The wellness space (and even some celebs, such as Kristen Bell and Emily Blunt) seems to be all about oregano oil these days. Yes, you read that right — oil of oregano, as in the earthy herb found in your beloved pizza and spaghetti sauce. If you ask fans, they might tell you that the oil’s perks are a-plenty, including an ability to support gut health and ease physical pain. But is the hype over the herby oil real? Ahead, a closer look at the health benefits of oregano oil, according to registered dietitians and research.
What Is Oregano Oil?
Oregano oil is a substance that’s found in the leaves and stems of the oregano plant, aka the herb commonly used to flavor dishes (vs. as the main ingredient), according to the University of Nebraska. It can be extracted using steam distillation, a process that uses boiling liquid to separate compounds, thereby removing the oil from the plant so that it can be used as a supplement or topic product. can be used as a supplement or topical product.
It’s super important to note that not all oregano oil is safe to consume. In general, supplemental oregano oil (i.e. the edible stuff) is often called “oregano oil” or “oil of oregano,” according to Isa Kujawski, M.P.H., R.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Mea Nutrition. This version is usually found as capsules or diluted with other oils such as coconut, almond, or olive oil, she says. It’s also called a supplement because it’s meant to be taken in addition to a healthy diet, and it can’t replace food. (Related: What Is MCT Oil and Is It the Next Superfood?)
“Oregano essential oil, on the other hand, is 100-percent undiluted oregano oil,” explains Kujawski. This type is highly concentrated and should also be diluted, but only for topical use or aromatherapy. That said, this article will focus on the oregano oil you’ll find as supplements.
Health Benefits of Oregano Oil
TBH, there isn’t a plethora of research on the health benefits of oregano oil (or oregano, for that matter). Most of the available studies involve animals or are lab-based, so the effects may or may not be the same in humans. Still, oregano oil has some beneficial compounds that are worth highlighting, which are associated with the following effects.
Staves Off Chronic Conditions
Thanks to its rich cocktail of antioxidants, oregano oil may reduce free radicals and oxidative stress — and therefore, chronic disease. Need a refresher? Free radicals are harmful molecules that, in excess, damage healthy cells, according to a scientific article in Biochemistry Research International (BRI). If too many free radicals build up, oxidative stress develops, contributing to chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
Antioxidants may help reduce the risk by easing oxidative stress. Such is the case of carvacrol, one of the main antioxidants in oregano oil, says Kujawski. Not only does carvacrol scavenge and remove free radicals but also increases the antioxidant properties of cells, according to a 2021 article. This can help stave off tissue damage caused by oxidative stress, potentially decreasing the risk of chronic disease. Another major antioxidant in oregano oil is thymol, adds Kujawski. Thymol, like carvacrol, also neutralizes free radicals and enhances antioxidants in other cells, according to a 2020 scientific article. Talk about a dynamic duo.
Might Relieve Pain
The carvacrol in oregano oil may also play a role in pain relief. Here’s the lowdown: Oxidative stress can lead to inflammation (and vice versa), according to a scientific review in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Over time, chronic inflammation can manifest as physical pain, including muscle and joint pain. But as the carvacrol in oregano oil reduces free radicals (and thus, oxidative stress), it may also help ease this inflammation-induced pain, explains Jonathan Purtell, R.D., a registered dietitian at Lenox Hill Hospital. (Related: 15 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods You Should Be Eating Regularly)
Additionally, a 2020 lab study found that carvacrol can suppress cellular pathways involved in pain, suggesting that the antioxidant might have a pain-relieving effect. Similarly, one animal study found that carvacrol reduced inflammation and pain in mice. (ICYW: They determined the pain levels of the mice by measuring certain brain chemicals involved in pain.) But despite these findings, more human research is necessary to understand how, if at all, these properties affect pain in people.
Promotes Cognitive Health
As mentioned earlier, oxidative stress plays a key role in the development of chronic diseases. This includes neurodegenerative disease, a condition marked by the decline of nerve cells in the brain/nervous system. In this case, free radicals damage neurons (nerve cells) and reduce their function, according to a 2019 review. Over time, this can increase the risk of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. But a 2021 systematic review shows that trusty antioxidant carvacrol can help keep oxidative stress in check, helping to protect against neurodegenerative diseases. So much so, in fact, that researchers note that the compound may be an “alternative treatment for neurological disorders.”.
Supports Gut Health
Your gut is home to trillions (and trillions) of microorganisms, collectively called your gut microbiota. If there are more good vs. bad buggers, your gut (and therefore, digestion) will be happy, healthy, and “balanced.” But if there are too many bad guys, your gut can become imbalanced, resulting in symptoms such as diarrhea and bloating, explains Kujawski. Oregano oil might just be able to help with that, though. The main compounds in oregano oil — carvacrol, thymol, and monoterpenes — have antimicrobial properties, says Kujawski. As such, they offer a protective effect that can combat those “bad” bacteria and help to rebalance the gut, says Purtell. Translation: Healthier digestion. (Related: What Is a Gut-Healing Diet, Really?)
Might Promote Heart Health
Oregano oil may help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise “good” HDL cholesterol, says Kelsey Lorencz, R.D., registered dietitian and founder of Graciously Nourished. This is noteworthy because high LDL levels and low HDL levels are risk factors for heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Carvacrol and thymol, the main compounds in oregano, are thought to be responsible for this effect,” says Lorecnz. While such effects have been observed in some human studies, more research is definitely needed to truly understand how, if at all, this happens in humans.
The antioxidant properties of carvacrol and thymol might lend a hand, too. How? Well, oxidative stress increases the risk of heart disease by constricting blood vessels (causing high blood pressure) and damaging heart tissue. But antioxidants such as carvacrol and thymol can help ease oxidative stress, thereby potentially reducing the risk of heart issues.
Potential Risks of Oregano Oil
Despite the range of oregano oil benefits, it’s not for everyone. For starters, it’s possible to be allergic to oregano oil — though allergies to herbs and spices, in general, are super rare, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. And if you’re allergic to herbs such as rosemary, thyme, mint, tulsi, lemon balm, and marjoram, you should probably steer clear of oregano oil, as they’re all related to oregano. Some folks may also be sensitive to the phenolic compounds (active substances such as carvacrol) in oregano oil, says Kujawski. “[This could cause] symptoms like [excess urination], upset stomach, headache, or fatigue.” (Related: What You Need to Know About Allergy Testing)
“Women who are pregnant or lactating should [also] avoid oregano oil, as it may be harmful to babies,” she adds. In fact, a 2020 article suggests that oregano extracts may increase the risk of bleeding and miscarriage.
If you’re taking anticoagulants (aka blood thinners) to prevent blood clots, talk to your doc before taking oregano oil, as the supplement can thin the blood, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM). In other words, taking prescription blood thinners and oregano oil can increase this effect and ultimately, the risk of excessive bleeding.
How to Buy and Use Oregano Oil
You can find oregano oil — which comes in liquid and capsule forms — in the supplement aisle of health food stores as well as some grocery and drug stores, says Kujawski. Typically, the liquid version (Buy It, $30, gnc.com) comes in a glass bottle with a dropper, which is used to add a few drops of oil under your tongue. But take note: Liquid oregano oil tastes like actual oregano, which might not be your jam. So, if you dislike the taste of the herb, the capsules (Buy It, $36, gnc.com) are a good option, says Kujawski. This form consists of liquid oregano oil encased in a capsule (or as soft gel pills) so you’ll detect a light oregano taste, if any at all.
A quick reminder: Supplemental oregano oil is not the same as oregano essential oil, which is unsafe to eat. Always, always check the label before consuming any oil as a supplement. A typical bottle of oregano essential oil will state “external use only” or “not for internal use” on the packaging. Safety first, folks!
Now, before you add oregano oil (or any supplement) to your routine, there are a few things to consider. “Check with your doctor or pharmacist, [especially] if you’re currently taking any medications,” advises Lorencz. “While natural supplements might appear to be safe, they can interact with medications and may not be suitable for everyone, depending on your current health status.”
The supplement industry is also not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, says Purtell. In other words, there is no one governing organization that monitors supplements — such as oregano oil — for quality, safety, and efficiency. So, to find a quality supplement, look for oregano oil supplements created by companies that are certified by third-party organizations, such as NSF International, US Pharmacopeia (USP), and Consumer Labs, says Purtell. “These third-party testers [often] check for accuracy of ingredients, ingredient potency, evidence of heavy metals, molds, and bacteria.” In other words, they check to ensure what’s on the label is actually inside the supplement. You can determine if a product is third-party certified by reading its packaging or checking the brand’s website. (Related: Are Dietary Supplements Really Safe?)
How to Use Oregano Oil
Okay, so you’ve found a liquid or capsule supplement. What’s the appropriate dosage? Well, there isn’t enough research to determine an effective dose, according to the NLM. Your best bet is to follow the dosage suggested by the manufacturer on the supplement’s packaging, says Lorencz. This will ensure that the amount you’re taking is safe. But if you’re still unsure, talk to your doc; they’re the best person to determine how much oregano oil if any at all, you should take.
If you don’t love the taste of it solo, oregano oil can be added to recipes such as sauces, dressings, and dips (e.g. hummus or guacamole). The oregano flavor works especially well in tomato sauce, as most recipes call for oregano anyway. (Homemade pizza, anyone?) This way, you can reap the rewards of oregano oil in a more palatable way.
Finally, it’s worth noting that no supplement — including oregano oil — is a cure-all. Sure, the oil provides antioxidants that may support the gut, brain, and more, but it’s not a replacement for a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you choose to add oregano oil to your supplement lineup, think of it as a sidekick in your wellness journey, rather than the main component. (Up next: How to Use the Five Most Common Herbs)