The Health Benefits of Tulsi

An Indian herb similar to basil may lower cholesterol

Tulsi on a wicker plate

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Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), also known as holy basil, is a medicinal herb used in Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine that originated in India. Closely related to culinary basil, tulsi is native to India and Southeast Asia.

Tulsi is considered an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens are plants that help to adapt the body to stress and boost energy. Tulsi contains a number of beneficial compounds including:

  • Eugenol: a terpene with pain-relieving properties, also found in clove oil
  • Ursolic and rosmarinic acid: compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging properties
  • Apigenin: a flavonoid that helps the body removes waste at the cellular level
  • Lutein: an antioxidant carotenoid important for eye health
  • Ocimumosides A and B: compounds that reduce stress and balances the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine

In alternative medicine, tulsi is typically used for asthmabronchitisarthritiscolds, and the flu.

Health Benefits

To date, very few studies have looked at tulsi's effects on human health. However, preliminary research suggests that the herb may offer certain benefits:

Anxiety

As an adaptogen, research suggests Tulsi may relieve anxiety and improve moods. Several animal and laboratory have shown its effectiveness, but few clinical trials have been done.

In a 2008 study of 35 adults with generalized anxiety disorder, researchers found that taking tulsi in capsule form twice daily for 60 days significantly reduced levels of anxiety. Subjects also reported feeling lower levels of stress and depression.

A 2015 placebo-controlled trial of healthy adults found Tulsi may ease stress and also improve cognitive functions like reaction time.

High Cholesterol

Tulsi may help keep cholesterol in check, according to a 2006 study on rabbits. Although the study showed that tulsi had significant cholesterol-lowering and antioxidant effects, results also found the herb had no effect on diabetes. An earlier study, however, found tulsi lowered blood sugar in rats.

Metabolic Syndrome

A 2017 literature review published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found tulsi shows promise in preventing a treating lifestyle-related chronic diseases, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and psychological stress.

The review of 24 studies that reported on the therapeutic effects of tulsi on metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, immunity, and neurocognition found favorable clinical outcomes without any significant side effects. The researchers note, however, that more studies are needed to clarify the beneficial dosage for different populations.

Respiratory Infections

In a 2009 study on mice, scientists discovered that dietary supplementation with tulsi and clove protected the animals' lungs against colonization with Klebsiella pneumoniae, a common hospital-acquired bacteria known to cause pneumonia and urinary tract infections.

Mercury Poisoning

A 2002 study on mice suggests that treatment with tulsi may provide protection against mercury-induced toxicity, which known to damage the central nervous system, endocrine system, kidneys, and other organs.

Possible Side Effects

Like other supplements, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of tulsi due to a lack of research.

Tulsi may lower blood sugar and should be used with caution in people who have diabetes and are on blood-sugar-lowering medication.

Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should not take tulsi as it may affect reproductive capacity, possibly due to its ursolic acid content. Tulsi may increase testosterone levels.

Tulsi contains eugenol, a substance also found in the essential oil of cloves and balsam of Peru. While small amounts of tulsi may prevent toxin-induced damage to the liver, in greater amounts eugenol may cause liver damage. Overdose is also possible, causing symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, or convulsions.

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. 

Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

Selection, Preparation & Storage

Tulsi is available in capsules, tinctures, powders, and as an herbal tea, and is sold in health-food stores and online. Also called holy basil, look for its scientific name (Ocimum sanctum) on the ingredients list.

Tulsi is often sold in combination with other herbs and spices and can be found in herbal tea blends promoting stress relief and energy. The herb itself is caffeine-free, however, it may be combined with other tea leaves that contain caffeine. If you are watching your caffeine intake, check the label to be sure it is free of caffeine.

Supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. To ensure you are purchasing a quality product look for a trusted independent, third-party seal on the label, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab.

Common Questions

Is tulsi an adaptogen?

Tulsi is considered an adaptogenic herb, plants that help to adapt the body to stress and boost energy. It is often found in preparations that contain other adaptogens, such as ashwagandha, astragalus root, Siberian ginseng, and turmeric, that work synergistically to provide optimal benefits.

A Word From Verywell

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend tulsi as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using tulsi for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

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