Holy Basil, also known as Tulsi, has been called “A herb for all reasons.” It has long been a staple in Ayurvedic medicine and has more recently gained popularity in Western functional medicine and sports performance as an adaptogen.
Origins of Holy Basil
Holy Basil comes from a shrub that originates in northern central India. It has a folklore style history that is likely unrivaled by any other herb, being called “Elixir of Life,” “The Incomparable One,” and “The Queen of Herbs.” It has historically been recommended for daily use in promotion of general health and a calm emotional disposition, but it is also traditionally used for specific treatments such as (but not limited to) arthritis, and anxiety, and scorpion bites.
The robust origins and foundational usage of Holy Basil made it of interest to modern scientists who studied it in an effort to classify and categorize some of the benefits seen with its Ayurvedic medicine usages. These studies have led to its classifications as an adaptogen.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are compounds that aid in the body’s ability to adapt to stress. Generally, as a class of compounds, adaptogens promote well-being and resilience against bodily physical and mental stressors. Other popular herbs that fall in this category are rhodiola rosea and ashwagandha.
The Source of Holy Basil’s Power
As a scientist, I’m always wondering “but how does it work?” The driving force behind the stress-busting benefits of Holy Basil is rooted in its potent antioxidants. Holy Basil is rich in polyphenol antioxidants - antioxidants in the same family as those found in green tea, extra virgin olive oil, and blueberries.
Promoting Health Adaptation to Stress
When scientists drilled down into determining how these antioxidants help promote resilience, they found 3 very specific ways in which Holy Basil works.
- Cortisol: Cortisol is your body’s primary stress hormone. Holy basil works to block the release of cortisol.
- 11Beta-HSD1: 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 is a key activator of the stress hormone cortisol. Holy basil blocks the action of 11Beta-HSD1, thus reducing cortisol activation.
- COMT: Catechol-O-methyltransferase is a compound in the body that mediates the breakdown of dopamine. Dopamine is one of the body’s natural stress deterrents. Holy basil has been shown to inhibit the action of COMT, thus allowing for dopamine to stay around longer, promoting its anti-stress actions.
All these actions highlight Holy Basil’s multi-pronged approach to controlling stress by reducing the activation and then the release of cortisol while also supporting the body’s natural processes for dealing with stressors.
Studies using higher dosages of Holy Basil taken for longer periods of time (>6 weeks) yielded users reporting upwards of 39% reductions in stress-related symptoms. One clinical trial found that daily use of 1200mg of Holy Basil for 6 weeks lead to self-reported reductions in exhaustion, sleep problems, and forgetfulness.
In addition to benefits on fighting stress, the antioxidants in Holy Basil have been shown to be protective against damage from heavy metals like led, arsenic, and mercury.
Preliminary research with Holy Basil also shows that it can improve cardio performance (by enhancing aerobic metabolism) while also reducing cellular damage due to prolonged exercise.
Best Practices for Leveraging the Benefits of Holy Basil
Adaptogens are best taken consistently. The improvements seen with antioxidant-powered compounds, like Holy Basil, are most beneficial when taken for an extended period of time so that the antioxidant levels can build up in the body and fight back the oxidative stress that is impairing physical and/or mental function.
Many people will take adaptogens sporadically due to concerns of adaptation or tolerance. This not ideal because of how they work in the body – sporadic intake will likely prevent maximum benefits. To take that one step further, taking them once daily for 2-3 days will not give you the results you are looking for
Take Your Foot Off the Brake to Get Better Results
I will often tell clients that the answer to achieving their goals is not always doing more and pushing their limits even further but instead sometimes focusing on removing roadblocks (like the negative effects of fatigue and stress) will yield even greater results.Take the first step and add a multivitamin to your regimen. VitaHustle’s Men’s and Women’s formula includes Holy Basil – a great way to make sure you’re getting the adaptogens you need each day.