Herbs for Depression and Anxiety: Oregano and Brain Healing

Monday, October 06, 2014 by Meg   •   Filed under Physical Health and Emotion

Monoamine neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, have long been known to be related to anxiety and depressive symptoms. While there is a great deal of research to support that increasing serotonin levels in the brain can reduce depression, there is also a more complete theory that cites serotonin as a chemical related to brain healing which in turn adjusts mood

So, more brain serotonin equals more neuron healing equals happier you. And oregano extract, complete with the chemical carvacrol, may act on the brain by preventing reuptake of serotonin, leading to higher levels floating around.

All the neurons in the house say, “Hooray for…re-up-ta-what-now?” 

Serotonin Reuptake, Depression and Herbs

Reuptake is the process where neurotransmitters are absorbed back into the transmitting neuron after they have been released into the synapse (the space between the cells). It goes like this: one neuron pushes a chemical into the space, the second neuron absorbs this signal and whatever chemical is left over gets reabsorbed by the first neuron. How much one takes in and how much gets reabsorbed is a factor of a few different things, but the process essentially serves to control how strong those signals are and how many chemicals are left floating around in the brain.   

So, let’s pretend I’m a neuron who wants to give a bunch of serotonin cookies to my neighbor because I think he’s cooler than Johnny Depp and just as hot. 

“Here you go, dude! Hope you like chocolate chip and happy juice!”

But Johnny-boy doesn’t need all of my cookies, or can’t eat them because he’s got some damage going on. So he only grabs a few of my kick-ass serotonin cookies and leaves the rest on the lawn. 

“What a dick! I’m taking that shit back!” And I go eat all the rest myself, in a delicious reuptake experience. So not only does Johnny get less, but there are less laying around in the yard to be enjoyed by anyone else who might need them.

It’s kinda like that in your brain. If there is less reuptake by the first neuron, there is more serotonin floating around (or more cookies in the yard). And yard cookies heal everyone, just like serotonin has a healing effect on other neurons and not just the ones currently arguing over baked goods. (If you don’t believe me about cookies being healing, take some to your neighbors. They’ll dig you even more. Because, cookies.) 

Oregano extract works by preventing reuptake by that first neuron1. And the more oregano test subjects take, the higher the serotonin levels in the brain1. So oil of oregano is like a WWF wrestler who body slams me when I come to take my damn cookies back. 

“Leave the chocolate chips in the yard, lady!” 

Oregano, Dopamine and Depression

Other studies note that along with oregano, other herbs such as mint and saffron might be used as medicinal foods in the depressed population4. But there is some confusion. One study found that carvacrol—a major component of both oil of oregano and thyme—had antidepressant effects, but due to its interaction with the dopaminergic system as opposed to the serotonergic and noradrenergic systems2.

Wait, so it’s a dopamine thing instead of a serotonin thing? We need…dopamine cookies? 

Well, maybe not exactly. Because studies that looked at the effects of carvacrol on brain neurochemistry found that after seven days, carvacrol increased BOTH dopamine and serotonin levels in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus3, areas especially prone to damage in depression.  

And it might be beneficial for other reasons as well.

Oregano, Anxiety and GABA  

Carvacryl acetate—a derivative of carvacrol—may also be in cahoots with gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps the body to regulate itself by telling nerves to calm the fuck down. Drugs like Valium work by helping GABA bind to receptor sites in the brain.  And when that happens, you feel mellow. 

Calm nerves = calm you. No matter how many cookies you did or didn’t eat. This is likely why researchers found that carvacryl acetate decreases anxiety symptoms in mice5,6 without side effects5

Of course, you can eat massive amounts of oregano and surely get a little benefit out of it. However, these studies were done with more concentrated versions of the plant, namely extract oils. So where to get such a thing? 

Where to Buy Oil of Oregano or Oregano Supplements

You can get undiluted oregano oil here. It’s a better deal for your cash, but unlike the diluted versions, YOU MUST add it to a carrier oil like olive oil or you will burn the crap out of yourself, like if you chew a raw clove of garlic or a ghost pepper. Trust me on this one. 

If that garlic burn thing sounds too frightening, or you don’t feel like measuring out oils when you want to take it, you can get oregano extract in capsule form here, or buy the oil of oregano all ready to go in liquid form. This is the one I recommend.  

Follow all instructions on anything you purchase very carefully. Unless you just go balls out and eat oregano like it’s salad, which is actually pretty delicious with red wine vinegar and olives. Either way, understanding how oregano affects the brain and allows for healing might make a difference over time.  

Oregano. It’s almost as good as cookies. But I ain’t mad at ya for wanting both.

(Because, fucking cookies.) 

*Oregano oil should be used as a supplement, not as a stand alone treatment for major depression. If you are suffering from major depression, please seek the assistance of a clinician. 

Related Posts: 


  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21205415
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20608992
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23708230
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4110782/
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24036473
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19909350 

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