Is this safe and effective for Urinary Tract Infections?
A woman wrote to us and shared that she is taking an oregano essential oil supplement and finding it more effective than broad spectrum antibiotics in helping clear her Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). She wondered how long she can take this safely, which is a great question. She said she is also taking garlic oil and mannose.
Mannose is often a godsend for those prone to UTI, as it helps prevent bacteria from binding to the wall of the bladder and is safe to take long term. And any plants in the allium family - garlic and onions - are also a great choice since natural sulfur compounds in those plants are anti-microbial, and adding more of these foods to your diet or taking a whole plant garlic supplement is typically safe longterm (note: garlic oil, if it’s an essential oil, is most likely inadvisable for internal use—please see below.).
I took a look at the oregano product she is using, and I see that it is soft gel caps that contain about 2 drops of essential oil of oregano in a base of olive oil. The recommended dose on the label is one capsule per day, and she was following a protocol that suggested she take four of these soft gel caps, four times a day — essentially, 16 times the recommended dose. Absent an explanation from a professional clinical aromatherapist or other practitioner trained in internal dosing, I’m not comfortable with this dosing, as it goes against most of the reputable advice on using essential oils.
There’s no question that essential oils are highly anti-microbial, and with antibiotic resistance on the rise it makes sense why people are wondering about essential oils to replace antibiotics. But, use of essential oils internally is controversial, and is typically outside the scope of most herbalists, who typically rely on teas, tinctures, powdered herbs, and preventative measures when it comes to infections.
For an excellent look at how an herbalist would approach UTI, check out this excellent guide to Treating UTI"s Naturally by herbalist and MD, Aviva Romm .
For reliable safety info. on using oils, I like the Tisserand Institute. You can check out their Essential oil Safety guide for details. Basically, they advise not taking essential oils internally, and if you do, no more than 1-2 drops in a day:
“Do not ingest essential oils unless advised to do so by a practitioner who is qualified/licensed to prescribe essential oils in this way. Taking essential oils orally engages many areas of risk that other modes do not. Do not take essential oils either undiluted or in water, as there is a risk of mouth/stomach irritation. This is similar to what happens in a bath (see above) except that mucous membrane tissue is more sensitive than skin, yet our gut only sends out pain signals when erosion has progressed quite far. Essential oils are widely used in food flavorings, and GRAS status for many essential oils applies to food flavoring use, but it specifically excludes medicinal use. One or two drops of most essential oil can be safely taken in a day, but more than this is not recommended.”
Regarding use of oregano oil by qualified practitioners, the Tisserand Institute has also said:
“Oregano is one of the most potent antimicrobial oils, and will be effective in some situations. But a few drops in a capsule is a fairly blunt instrument – it’s not ideal for absorption, and will not always reach the target site in sufficient concentration to be effective, even if taken in large doses.”
Thankfully, there are many other options. Do check out Aviva Romm's guide to UTI remedies. And if you like that, you may also find her 8 Safe & Effective Herbal Antibiotic Alternatives a help as well.
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Tara Thomas, MS Herbal Medicine, is a clinical herbalist, practicing in Seattle, WA.