Appearing in the January 2010 issue of JLR

For those who do not drink, researchers have found that six essential oils—thyme, clove, rose, eucalyptus, fennel and bergamot—can suppress the inflammatory COX-2 enzyme in a manner similar to resveratrol, the chemical linked with the health benefits of red wine. They also identified that the chemical carvacrol was primarily responsible for this suppressive activity.

These findings, appearing in the January issue of Journal of Lipid Research, provide more understanding of the health benefits of many botanical oils and provide a new avenue for anti-inflammatory drugs.

Essential oils from plants have long been a component of home remedies, and even today are used for their aromatherapy, analgesic or antibacterial properties. Of course, the exact way they work is not completely understood. However, Hiroyasu Inoue and colleagues in Japan believed that many essential oils might target COX-2 much like compounds in wine and tea.

So, they screened a wide range of commercially available oils and identified six (thyme, clove, rose, eucalyptus, fennel and bergamot) that reduced COX-2 expression in cells by at least 25 percent. Of these, thyme oil proved the most active, reducing COX-2 levels by almost 75 percent.

When Inoue and colleagues analyzed thyme oil, they found that the major component—carvacrol—was the primary active agent; in fact, when they used pure carvacrol extracts in their tests, COX-2 levels decreased by more than 80 percent.