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ignificant research has found thyme essential oil and its constituent thymol to be antiseptic. In fact, many mouth washes and antiseptic wipes often contain thymol.
New research is also finding that thyme oil also reduces pain. Who would have thought?
Well, traditional medicines have been thyme oil and other essential oils to help relieve pain for centuries.
In a study from Japan’s Nara Women’s University, 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.
This strategy – of inhibiting COX-2 – has been utilized by pharmaceutical medications including NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Yet some of these NSAIDs and COX-inhibitor drugs come with side effects such as cardiovascular and digestive problems, which docile herbs like thyme don’t seem to come with.
Researchers from Iran’s Babol University of Medical Sciences has confirmed that thyme is not only an excellent pain-relieving herb. It also reduces pain of difficult menstruation better than ibruprofen.
The researchers tested 84 women university students who had reported difficult menstruation. The young women were aged between 18 and 24 years old. All were suffering from primary dysmenorrhea.
Primary dysmenorrhea is usually defined as painful cramping that may or may not come with other symptoms such as back ache, nausea, headaches and dizziness. Secondary dysmenorrhea usually indicates menses pain that is related to another underlying condition.
Here the researchers added to the definition of primary dysmenorrhea that it appears within two years of the beginning of menses (menarche) and no pelvic pain during the other parts of the monthly cycle. This is logical because painful menses is more frequently seen among younger women within the first few years of the beginning of menses.
The researchers divided the students into three groups of 28 each.
Group one was given 200 milligrams of ibuprofen per dose plus 25 drops of a placebo essential oil.
Group two was given 25 drops of essential oil of thyme (Thymus vulgaris) plus a placebo capsule per dose.
Group three was given 25 drops of the placebo essential oil plus the placebo capsule.
Each subject was instructed to begin the treatment on the first day of menstruation, with a dose every six hours.
Pain intensity was recorded at the beginning before treatment was started, and an hour after each dose and 24 and 48 hours after they began the treatment. They also were 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.
The thyme result indicates that while the thyme oil’s therapeutic effects continued for the women through the second cycle, the ibuprofen’s pain-relieving effects were decreased during the second cycle.
This decreasing effect, often the case among pharmaceuticals, is called drug tolerance. Because these are chemicals, the body’s detoxification and immune systems see them as foreigners. Liver enzymes will target and break down the chemicals, and will develop an increasing efficiency, resulting in the body’s increasing tolerance.
The cells may also become more resistant to the chemical, as the receptors that initially allowed the chemicals access to are modified – causing receptor down-regulation.
Natural medicinal herbs are typically not seen as foreigners, because they have a complexity that allows for multiple therapeutic effects. For example, thyme has been found to have antiseptic and antioxidant effects within the body. These are body-friendly effects.
These are driven by a combination of bio-identifiable constituents rather than a single active chemical. Thyme contains multiple active ingredients and buffers. In addition to vitamins and minerals, thyme contains thymol – a potent antiseptic and antibiotic compound. Thyme also contains thymonin, naringenin, linalool, myrcene, cymene, luteolin and apigenin – all with distinct therapeutic properties that buffer and balance each other.
Pharmaceutical agents will typically contain one active chemical agent in addition to chemical excipients and additives that can be toxic to the body in larger doses. Even in smaller doses, they are seen as foreigners. This stimulates the body’s detoxification processes, including the cytochrome P450 liver enzyme pathway that breaks down chemicals not belonging in the body.
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Katsukawa M, Nakata R, Takizawa Y, Hori K, Takahashi S, Inoue H. Citral, a component of lemongrass oil, activates PPARα and γ and suppresses COX-2 expression. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2010 Nov;1801(11):1214-20. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2010.07.004.
Hotta M, Nakata R, Katsukawa M, Hori K, Takahashi S, Inoue H. Carvacrol, a component of thyme oil, activates PPARalpha and gamma and suppresses COX-2 expression. J Lipid Res. 2010 Jan;51(1):132-9. doi: 10.1194/jlr.M900255-JLR200.
Salmalian H, Saghebi R, Moghadamnia AA, Bijani A, Faramarzi M, Nasiri Amiri F, Bakouei F, Behmanesh F, Bekhradi R. Comparative effect of thymus vulgaris and ibuprofen on primary dysmenorrhea: A triple-blind clinical study. Caspian J Intern Med. 2014 Spring;5(2):82-8.