What about Oil of Oregano? - A follow up to my post on immuno-support and the flu
Following my post about the flu last week, a number of people asked me about Oil of Oregano. So, I thought I would give my two cents on it and basically outline a few things to be aware of if you use it.
First off, and this is through my experience, I see it work for perhaps 50% of people/patients when it’s used at the first sign of a cold or flu (and that includes resolving it completely, or helping people fight off a cold or flu more quickly). That’s not too bad, especially when you consider the estimated 10% effectiveness of the flu shot for this year (a good year for the flu shot hits between 40 to 50% effectiveness).
Keep in mind a few things though. Although it does have some effect on the immune system, Oil of Oregano, in my opinion, does not strengthen the immune system as well as some other immuno-supportive herbs. I'd consider it 'mildly' immuno-supportive, as well as mildly anti-inflammatory. I find it acts on more of an antiseptic action, that is, its components tend to kill off bacteria, viruses, fungus, etc. With this in mind, consider that it can potentially kill off the healthy bacteria in your body (the good kind that lives in your gut) just as well as the unhealthy bacteria (the infectious kind). Some will say it spares healthy bacteria and kills only the bad bacteria, but I really don’t see how it can be so specific, especially in light of digestive disturbances showing up in some patients taking it over an extended period of time (again, in my experience). So I feel anyone taking Oil of Oregano should also take a probiotic supplement in order to maintain a healthy bowel flora (and this will help to strengthen the immune system). In addition, it shouldn’t be taken long term, so don’t plan on taking it through the entire winter in hopes of fighting off a flu that way. You might do more harm than good by continually killing off your healthy bacteria.
In addition, the thymol that is present in Oil of Oregano is in a much higher concentration than in the raw herb and can put some strain on the liver. This can accumulate in the liver if it is taken for extended periods of time. This is another reason I wouldn’t advise taking it continually over the course of the entire winter.
Also, keep in mind that in essential oils there are high concentrations of components that can often irritate or even damage the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract. Most Oil of Oregano products put the essential oil of oregano into a base of olive oil or another form of ingestible oil in order to dilute it. I still find some people will get digestive irritation. ‘But I dilute it with a glass of water’, some people will say. You’re not actually diluting the oil at all if you take it with water. All oils are hydrophobic and therefore do not mix with water. This is why when you try to mix oil and water you just end up with a globule of oil suspended in the water (even if you stir it, you really only get a whole bunch small suspended globules that eventually come together again). This oil is not diluted in any way, it is just floating within the water. Oil, however, mixes with oil, so really, if you wanted to dilute Oil of Oregano further, mix it with another oil (again, olive oil or coconut oil would work just fine, even flaxseed oil or fish oil would work).
Finally, it is not advisable for pregnant women to take Oil of Oregano. It can stimulate menstruation and therefor has a stimulatory effect on the uterus and could potentially lead to a miscarriage.
All this being said, Oil of Oregano can have its place in helping people overcome a cold or flu. Some people swear by it and if you find it works for you that’s fantastic! Continue to use it then! Just be aware of it’s limitations and limit intake to two or three weeks in a row at most.
I hope this info helps in some way!
Yours in health,
Dr. Jeff Appelmann, BSc, ND