I am partial to an occasional slice of pizza despite my health-driven dietary compulsions. I love to sprinkle generous amounts of oregano on the slices and have often wondered what the health properties of that pungent herb are. I recently learned that oregano is rich in rosmarinic acid and therefore, as my grandmother used to say “it is good for you.” I review some of the things the literature says about rosmarinic acid here.
“Rosmarinic acid, C18H16O8, is a natural polyphenol antioxidant carboxylic acid found in many Lamiaceae herbs used commonly as culinary herbs such as lemon balm, rosemary, oregano, sage, thyme and peppermint (ref).” It has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, radio-protective, photo-protective, anti-allergenic and anti-oxidant properties. It is somewhat structurally related to curcumin and resveratrol and is an ester of caffeic acid. (See the blog entry Phytochemicals – focus on caffeic acid.)
Rosmarinic acid induces apoptosis in some cancer cell lines. The 2009 paper Salvia Fruticosa, Salvia Officinalis, and Rosmarinic Acid Induce Apoptosis and Inhibit Proliferation of Human Colorectal Cell Lines: The Role in MAPK/ERK Pathway states “Aromatic plants of the genus Salvia (sage) have been attributed many medicinal properties, which include anticancer activity. In the present study, the antiproliferative and proapoptotic effects of water extracts of Salvia fruticosa (SF) and Salvia officinalis (SO) and of their main phenolic compound rosmarinic acid (RA) were evaluated in two human colon carcinoma-derived cell lines, HCT15 and CO115, which have different mutations in the MAPK/ERK and PI3K/Akt signaling pathways. These pathways are commonly altered in CRC, leading to increased proliferation and inhibition of apoptosis. Our results show that SF, SO, and RA induce apoptosis in both cell lines, whereas cell proliferation was inhibited by the two sage extracts only in HCT15. SO, SF, and RA inhibited ERK phosphorylation in HCT15 and had no effects on Akt phosphorylation in CO115 cells. The activity of sage extracts seems to be due, at least in part, to the inhibition of MAPK/ERK pathway.”
Rosmarinic acid has anti-oxidative activity. Several publications point to this effect such as the 2008 paper Antioxidant activities of rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis L.) extract, blackseed (Nigella sativa L.) essential oil, carnosic acid, rosmarinic acid and sesamol. The 2007 study Water and methanolic extracts of Salvia officinalis protect HepG2 cells from t-BHP induced oxidative damage states “The most abundant phenolic compounds present in the extracts were rosmarinic acid and luteolin-7-glucoside. Both extracts, when co-incubated with the toxicant, protected significantly HepG2 cells against cell death. The methanolic extract, with a higher content of phenolic compounds than the water extract, conferred better protection in this in vitro model of oxidative stress with liver cells.” A 2006 study Phenolic compounds protect HepG2 cells from oxidative damage: relevance of glutathione levels compared the antioxidant capabilities of several polyphenols “If the effects of quercetin are given the reference value 1, the compounds rank in the following order according to inhibition of cell death: luteolin (4.0) > quercetin (1.0) > rosmarinic acid (0.34) > luteolin-7-glucoside (0.30) > caffeic acid (0.21). The results underscore the importance of the compound’s lipophilicity in addition to its antioxidant potential for its biological activity.”
Rosemary and oregano my offer several health benefits associated with rosmarinic acid content. The 2006 publication Antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of rosemary extracts linked to their polyphenol composition concludes “Carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid may be the main bioactive antimicrobial compounds present in rosemary extracts. From a practical point of view, rosemary extract may be a good candidate for functional foods as well as for pharmaceutical plant-based products.” The 1999 publication Pharmacology of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis Linn.) and its therapeutic potentials “Rosmarinic acid is well absorbed from gastrointestinal tract and from the skin. It increases the production of prostaglandin E2 and reduces the production of leukotriene B4 in human polymorphonuclear leucocytes, and inhibits the complement system. It is concluded that rosemary and its constituents especially caffeic acid derivatives such as rosmarinic acid have a therapeutic potential in treatment or prevention of bronchial asthma, spasmogenic disorders, peptic ulcer, inflammatory diseases, hepatotoxicity, atherosclerosis, ischaemic heart disease, cataract, cancer and poor sperm motility.”
A 2007study The effects of essential oils and aqueous tea infusions of oregano (Origanum vulgare L. spp. hirtum), thyme (Thymus vulgaris L.) and wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum L.) on the copper-induced oxidation of human low-density lipoproteins looked at “the antioxidative capacity effect of essential oils and aqueous tea infusions obtained from oregano, thyme and wild thyme on the oxidation susceptibility of low-density lipoproteins (LDL). — The strong protective effect of aqueous tea infusions is proposed to be the consequence of large amounts of polyphenols, namely rosmarinic acid and flavonoids (quercetin, eriocitrin, luteolin-7-O-glucoside, apigenin-7-O-glucoside, luteolin, apigenin), with the most pronounced effect in the case of oregano.” This is interesting and would seem to be a good argument for drinking oregano tea(ref), something I have never quite done.
Both water-soluble oil-soluble extracts of rosemary are commercially available. The 2009 publication In vitro antimicrobial and antioxidant activity of commercial rosemary extract formulations concludes “Reducing power and free radical scavenging effectiveness was higher in water-soluble formulations, according to their higher total phenolic content, but in an aqueous emulsion system of linoleic acid, they exhibited lower antioxidant activity. This correlated well with the higher efficiency of antimicrobial activity of oil-soluble formulations, despite the lower total phenolic content of these extracts.”
The list of research showing potential benefits of rosmarinic acid and the herbs containing it seems to grow proportionally to the effort I have been putting into searching the literature on it. For example Rosmarinic acid, a photo-protective agent against UV and other ionizing radiations, Radioprotective-antimutagenic effects of rosemary phenolics against chromosomal damage induced in human lymphocytes by gamma-rays Antiviral and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Rosmarinic Acid in an Experimental Murine Model of Japanese Encephalitis, Perilla-derived Rosmarinic Acid’s Effectiveness Against Hay Fever Confirmed, and Evaluation of clonal herbs of Lamiaceae species for management of diabetes and hypertension
I have written about several other phytochemicals in this blog and in my treatise ANTI-AGING FIREWALLS THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF LONGEVITY. See, for example, yesterday’s post Nrf2 and cancer chemoprevention by phytochemicals. Who would think that, after a bout of dental x-rays, eating a slice of pizza with a generous layer of oregano sprinkled on it could be a good thing to do from a radioprotective viewpoint?
carnosic acid activates ppar-y, which reduces beta-secretase, increases alpha-secretase. this process should help clearance of any amyloid beta plaques.
i put it in green tea, and end up chewing on the leaves or letting them sit in the gap between my gums/lips for hours on end.
i think there are also some reports that show carnosic acid upregulates NGF (ie. brain repair/maintenance).
thx for the article vince – hope you are well.
Thanks for the info prophets. My first action response is to get some rosemary leaves (can I assume they are dried?) and try them in my green tea as you are doing. My second will be to follow your leads and look into carnosic acid.
As to how I am doing, well except that I have been having some back ache problems due, I think, to cervical spinal stenosis. Arthritic spinal degeneration is not an area of aging I have particularly looked into, but it has got my attention and I will be doing so now.
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