It seems like every time I get so much as the sniffles these days, someone is shoving oregano oil at me. This is totally déjà vu because about 10 years ago every time I got the sniffles, everyone shoved echinacea at me.
Now people are over echinacea.
It's no longer touted as the cure-all it once was by everyone everywhere. Recent clinical trials have not confirmed its effectiveness.
So is oregano all it's cracked up to be? Some say the antibacterial oil's the great new cure not only for colds and flu, but even for cancer.
It certainly has antibacterial properties, but there have been virtually no clinical trials to support any of the claims. Take it in good faith and at your own risk.
What the experts say
"Oregano oil has been shown to have antibacterial and antiparasitic properties, but [studies have] predominantly been done in tissue cultures, in cells cloned in dishes in a lab. In one study which looked at oil of oregano in patients with intestinal disease and parasitic-type illnesses, it shown to have a little bit of activity, but this really wasn't a strong study. Another looked at an oil of oregano in mouse cancer cells. That's the extent of the literature, so to make a leap of faith into treating cancer patients with it is a bit of a stretch. It's not really been evaluated for safety and efficacy at all in people."
AARON SCHIMMER , staff physician and scientist, Princess Margaret Hospital, Ontario Cancer Institute, assistant professor, U of T
"There are no clinical trials that support oregano's efficacy for any of the claims. Now, that doesn't prove that it doesn't work. At least with echinacea there are trials, at least 10 or 15. There were early studies that go as far back as the 80s. Oregano has GRAS status in the U.S., which means "generally recognized as safe," but that's in the amounts used in foods. If you concentrate it and take a lot more, it's possible that there could be adverse effects. Nothing has been reported, really. It hasn't been studied so we don't know for sure."
HEATHER BOON , assistant professor, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, U of T, department of family and community medicine
"Oil of oregano is an excellent supplement. It's beneficial for viral conditions, bacterial and fungal problems and can be used both preventatively and during an infection to help clear up the problem. It's good for yeast infections, the common cold, flu. Some people say that it can be used as a natural antibiotic, and I've seen success with many of my patients. That doesn't mean people should self-prescribe or avoid antibiotics or take oregano with other medications without consulting someone. I believe it's safe. I've used it with many patients with no side effects. I've never seen any interactions. It's better and more potent in liquid rather than capsule form."
MARNI ROSS , naturopath, Toronto
"I prefer to use oregano as a tincture rather than as an essential oil. Taking an essential oil internally on a regular basis can be hard on the liver and kidneys. It has the potential to disturb the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract because it's very antibacterial and doesn't discriminate well between good and bad bacteria. The oil is a neuro-vasodilator so it increases bloodflow to the brain. It can disorient people, drop their blood pressure and make them slightly high. The oil has a potential to interact with medications like sedatives and antidepressants. It can disturb the menstrual cycle. But in terms of antimicrobial properties it's amazing. I use the essential oil in case of very severe infections, to treat, not as a preventative. I would only have someone take it for a week or two. It's good for stress and anxiety. It's an amazing respiratory and digestive herb."
MICHAEL VERTOLLI , herbalist, Toronto