Carvacrol is chemical which found in a number of plants and herbs such as wild bergamot, thyme and pepperwort, but it is most abundant in oregano. Carvacrol gives a warm sensation on the tongue, and gives oregano a slightly spicy flavour. Aside from giving a tough tingling sensation, carvacrol has a number of health benefits which I will discuss here.
Carvacrol and bacteria
Carvacrol can inhibit the growth and/ or kill an number of known pathogens which produce harmful toxins in the gut. Some of these pathogens are associated with gastroenteritis, haemorrhagic diarrhoea, kidney failure and enteritis to name a few. Carvacrol inhibits these bacteria by damaging the bacteria’s cell membrane integrity, and this link is well established. Taking a bit of oregano isn’t going to cure these illnesses, but this interaction with pathogenic bacteria does suggest that taking carvacrol can help balance the digestive system, and support the immune system to some extent.
What is particularly interesting, is carvacrol has a very minimal impact on probiotic species found in the gut. At concentrations which cause 97%-100% inhibition of pathogens, we only observe 3%-5% inhibition of probiotics. This makes carvacrol is great for digestive system health!
Carvacrol and the Human Body
A number of studies have shown that carvacrol can inhibit an enzyme called COX-2 (similar to the curcuminoids found in turmeric), which is responsible for causing inflammation. Whilst acute inflammation is an immune response which stimulates healing and is generally good, chronic inflammation is a precursor for a number of diseases, and is linked to cancer, bowel discomfort and poor healing of joints, and can even cause serious illness if it is persistent.
Although having some oregano is unlikely to combat inflammation, it can contribute to reducing mild inflammation which is a common ‘background’ problem with many modern diets and lifestyles.
Carvacrol has also been shown to protect DNA from damage and prevent cancer cells developing. Its cancer preventing properties have been shown in a number of separate studies, and some studies have even shown that carvacrol can induce apoptosis (cell destruction) in cancer cells, however the mechanism by which this is done is still unknown.
There are no known toxic effects of carvacrol, and it has been consumed by humans for hundreds of years suggesting there is no toxic effect. Studies have also shown that carvacrol is metabolised and excreted within 24 hours of consumption, which shows that there is very little risk of it building up in the body to any potential harmful level.
Content of carvacrol can vary from 5-75% of the oil in oregano (which is approximately 10% of oregano leaf). The wide variation in content makes it very difficult to calculate how much oregano you will need to consume for an effective dose. In vitro experiments have shown that 0.1mg (for which you would need to consume over 1 gram of leaf) was effective for inhibiting pathogens, but this amount would probably need to be much higher in your diet due to digestion rates/ dilution from other foods etc.
This isn’t to say small dosages won’t be effective though – every little helps, and no one nutrient is going to make you healthy. It is a combination of nutrients which the body needs.
Carvacrol has been shown to be very beneficial for the digestive system in helping to balance of microflora, and can also help to reduce inflammation and protect against cancer. Large amounts of carvacrol are difficult to consume in dosages which have been shown to have a clinically significant effect, the small amount you will get from adding a bit of oregano to your meal will certainly contribute to a healthier body.
W. Si. (2006). Antimicrobial activity of essential oils and structurally related synthetic food additives towards selected pathogenic and beneficial gut bacteria. journal of applied microbiology. 100 (2), 296-305.
R.J.W. Lambert. (2001). A study of the minimum inhibitory concentration and mode of action of oregano essential oil, thymol and carvacrol. journal of applied microbiology. 91 (3), 453-462.
Slamenová D. (2007). DNA-protective effects of two components of essential plant oils carvacrol and thymol on mammalian cells cultured in vitro.. Neoplasma. 54 (2), 108-112.
Andreas K.J. Veenendaal. (2012). Sub-lethal levels of carvacrol reduce Salmonella Typhimurium motility and invasion of porcine epithelial cells . Veterinary Microbiology. 157 (1), 200-207.
K.M. Arunasree. (2010). Anti-proliferative effects of carvacrol on a human metastatic breast cancer cell line, MDA-MB 231. Phytomedicine. 17 (8), 581-588.