Thyme And Its Anti-Inflammatory Purposes

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Overview

Thyme is a plant that belongs to the Wild Edible Plants (WEP) group that is indigenous to the Mediterranean area. It is called Thymus vulgaris and comes from the family Lamiaceae of plants. It is a common plant that is grown and distributed globally, especially in Africa and Southern Europe. In addition to being a delicious addition to many meals, thyme is known for its therapeutic effects, such as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antineoplastic properties.1,2 In this article, we will look at thyme’s chemical and mineral composition, its anti-inflammatory effects and the mechanism of action, health advantages and possible adverse effects or drug interactions.

Chemical composition and essential oils in thyme

The following constituents and essential oils can be found in thyme in varying concentrations. It is important to note that thymol has been identified as the major component.

Thymol: Studies show that thymol is mainly responsible for thyme’s anti-inflammatory properties. It can inhibit the COX pathway and release elastase, a marker for inflammation2. It can also decrease the release of proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-6, IL-1b, and TNF-a. Additionally, thymol has a strong antioxidant capacity that contributes to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Carvacrol can also prevent the expression of IL-1b and TNF-a by activating transcription proteins and factors. Other compounds found include Octadienoic acid, Geranic acid, b-Ocimene, cis-Oimene, 1,8-Cineol, Sylvestrene, a-Phellandrene, 3-Otanol, d-3-3 Carene, B-Myrcene, 3-Octanol, Sabinene, 3-Hexanol, a-Thujene and a-Pinene. G-terpinene, r-cymene, and a-terpinene may also contribute to reducing the release of proinflammatory cytokines.3

Nutritional components and benefits

Vitamin A: Thyme contains a significant amount of vitamin A, an established antioxidant required for healthy skin and vision.

Vitamin C is necessary for defence against pro-inflammatory free radicals as well as contagious diseases.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): This B-complex vitamin found in thyme aids in regulating stress and the brain’s g-aminobutyric acid concentrations.

Thyme also contains Vitamin K, Vitamin E, Folic acid, potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, and selenium.2

Thyme’s anti-inflammatory properties

Thyme prevents immune cells from producing many enzymes, which are known to raise the level of inflammation in the body. One way it achieves this is by serving as a COX-2 inhibitor. It decreases the production of an enzyme called COX-2, which usually synthesises prostaglandins that cause inflammation. It can also lead to the release and production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.2

Decreasing the release of pro-inflammatory enzymes

Thyme inhibits the production of cyclooxygenase (COX-2) and 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX), two important enzymes responsible for inflammation. This study established that the consumption of thyme significantly decreased the levels of COX-2 and 5-LOX. These researchers indicated how extracts of thyme were responsible for inhibiting the secretion of nitric oxide and significantly declining the production of prostaglandin E2.4

Maintaining levels of inflammatory cytokines

Thymol has proven very effective, though it has been shown to be less potent than thymol. This decrease of the cytokines may be due to thymol being less permeable than thymol, as reaching the cell’s cytosol is a crucial point in proinflammatory cytokine production, possibly making more thymol required. Rosmarinic acid, on the other hand, has been found to be about as potent as thymol but for a different set of cytokines. It inhibited TNF-α measured in the spleen and monocyte/macrophage cells while letting IL-1β alone.5

Regulating immunity

Thyme has also been shown to play a role in the overall immune response and has been linked to an increase in T-lymphocyte and natural killer cell activity. T-lymphocytes are involved in the modulation of cellular immunity. They do this by secreting cytokines, which direct the immune response to specific antigens. Additionally, T-lymphocytes assist in the direct response against invading viruses and tumour cells. Natural killer cells also play a crucial part in immune surveillance. These cells are referred to as “natural killers” because of their ability to kill malignant cells and infected cells on contact.6

Prevention of oxidative damage

Other studies have examined the levels of oxidative damage in different ways, either by measuring one aspect of the oxidative stress cascade using a cellular model or measuring the effect of a range of thyme supplements in humans. Overall, evidence supports forskolin’s use as a tool to reduce some forms of oxidative stress, but results are variable, and improvements in the design of future studies are clearly needed.7

Therapeutic advantages of thyme usage

Due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, thyme can be used to treat and alleviate several symptoms and diseases. Thyme possesses a wide range of medicinal properties, and its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties are some of its most recognised. Thyme's ability to reduce inflammation is largely owed to the presence of antioxidants, adding to the list of health benefits of this simple herb.

Firstly, it can be used as an antiseptic, antibiotic, or antifungal. Thus, it is useful for treating sore throat, cough, chest infection, bronchitis, and digestive problems.1 Owing to its anti-inflammatory properties, a few researchers have suggested that thyme essential oil can be used to improve respiratory conditions. Several inflammatory diseases affect the respiratory tract, one of the most common ones being bronchitis. This disease is characterised by inflammation of the bronchi, leading to excessive phlegm secretion. Thyme has been suggested as a complementary treatment for bronchitis, with a study being conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of a new syrup of thyme in the treatment of acute bronchitis with Spasmo-Coulgen. The syrup was found to have an antispasmodic effect and improved coughing in patients. It was concluded that due to thyme’s antispasmodic properties, it plays a vital role in improving cough related to inflammatory diseases. While these seem promising, more tests need to be done to investigate and verify the potency of this naturally derived medicine.

Thyme has been used for centuries by many cultures as a remedy for stomach aches. It has been proven to slow the growth of unwanted bacteria and has been documented to help prevent their spreading in the gut. Additionally, its anti-inflammatory properties help improve the digestive system's overall health. Another recent study conducted by the University of Medical Sciences in Iran found that the individuals with IBS who ingested thyme oil capsules reduced their symptoms significantly more than the control group who ingested a placebo. It can also be used for intestinal infections, candida infections, to advance liver function, increase appetite, urinary infections, laryngitis, and other forms of inflammation.9

Once inflammation becomes chronic, it can lead to a variety of diseases, including asthma, bronchitis, diabetes, and even cancer. Chronic inflammation can also contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. In addition, heart disease and arthritis can also be caused by chronic inflammation, which is why it is important to ensure that the food we consume promotes anti-inflammatory activities throughout our bodies. Generally, herbs, including thyme, are recommended to be consumed to balance the presence of inflammation in the body cells.2

Lastly, The vitamins in its components aid in skin treatments of bites and stings, as well as neuralgy and pains. Some researchers suggest that the essential oil from thyme can be used to treat rheumatic aches and pain and to treat athlete’s foot. It promotes skin immunity, which is crucial when it comes to fighting inflammation on the skin8. The antioxidants and other Organic compounds found in thyme can help reduce oxidative stress in the skin, and this includes minimising the appearance of wrinkles, delaying the signs of ageing, and tightness and elasticity of the skin. As always, obtaining the thyme from its natural source is the best idea to make sure you are getting all the benefits of it, and that it has not been contaminated using unnecessary pesticides.10

Summary

Thyme is a tasty addition to any meal as well as contributing to overall well-being and immune health. The health benefits of thyme are various and significant. It can reduce inflammation by preventing the release of inflammatory enzymes and pro-inflammatory cytokines, inhibiting the COX-2 pathway, modulating cellular immunity using T-lymphocytes, and preventing oxidative damage. It can be used to treat digestive, respiratory, and skin infections. Nevertheless, more research is required to ascertain thyme consumption’s doses, interactions, and adverse effects.

FAQs

  1. Is thyme useful for every disease?

Despite its robust health benefits, limited evidence supports its use in inflammation of the lungs and mouth, ear infections, hair loss, dyspraxia, agitation, bad breath, colic, and other conditions.

  • Is it safe for children and pregnant women?

When consumed in normal amounts in food, thyme is likely safe for children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. However, further research is needed to establish the effects of overconsumption.

  • Can I take thyme if I have a health condition?

Thyme may affect clotting time and increase the risk of bleeding. Therefore, one should apply caution if one has any bleeding disorders. If one has hormone-related conditions, avoid thyme as it tends to behave like oestrogen. If one is preparing for surgery, it is advised to stop using thyme at least two weeks before the scheduled surgery.

  • Will it interact with any medication I’m currently taking?

Be cautious of your intake if you are on any of the following medications.

Anticholinergic drugs, estrogens, Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, anticoagulant/antiplatelet drugs, medications for glaucoma and Alzheimer’s disease, naproxen and ketoprofen. Discuss with your healthcare provider.

  • What amount of thyme should I take daily?

This is dependent on the individual’s age, health condition and dietary habits. Speak to your healthcare provider for professional information on incorporating thyme into your diet.

  • I am allergic to other spices; can I eat thyme?

Allergy to other plants from the same Lamiaceae family or oregano might make one allergic to thyme.

References

  1. Kuete V. Thymus vulgaris. Medicinal Spices and Vegetables from Africa. 2017;599–609. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-809286-6.00028-5
  2. Hammoudi Halat D, Krayem M, Khaled S, Younes S. A focused insight into thyme: Biological, chemical, and therapeutic properties of an indigenous Mediterranean herb. Nutrients. 2022 May 18;14(10):2104. doi:10.3390/nu14102104
  3. Abdelli W, Bahri F, Romane A, Höferl M, Wanner J, Schmidt E, et al. Chemical composition, and anti-inflammatory activity of Algerian thymus vulgaris essential oil. Natural Product Communications. 2017 Apr;12(4):611–4. doi:10.1177/1934578x1701200435
  4. Sobeh M, Rezq S, Cheurfa M, Abdelfattah MA, Rashied RM, El-Shazly AM, Yasri A, Wink M, Mahmoud MF. Thymus algeriensis and Thymus fontanesii: chemical composition, in vivo antiinflammatory, pain killing and antipyretic activities: a comprehensive comparison. Biomolecules. 2020 Apr 13;10(4):599
  5. Escobar A, Perez M, Romanelli G, Blustein G. Thymol bioactivity: A review focusing on practical applications. Arabian Journal of Chemistry. 2020 Dec 1;13(12):9243-69.
  6. Chun KS, Kim DH, Raut PK, Surh YJ. Anticancer natural products targeting immune checkpoint protein network. Seminars in Cancer Biology. 2022.
  7. Sallam MF, Ahmed HM, Diab KA, El-Nekeety AA, Abdel-Aziem SH, Sharaf HA, Abdel-Wahhab MA. Improvement of the antioxidant activity of thyme essential oil against biosynthesized titanium dioxide nanoparticles-induced oxidative stress, DNA damage, and disturbances in gene expression in vivo. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology. 2022 Sep 1;73:127024.
  8. Li J, Chen W, Liu H, Liu H, Xiang S, You F, Jiang Y, Lin J, Zhang D, Zheng C. Pharmacologic effects approach of essential oils and their components on respiratory diseases. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2023 March 25;304:115962.
  9. Rahimi R. Herbal medicines for the management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A comprehensive review. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2012;18(7):589. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i7.589
  10. Akbari B, Baghaei‐Yazdi N, Bahmaie M, Mahdavi Abhari F. The role of plant‐derived natural antioxidants in reduction of oxidative stress. BioFactors. 2022 May;48(3):611-33

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Fatima Aliyu Saidu

BDS (Gulf Medical University, Ajman), MDPH (Sheffield, UK)

Dr Fatima is a general dentist who recently graduated with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) degree. She is currently doing her internship in Nigeria. With a strong interest in improving oral health at a population level, Dr Fatima pursued a masters in dental public health. Her dissertation focused on the impact of e-cigarettes on oral health. Her goal is to merge clinical expertise with public health principles to promote oral health and overall well-being for all.

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