohol. It's widely available as a supplement and can often be found in pill or capsule form.
Oregano contains compounds called phenols, terpenes, and terpenoids. They have powerful antioxidant properties and are responsible for its fragrance:
- Carvacrol. The most abundant phenol in oregano, it has been shown to stop the growth of several different types of bacteria.
- Thymol. This natural antifungal can also support the immune system and protect against toxins.
- Rosmarinic acid. This powerful antioxidant helps protect against damage caused by free radicals.
These compounds are thought to underlie oregano's many health benefits.
Here are 9 potential benefits and uses of oregano oil.
Oregano and the carvacrol it contains may help fight bacteria.
The Staphylococcus aureus bacterium is one of the most common causes of infection, resulting in ailments like food poisoning and skin infections.
One particular study looked at whether oregano essential oil improved the survival of 14 mice infected with Staphylococcus aureus.
It found that 43% of the mice given oregano essential oil lived past 30 days, a survival rate nearly as high as the 50% survival rate for mice that received regular antibiotics.
Research has also shown that oregano essential oil may be effective against some potentially antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
This includes Pseudomonas aeruginosa and E. coli, both of which are common causes of urinary and respiratory tract infections.
Although more human studies on the effects of oregano oil extract are needed, it contains many of the same compounds as oregano essential oil and may offer similar health benefits when used as a supplement.
One mouse study found oregano essential oil to be almost as effective as antibiotics against common bacteria, though much more research is needed.
2. May Help Lower Cholesterol
Studies have shown that oregano oil may help lower cholesterol.
In one study, 48 people with mildly high cholesterol were given diet and lifestyle advice to help lower their cholesterol. Thirty-two participants were also given 0.85 ounces (25 mL) of oregano oil extract after each meal.
After 3 months, those given the oregano oil had lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and higher HDL (good) cholesterol, compared with those who were just given diet and lifestyle advice.
Carvacrol, the main compound in oregano oil, has also been shown to help lower cholesterol in mice that were fed a high fat diet over 10 weeks.
The mice given carvacrol alongside the high fat diet had significantly lower cholesterol at the end of the 10 weeks, compared with those that were just given a high fat diet.
The cholesterol-lowering effect of oregano oil is thought to be the result of the phenols carvacrol and thymol.
Studies have shown that oregano may help lower cholesterol in people and mice with high cholesterol. This is thought to be the result of the compounds carvacrol and thymol.
3. Powerful Antioxidant
Antioxidants help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.
It's thought that free radical damage plays a role in aging and the development of some diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
Free radicals are everywhere and a natural product of metabolism.
However, they can build up in the body through exposure to environmental factors, such as cigarette smoke and air pollutants.
One older test-tube study compared the antioxidant content of 39 commonly used herbs and found that oregano had the highest concentration of antioxidants.
It found that oregano contained 3–30 times the levels of antioxidants in the other herbs studied, which included thyme, marjoram, and St. John's wort.
Gram per gram, oregano also has 42 times the antioxidant level of apples and 4 times that of blueberries. This is thought to be mostly due to its rosmarinic acid content.
Because oregano oil extract is very concentrated, you need much less oregano oil to reap the same antioxidant benefits as you would from fresh oregano.
Fresh oregano has a very high antioxidant content. In fact, it's much higher than that of most fruits and vegetables, gram per gram. The antioxidant content is concentrated in oregano oil.
4. Could Help Treat Yeast Infections
Yeast is a type of fungus. It can be harmless, but overgrowth can result in gut problems and infections, such as thrush.
The most well-known yeast is Candida, which is the most common cause of yeast infections worldwide.
In test-tube studies, oregano essential oil has been found to be effective against five different types of Candida, such as those that cause infections in the mouth and vagina. In fact, it was more effective than any other essential oil tested.
Test-tube studies have also found that carvacrol, one of the main compounds of oregano oil, is very effective against oral Candida.
High levels of the yeast Candida have also been associated with some gut conditions, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
A test-tube study on the effectiveness of oregano essential oil on 16 different strains of Candida concluded that oregano oil may be a good alternative treatment for Candida yeast infections. However, more research is needed.
Test-tube studies have shown that oregano essential oil is effective against Candida, the most common form of yeast.
5. May Improve Gut Health
Oregano may benefit gut health in a number of ways.
Gut symptoms like diarrhea, pain, and bloating are common and can be caused by gut parasites.
One older study gave 600 mg of oregano oil to 14 people who had gut symptoms as a result of a parasite. After daily treatment for 6 weeks, all participants experienced a reduction in parasites, and 77% were cured.
Participants also experienced a reduction in gut symptoms and tiredness associated with the symptoms.
Oregano may also help protect against another common gut complaint known as "leaky gut." This happens when the gut wall becomes damaged, allowing bacteria and toxins to pass into the bloodstream.
In a study on pigs, oregano essential oil protected the gut wall from damage and prevented it from becoming "leaky." It also reduced the number of E. coli bacteria in the gut.
Oregano oil may benefit gut health by killing gut parasites and protecting against leaky gut syndrome.
6. May Have Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Inflammation in the body is linked to a number of adverse health effects.
Research has shown that oregano oil may reduce inflammation.
One mouse study found that oregano essential oil, along with thyme essential oil, reduced inflammatory markers in those that had artificially induced colitis.
Carvacrol, one of the key components in oregano oil, has also been shown to reduce inflammation.
One study directly applied different concentrations of carvacrol to the swollen paws or ears of mice. Carvacrol reduced paw and ear swelling by 35–61% and 33–43%, respectively.
Oregano oil and its components may help reduce inflammation in mice, though human studies are needed.
7. Could Help Relieve Pain
Oregano oil has been investigated for its painkilling properties.
One older study in mice tested standard painkillers and essential oils, including oregano essential oil, for their ability to relieve pain.
It found that oregano essential oil significantly reduced pain in mice, exerting effects similar to those of the commonly used painkillers fenoprofen and morphine.
The research proposed these results were likely due to the carvacrol content of oregano.
A similar study found that oregano extract reduced pain in rats, and that the response was dose-dependent, meaning the more oregano extract the rats consumed, the less pain they appeared to feel.
Oregano oil may significantly reduce pain in mice and rats, exerting pain-relieving effects similar to those of some commonly used medications.
8. May Have Cancer-Fighting Properties
A few studies have indicated that carvacrol, one of the compounds of oregano oil, may have cancer-fighting properties.
In test-tube studies on cancer cells, carvacrol has demonstrated promising results against lung, liver, and breast cancer cells.
It has been found to inhibit cell growth and cause cancer cell death.
Although this is promising research, no studies have been carried out on people, so more research is needed.
Preliminary studies have shown that carvacrol — the most abundant compound in oregano oil — inhibits cancer cell growth and causes cell death in lung, liver, and breast cancer cells.
9. May Help You Lose Weight
Thanks to oregano's carvacrol content, oregano oil may aid weight loss.
In one study, mice were fed either a normal diet, high fat diet, or high fat diet with carvacrol. Those given carvacrol alongside their high fat diet gained significantly less weight and body fat than those just given a high fat diet.
Furthermore, carvacrol appeared to reverse the chain of events that can lead to the formation of fat cells.
More research is needed to demonstrate that oregano oil has a role in weight loss, but it may be worth trying as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Oregano oil may be beneficial for weight loss through the action of carvacrol, though human studies are needed.
How to Use Oregano Oil
Oregano oil extract is widely available in capsule and tablet form. It can be bought from most health food shops or online.
Because the strength of oregano supplements can vary, it's important to read the directions on the individual packet for instructions on how to use the product.
Oregano essential oil is also available and can be diluted with a carrier oil and applied topically. Note that no essential oil should be ingested.
There's no standard effective dose of oregano essential oil. However, it's often mixed with around 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of olive oil per drop of oregano essential oil and applied directly to the skin.
Like other essential oils, keep in mind that oregano essential oil should not be consumed orally.
If you're interested in taking oregano oil extract but currently taking prescription medications, make sure to consult your healthcare provider before adding it to your regimen.
In addition, oregano oil extract is not generally recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Oregano oil extract can be purchased in pill or capsule form and taken orally. Oregano essential oil is also available and can be diluted with a carrier oil and applied to the skin.
The Bottom Line
Oregano oil extract and oregano essential oil are both relatively cheap and readily available.
Oregano is higher in antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables, and it's packed full of powerful compounds called phenols.
Oregano also contains compounds that may be effective against bacterial and fungal infections, inflammation, and pain, among other conditions.
Overall, it appears to have several health benefits and may be useful as a natural treatment for some common health complaints.
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