Thyme essential oil has a long history of use as a medicinal healer and protector. It was used to medicate bandages before modern antibiotics, and back in the Roman era, it was consumed to prevent poisoning.
Thyme is one of the best antibacterial and anti-fungal herbs out there. Even Vicks VapoRub and Listerine mouthwash utilize the active ingredient in thyme (thymol) in their products.
Thyme Essential Oil for Pain Relief
New research has found that thyme essential oil is also effective at reducing pain. Researchers from Iran’s Babol University of Medical Sciences has confirmed that thyme is not only a great pain-relieving herb, but it also reduces painful menstrual cramps better than ibuprofen (1).
The researchers tested 84 female university students who had reported difficult menstruation. Their ages ranged from 18 to 24 years old, and all of them were suffering from primary dysmenorrhea.
Primary dysmenorrhea is the medical term for those who suffer monthly menstrual cramps that are not caused by other diseases (2). The pain can range from mild to severe, can last around 12 to 72 hours, and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and even diarrhea.
Secondary dysmenorrhea indicates menses pain caused by a disorder like endometriosis, adenomyosis, uterine fibroids, or infection.
The researchers added to their definition of primary dysmenorrhea, the following:
– It appears within two years of the beginning of menses
– No pelvic pain during the other parts of the monthly cycle
The researchers divided the students into three groups of 28 each. One group was given 200 milligrams of ibuprofen per dose, plus 25 drops of a placebo essential oil. Group two was given 25 drops of 2% thyme essential oil, plus a placebo capsule per dose. Group three was given 25 drops of the placebo essential oil plus the placebo capsule.
Each participant was instructed to begin treatment on the first day of menstruation, with a dose every six hours. Pain intensity was recorded at the beginning before treatment had started, and an hour after each dose, and 24 and 48 hours after they began the treatment. They were also asked to rate their blood flow.
The visual analogue scale (VAS) was used to rate their pain intensity. The thyme essential oil group’s average pain scores went from 6.57 prior to treatment, to 1.21 during the first menstrual cycle tested, and 1.14 during the second menstrual cycle.
Meanwhile, the ibuprofen group’s pain scores went from 5.30 to 1.48 in the first cycle, and 1.68 during the second menstrual cycle.
Therefore, while thyme essential oil’s therapeutic effects continued for women throughout the second cycle (1.21 down to 1.14), ibuprofen’s pain-relieving effects decreased (1.48 to 1.68 from first to second cycle).
How Does Thyme Mediate The Pain Response?
In a study from Japan’s Nara Women’s University (3), researchers found that one of thyme oil’s constituents, carvacrol, actually inhibits the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme – part of the body’s inflammatory process that produces pain.
The strategy of inhibiting COX-2 has been utilized by pharmaceutical companies for years. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) reduce inflammation by blocking COX enzymes and reduce production of prostaglandins (4). This all sounds great, besides the fact that NSAIDs and other COX-inhibiting drugs come with nasty side effects like cardiovascular and digestive problems. On the other hand, thyme is safe to use, and doesn’t come with any detrimental side effects.
Other Health Benefits of Thyme Essential Oil
Aside from its pain-relieving properties, thyme essential oil helps support the body in numerous ways. It’s a serious powerhouse when it comes to staying healthy. Here are some ways this herb can help improve your health.
1. Provides Stress Relief
Thyme essential oil is known to help ease nervousness and anxiety, as well as boost your mood. Thyme contains vitamin B6, which has a direct effect on key neurotransmitters in the brain linked to stress hormones. It contains impressive amounts of vitamins C and A, which are also tightly involved in the stress response.
Vitamin C helps the body quickly clear out cortisol (the primary stress hormone) from the bloodstream (5), while vitamin A provides strong antioxidant properties that are known to help combat stress with ease. During times of stress, our levels of vitamin A quickly decline, so making sure you’re eating plenty of carrots, sweet potatoes, and mangoes will ensure your levels stay high.
Thyme is also rich in the compound carvacrol, which has been studied and shown to provide powerful mood-boosting effects. Research has shown that when carvacrol was administered for seven consecutive days, it was able to increase both dopamine and serotonin levels in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus of rats (6). Dopamine is a hormone associated with happiness and serotonin regulates our mood, so you can see how these hormones are essential in providing stress relief.
2. Lowers High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels
Thyme has anti-hypertensive effects on the body, meaning it is a great herb for anyone suffering from high blood pressure. Studies have found that thyme extract is able to significantly reduce the heart rate of subjects with high blood pressure, as well as reduce cholesterol, triglyceride, and LDL levels (7). It was also found to increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
3. Fights Cancer
Carvacrol is a major component of thyme essential oil that has been studied for its anti-tumour properties. A recent study out of China found that carvacrol inhibited the proliferation and migration of two colon cancer cell lines (8).
A 2014 study on the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative properties of various essential oils found that thyme exhibited the most beneficial actions. It was a best free radical scavenger, and was most effective against the degradation of fats. Not only that, but it had the best ability to stop the spread of acute monocytic leukaemia cells (9).
A more recent 2017 study performed in Argentina investigated the phytochemical linalool from thyme oil. The researchers made linalool more bioavailable by creating nanoparticles – they encapsulated the linalool in several different lipid (fat) outer layers. They then tested the nanoparticles against several different cancer cell lines (like liver and lung cancer). Compared with free linalool, the nanoparticles had a higher inhibitory effect on these cells (10).
4. Aids Respiratory Ailments
Thyme essential oil is a powerful antiseptic that can help to keep your respiratory system healthy. A study conducted by the Practice for Internal Medicine and Pneumology in Germany used an oral treatment consisting of thyme and ivy. The group treated with this combination had a 50 percent reduction in coughing fits that was achieved two days earlier than the placebo group (11).
The compounds found in thyme – primarily thymol and carvacrol – provide its antitussive (preventing and treating a cough), antispasmodic, and expectorant (thinning the mucus to allow for coughing out) actions.
5. Fights Sore Throats
Thyme is a strong antimicrobial, making it great for reducing the bacteria in the throat that make it sore when we are sick. Thyme essential oil is actually one of the top essential oils for sore throat relief and has been found to effectively eradicate erythromycin-resistant Group A streptococci (13).
One study tested thyme oil’s response to 120 different strains of bacteria isolated from patients with infections of the oral cavity, respiratory tract and genitourinary tract. They found that thyme essential oil exhibited strong activity against all strains, even those that were antibiotic-resistant (14).
6. Prevents Food Spoilage
Thyme essential oil exhibits some amazing antimicrobial properties. It is so effective, that it can even be used as a preservative against spoilage and food-borne germs that can contribute to health problems. It is effective against other bacteria types like Salmonella, Enterococcus, Escherichia and Pseudomonas species (15).
Thyme has also been found to decontaminate lettuce inoculated with Shigella, an infectious organism that causes diarrhea and can lead to major intestinal damage. Washing produce in a solution containing just 1 percent of the oil decreased the number of Shigella bacteria below the point of detection (16).
How To Use Thyme
Thyme is readily found in grocery stores year-round, either fresh or dried. It can be used in soups, salads, smoothies and quite frankly, just about any culinary creation. For medicinal purposes, it can be purchased in the form of a tea, tincture, supplement or essential oil.
If you’re planning on using thyme essential oil internally, keep note of the low concentration of thyme essential oil referenced in the study above (2%). Always consult with your health practitioner or naturopath before using essential oils internally.
When taken medicinally, and in large amounts, thyme can cause some digestive upsets. It should not be used in large amounts for long periods of time.
If you’re pregnant or nursing, consume thyme in normal food amounts, and not in medicinal quantities.
If you have hormone-sensitive conditions like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, uterine fibroids, or endometriosis, it may act like estrogen in the body.
If used in large amounts, thyme might slow blood clotting, so if you’re taking blood thinners, or if you have any clotting disorders, don’t consume large amounts of this herb. Medicinal quantities of thyme should also be avoided if you are going into surgery (stopping two weeks before is recommended).