Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC is a clinician, Naturopathic Practitioner, clinical researcher, author, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport. His work has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals and he speaks at conferences around the globe.
Harnessing the Benefits of Oregano Oil for Gut Symptoms and Overall Wellness
Oil of oregano contains active ingredients with antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties.
The natural antibiotic qualities of oregano may help to clear out stubborn yeast infections and bacterial infections.
The pathogen you’re dealing with doesn’t really matter — oil of oregano is useful to correct an overall imbalance in your gut environment.
Antimicrobials like oil of oregano are useful as extra help to balance digestive health but are not your first line of gut defense.
Before introducing oregano, try making improvements to your diet and introducing probiotics.
Make sure the oil of oregano you choose is suitable for internal consumption.
When you think of oregano, the first thing that might come to mind is pizza or pasta sauce.
But the uses of this Mediterranean herb (Latin name Origanum vulgare)go far beyond its role in the kitchen.
Oil of oregano is extracted from the Italian oregano plant, specifically from the oregano leaves. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and strong antibacterial activity that can help cleanse the gut of pathogens and improve chronic gut symptoms.
The active ingredients in oil of oregano belong to the phenol family and include:
Oregano oil and other natural antimicrobials are step number three in the Great-in-8 protocol for gut healing that I outline in Healthy Gut, Healthy You. They certainly aren’t necessary for everyone with gut imbalances, and the more fundamental steps of diet changes and probiotics should always come first.
However, a number of my patients, especially those with trickier gut problems, have used antimicrobials, including oil of oregano, with great results. For my patient Mona, for example, they proved a game-changer for chronic reflux and IBS, in conjunction with a low FODMAP diet and probiotics.
Let’s dive into oil of oregano benefits and how you can incorporate oregano into a gut healing plan.
Oil of Oregano Benefits
Oil of oregano extract has a long history of use in the human population as an herbal medicine.
Science is only just starting to validate the traditional uses of oregano. More research is needed from human clinical trials to fully understand the health benefits of oregano oil. However, we already have enough studies to give a good insight into the probable benefits of oregano oil in people.
Benefits Found in Human Studies
The following studies have noted these oil of oregano benefits in human patients.
Gastrointestinal infections: A randomized controlled trial (RCT) found that oregano oil was associated with significant improvements in Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and E. coli infections in patients with metabolic syndrome .
Notably, oregano oil improved gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and flatulence. Additionally, oregano did not lead to significant disruption of the gut microbiome of the patients, indicating a more gentle effect than antibiotics.
Lung function: Two separate RCTs found that carvacrol from oregano oil helped improve lung function, inflammation, and respiratory symptoms in asthma patients and people with lung damage [2, 3].
Intestinal parasites: A small human study examined patients with fatigue and chronic GI symptoms who tested positive for fecal parasites .
With oregano oil taken daily over a period of six weeks, 93% (13 out of 14 patients) were able to eliminate their parasites.
Wound healing: An RCT found that oregano oil helped enhance wound healing and reduce pathogenic skin microorganisms (Staphylococcus aureus) in patients who had undergone surgery .
The following are findings about oregano oil that come largely from animal or in vitro studies (performed on cells or tissues in the lab). They cannot be given as much credence as human clinical trials, but are interesting nevertheless. These studies suggest oregano oil, or its active ingredients, may improve:
You may have noticed that many of the effects of oregano relate to gut health. The important benefits oregano can bring to gut health are its strong antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Together, these can help cleanse the intestines and clear out any lingering bacterial infections, overgrowths, or fungal infections, which in turn can have wider benefits for health.
For background, many symptoms and conditions such as colitis, thyroid issues, and general brain fog and fatigue start in the gut. They can be the result of imbalances and lack of diversity in gut bacteria (gut dysbiosis), small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or fungal or parasitic infections [15, 16, 17].
Oregano oil is a valuable tool because of its broad spectrum antimicrobial capabilities. You don’t necessarily need to know exactly what pathogen you’re dealing with to use oil of oregano — rather, you can use it as a tool to correct an overall imbalance or pathogenic load in your gut environment.
Some of the specifics of how oregano oil constituents can cleanse the gut of pathogens and support a balanced gut environment include:
Carvacrol inhibits food-borne pathogens like E. coli, B. cereus, and salmonella .
Carvacrol also inhibits fungi like Candida, as well as inhibits biofilms, a kind of sticky layer that bacteria produce to protect themselves .
Thymol is an effective reducer of inflammation in the gut, helping to protect the gastric mucosa (lining), improve digestive enzyme production, and heal ulcers .
Rosmarinic acid has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, reducing harmful free radicals’ ability to cause cellular damage .
Choosing an Oregano Oil Product
When looking for a quality oregano oil product, note that there is a difference between therapeutic-grade oil of oregano and oregano essential oil used for aromatherapy.
Oil of oregano is safe to ingest and use internally while oregano essential oil for aromatherapy should only be applied topically. For topical use, a few drops of oregano oil can be added to a carrier oil such as coconut oil or olive oil for skin use (or it can be aerosolized in a diffuser).
Each has its own uses, but you should stick to a therapeutic quality oil of oregano for internally treating gut infections or helping to lower inflammation.
When to Start Antimicrobials
Before you jump right in with oil of oregano, let’s look at where it should come in a balanced approach to healing your gut.
Check the flowchart below, and you’ll see that antimicrobials, including oil of oregano, feature as the third step (“remove”) in my eight-step protocol for pursuing troublesome symptoms being driven by a problem in your gut.
In a gut healing program, it generally makes the most sense to tackle your diet first, followed by a regimen of probiotics to help balance your gut. There’s good scientific evidence and treatment guidelines from around the world to support this [21, 22].
If these two steps aren’t effective, herbal antimicrobials like oregano oil can be added as the next part of your gut healing journey.
As the foundation of your gut health, we recommend following a nutrient-rich diet that:
Greatly reduces or eliminates foods that can irritate the delicate lining of the gut and contribute to microbial imbalances
Incorporates foods that feed commensal bacteria (the good guys)
Heals and seals a “leaky gut” (aka increased intestinal permeability)
Allows you to identify trigger foods as you eliminate and then reintroduce them
For most people, the Paleo diet is the place to start. Research has shown this diet can reduce inflammation and calm the immune system by removing trigger foods, including processed grains and sugar, chemical additives, unhealthy fats, and common problem foods like dairy, soy, and gluten .
If there isn’t a significant change in your symptoms with the Paleo diet, you can move on to other diets like the low-FODMAP diet or a low-histamine diet, depending on your symptoms. It may take a few weeks to find a compatible diet that works for your body and makes you feel good. When you reach this point, you can move on to step two.
Step 2: Add Probiotics
After your diet has been addressed, the next step is to add in probiotic supplements, which can help:
Increase the healthy bacteria levels in your gut, which can also begin to naturally reduce the harmful microbes even without antimicrobials like oregano oil 
Most probiotics contain a spectrum of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria probiotic strains, but I also recommend adding Saccharomyces boulardii (a beneficial yeast) and a soil-based probiotic for a well-rounded protocol that addresses the whole microbial community in your gut.
Each type of probiotic has different benefits and targets, and meta-analyses have shown that multi-strain probiotics tend to improve gut symptoms more than single-strain probiotics [30, 31]
Introduce Antimicrobials Slowly
If you’ve completed the above two steps, and you’ve seen some improvements but some of your symptoms still persist, this is the time to introduce antimicrobial agents like oregano oil into your treatment regimen.
Natural antimicrobials can resolve the trickier symptoms of gut imbalances — such as brain fog, fatigue, and any stubborn GI issues like bloating and constipation — for many people.
However, that doesn’t mean you should jump in with a high dose right away. In my clinical experience people, especially those who have had pathogen overgrowth in the gut for a long time, may experience a temporary worsening of symptoms that occurs when pathogens die and release certain chemicals into their bloodstream.
Symptoms of a die-off might include:
Flu-like symptoms, including nausea and sweating
On the one hand, this would indicate that the antimicrobial is doing its job and killing the pathogens. On the other hand, the additional symptoms may set you back in your healing journey, and you may need a short period of recovery before you continue with your protocol.
Some people also do better with certain antimicrobials over others. If oil of oregano is too strong for you, or not strong enough, you could give other compounds like berberine or artemisinin a try.
It’s best to experiment and find one or two antimicrobials that work really well for you. I suggest you then rotate them as long as you need to for health improvement.
A Note About Antimicrobial Resistance
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when a bacteria, virus, or fungus adapts over time to resist a certain antimicrobial agent. It will either take a higher dose of the antimicrobial to have antibacterial properties or it will no longer be effective at all.
To decrease the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in the overall population, we should always take care when using any kind of antimicrobial including natural types like oil of oregano.
Fortunately, due to more broad-spectrum pharmacology, herbal antibiotics are not as likely to cause antibiotic resistance as conventional drugs .
Rotating antimicrobials every month or so, as recommended above, will also keep the pathogens you’re trying to eliminate from recognizing the antimicrobial and developing resistance to it.
Taking the Next Step
If you were considering oil of oregano or other antimicrobial agents for your gut issues, this article will hopefully have helped you. But it may also be beneficial to get some expert guidance on your next steps. To do this you can reach out and schedule a consultation with the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine, either in person or virtually.
Our integrative doctors and health coaches have helped dozens of patients identify and heal their gut imbalances using a combination of diet, lifestyle, and supplementation only when needed. Our goal is to get you back to living your healthiest life as quickly as possible.
The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.
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