The usual pizza ingredient can cause severe liver damage
For many, oregano has an obvious place on the pizza. However, a new German study shows that the spice can cause liver damage and cause cancer - due to the highly toxic substances pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
Hard to resist
There is a scientific answer to why it is so difficult to resist a hot pizza with melted cheese. The combination of fat, salt, and fast carbohydrates has a fast track right up in the brain's reward center. Pizza gives you a quick blast, because our Stone Age brain still "rewards" us when we eat things that would be good for our survival in times of starvation. In a crisis situation, pizza would give us the energy we need to stay alive, at least in the short term.
Another explanation that we have so hard to resist pizza is the combination of textures - such as the crispy bottom, tough, melted cheese and sweet tomato sauce.
There are very few spices or herbs that can compete with oregano in the fight to be the most classic Mediterranean spice. The taste is intense, and the aroma incredible – so it is no wonder that it is found in many Southern European dishes.
Now it turns out that the popular spice can be dangerous to health. In Germany, oregano has been investigated on numerous occasions, and the results are anything but positive. CVUA Stuttgart’s report from 2019 shows that 71 percent of the tested dried oregano was uncertain. Twenty-two percent were even considered to be directly hazardous to health.
Products were recalled – after discoveries in spice
In February, the consumer program “Markt” chose to sample a number of varieties of the dried spice – even here, the result was alarming.
Pyrrolizidine alkaloids were found in organic as well as common oregano. The discoveries have also revoked a number of products and discouraged them from consumption.
No oregano tests
Pyrrolizidine alkaloids themselves are nothing new, but today there are good and safe tests for detecting the substances. Therefore, the Swedish Medicines Agency requires companies that sell herbal teas and herbal medicines to test their products – but there are no tests of oregano.
– Since there is no set limit value yet, the National Food Agency has not done analyzes on Swedish products, says Karin Ström, communicator at the National Food Agency, to Newsner.
The extremely dangerous poison is found naturally in more than 6,000 plants, such as Tussilago and Vallört, to protect them from insect infestation.
According to CVUA, pyrrolizidine alkaloids are particularly dangerous as they are carcinogenic and can also cause chronic liver damage. Of course, it doesn’t have to be hazardous to have a little oregano on their pizza now and then, but if the product contains too high levels of the substances, you may even risk acute poisoning.
The alarm from Germany should be taken seriously as a minimal amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, especially for a prolonged period, is sufficient for it to be hazardous to health.
– It is always the person who produces food that is responsible for ensuring that the products they sell are safe to eat or drink, says Karin Ström.
Limit values in progress
The reason for the poison being found in the product is mainly since certain types of weeds follow when the oregano is harvested. In Germany, the authorities warn and advise against excessive intake of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, but the problem is that there are no set limit values.
Within the EU, work is underway on this for herbal infusions, tea, supplements, cucumber, other dried herbs, and cumin seeds. The proposal is that the limit values should start to apply from 1 July 2022.
In Germany, the recommendation is to buy fresh oregano in the store – or grow it at home – to be on the safe side.