5 Health Benefits of Thyme (Healing Herbs in the Thymus Genus)
The term thyme encompasses several wild and cultivated herbs in the Thymus genus of plants, including Wild Thyme, Garden Thyme and Mother-of-Thyme. Since ancient times, the tiny green leaves and the purple or white flowers of these healthy herbs have been used medicinally – often in the form of herbal thyme tea – to treat everything from whooping cough, sore throat and bronchitis to diarrhea, stomach ache caused by excess flatulence (intestinal gas) and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to being linked to numerous health benefits, thyme is a popular culinary herb that lends its citrusy tang to many types of dishes. Foods that pair particularly well with fresh and dried thyme leaves from a culinary point of view include:
- Citrus fruits
- Green beans
In this article, we take a look at the most interesting potential health benefits of thyme, plus provide serving suggestions to help you reap the benefits of this wonderful healing herb.
Thyme contains a number of anti-inflammatory compounds, including luteolin and rosmarinic acid, which may provide health benefits for people with certain anti-inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and inflammatory acne. Luteolin has been shown to exert strong inhibitory effects against TBK1, an enzyme that has been linked to inflammatory diseases. In fact, a study published in the April 2009 issue of the journal Biochemical Pharmacology found that luteolin showed the strongest inhibitory activity against TBK1 among the six tested compounds, all of which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. The rosmarinic acid in thyme, in turn, is thought to exert anti-inflammatory activity by inhibiting lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase, two enzymes that have been associated with inflammatory responses.
Maximize the Benefits: Whip up an anti-inflammatory salad dressing by mixing thyme, oregano and rosemary with walnut oil (rich in omega-3 fats) and apple cider vinegar.
Thyme and its Potential in Cancer Prevention
Thyme contains several phytochemicals (such as ursolic acid, rosmarinic acid and luteolin) that have been linked to anti-cancer activity in laboratory studies. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that also thyme as a herb – rather than its individual components – has shown promise as a potential natural cancer fighter. A study published in the November 2012 edition of the journal Natural Product Communications reported the extracts of Mastic Thyme (Thymus mastichina L.) may have a protective effect against colon cancer. Another study, published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer, found that Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) caused apoptosis (cell death) in breast cancer cells. Yet another study found that luteolin, one of the active compounds identified in thyme, was capable of neutralizing Trp-P-2, a common carcinogen that is formed during cooking and that is often present in cooked meat in significant amounts.
Maximize the Benefits: Thyme pairs well with many of the world's most famous cancer-fighting foods such as onions, carrots and tomatoes.
Thyme and H. Pylori Infections
A study published in the Journal of Applied Bacteriology found aqueous extracts of thyme and alcoholic extracts of cinnamon had the strong inhibitory activity against Helicobacter pylori. The inhibitory effects of the thyme extract were even stronger than those of some common anti-bacterials. As you may know, Helicobacter pylori – or H. pylori for short – is a pathogenic bacterium that lives in the stomach of the infected people. If left untreated, H. pylori infections can cause peptic ulcers or even gastric cancer. Antibiotics are the most common (and effective) treatment for H. pylori infections, but scientists are constantly looking for alternative treatments as H. pylori strains are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotic drugs.
Maximize the Benefits: Pair thyme with cranberries which may also have H. pylori fighting properties (for more on this, check out our in-depth article on how cranberries kill H. pylori.
Thyme as a Treatment for Acne
A British study suggests that thyme preparations might help fight acne vulgaris by killing Propionibacterium acnes, the bacterium that causes acne. Scientists from Leeds Metropolitan University tested the effects of thyme, marigold and myrrh tinctures on Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), and found that while all three extracts were able to kill the bacterium in a laboratory setting, the thyme extract was the most effective of the tested tinctures. They also found that thyme tincture had stronger antibacterial effects against P. acnes than benzoyl peroxide, the active ingredient in most anti-acne creams. While clinical trials are still needed to assess the acne-fighting potential of thyme in humans, one thing is for sure: the results of this preliminary study will bring new hope for the millions of teenagers and adults suffering from persistent acne.
Maximize the Effects: Organically-raised, skinless chicken is a great source of many acne-fighting vitamins, plus it can keep those acne-causing hormones in check. Use fresh thyme, along with other aromatic herbs such as oregano and rosemary, as a poultry seasoning.
Potential Cardioprotective Benefits
Intrigued by the link between low incidence of cardiovascular diseases in the Mediterranean countries and the major role thyme plays in the Mediterranean diet, a group of researchers at the University of Belgrade, Serbia, conducted a study to investigate the potential cardioprotective effects of wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum L.) in rats. The results, which were published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition in 2013, were promising: the thyme extract caused a significant decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure and total peripheral resistance in rats with high blood pressure, but not in rats with normal blood pressure. However, given the novelty of these results, further research on these effects – particularly in humans – is warranted.
Reap the Benefits: Combine thyme with cardioprotective foods like tomatoes, nuts or salmon, or make a heart-healthy salad dressing by mixing extra-virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar (or organic lemon juice) with freshly chopped thyme.
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