Holy Basil or Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum or Ocimum tenuiflorum) is another cherished herb in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine system.
Known as ‘The Queen of Herbs’ and ‘The incomparable one,’ the herb has been used for thousands of years for its diverse therapeutic properties.
The tulsi plant is a small branched shrub with strongly aromatic green or purple leaves. It is cultivated for religious and medicinal purposes. Holy basil belongs to genus Ocimum and family Lamiaceae.
Traditional wisdom suggests that tulsi is a tonic for body, mind, and soul and can aid in the prevention of diseases and promote longevity and well-being.
The leaves have a hot and bitter taste and have been used traditionally to treat common colds, headaches, treating poisoning, skin diseases, heart diseases, gastric conditions, etc.
Tulsi leaves contain essential oils with therapeutic components like eugenol, euginal, carvacrol, linalool, limatrol, urosolic acid etc. Other therapeutic components found in the stem and leaves include saponins, flavonoids, triterpenoids, and tannins.
Science has proven various pharmacological properties of Ocimum sanctum: antimicrobial, anti-oxidant, anti-cataract, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, anti-diabetic, anti-arthritic, anti-allergic, memory enhancement, etc.
Holy basil’s benefits for alcoholism are attributed to the fact that it is an adaptogen (stress relieving herb) just like ashwagandha which also benefits in alcohol withdrawal.
4 Science-Based Benefits of Holy Basil For Alcoholism
Tulsi helps relieve stress and anxiety which are major factors involved in alcohol addiction and withdrawal.
1. Holy basil and other herbs relieve alcohol withdrawal symptoms
Since alcohol intoxicates the nervous system and creates a state of dependence, cessation of alcohol intake can create withdrawal symptoms. Additionally existence of emotional burden or other stressors can worsen mental health in this condition.
A study published in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011 examined the effect of a standardized polyherbal formulation on alcohol withdrawal.
The formulation included herbs Withania somnifera (ashwagandha), Ocimum sanctum (holy basil), Camellia Sinensis (green tea), Triphala and shilajit. In the experimental study, the herbal extract was found to reduce alcohol withdrawal associated anxiety.
High dose of the herbal extract produced an anxiolytic effect comparable to alprazolam (an anti-anxiety drug belonging to benzodiazepine group).
Holy basil extracts have proven anti-stress property, and the researchers concluded that this herbal formulation could serve as an alternative to benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal.
Quick Gist: Holy basil in combination with other herbs can help alleviate anxiety associated with alcohol withdrawal.
2. It relieves stress and depression
Experimental studies suggest that Holy basil extracts have anti-anxiety and an anti-depressive effect.
Its anti-stress activity (alone not in combination with other herbs) is found to be significant but slightly less than alprazolam (an anti-anxiety drug belonging to benzodiazepine group).
A fairly old study suggests that this anti-stress effect of tulsi leaf extract may be due to the regulation of dopamine (a neurotransmitter which is actively involved in reward and motivation feeling).
A recent study published in Phytotherapy Research, 2016 investigated the anti-stress potential of tulsi and revealed new findings.
The researchers found a possible interaction with HPA or hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal gland axis (interaction of vital hormone-secreting glands with the brain). This axis regulates stress response.
In the animal model of stress, Ocimum sanctum extracts were found to prevent weight loss due to stress and improved behavioral changes. It also reduced the release of stress hormone- cortisol.
Ahmad et al. have proven that Holy basil contains natural antioxidants called Ocimumoside A and Ocimumoside B which helps alleviate stress.
They boost antioxidant defences in the brain and also regulate various neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that affect our mood) and thus can aid in the treatment of stress-related conditions.
There is one study which examined the anti-stress potential of Holy basil in humans.
35 individuals with generalised anxiety disorder participated in the study. They were treated with 500mg standardised extract twice a day after meals.
The study lasted for 60 days. The treatment was found to reduce generalised anxiety disorder and alleviated stress and depression. The therapy also improved attention and the ‘willingness to adjust’ in the patients.
Overall researchers concluded that Ocimum sanctum is a promising anxiolytic agent.
Quick Gist: Holy basil extracts have proven anti-stress, anti-anxiety and antidepressant activity. Antioxidants present in the plant help alleviate stress and anxiety by regulating the stress hormones and neurotransmitters.
3. Tulsi offers neuroprotection and protects cognition
Ocimum sanctum extracts have proven neuroprotective activity. They protect neurons by elevating antioxidant defences.
Polyphenols and flavonoids present in the leaves exert a strong antioxidant against neurotoxins, prevent oxidative damage to the cells and prevent DNA damage.
These findings suggest that holy basil extracts could be beneficial in treating brain disorders which are caused by reduced antioxidant power.
An experimental study reveals that Ocimum sanctum extracts have a nootropic effect and can counteract drug-induced or alcohol-induced memory and learning deficits.
Another recent study published in Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology showed that alcohol extracts of Holy basil leaves have cognition-enhancing effect in humans.
300mg of standardized extract or placebo were given. A significant improvement in cognitive parameters was observed in Holy basil group when compared with placebo group. Reduction in anxiety and stress hormone levels was also observed.
Quick gist: Holy basil has a neuroprotective property which can help protect the brain cells from alcohol-induced oxidative damage.
Chronic alcohol consumption can cause learning and memory-related deficits. Research suggests that Ocimum sanctum leaf extract can have a nootropic and cognition-enhancing effect. It can prevent such cognitive deficits.
4. It helps the body detox
Excessive alcohol consumption has adverse effects on other systems in the body as well. It lowers antioxidant defences and creates a state of oxidative stress that leads to tissue damage.
It can affect stomach health and lead to occurrence of gastric ulcers. It even impairs liver health.
Tulsi extracts are proven to naturally improve antioxidant defenses by increasing the levels of antioxidant enzymes.
Research suggests that Ocimum sanctum’s natural anti-inflammatory property can help protect stomach and liver health.
The active constituents responsible for this effect include eugenol, carvacrol, ursolic acid, β-caryophyllene and rosmarinic acid.
Holy basil extracts normalize liver enzymes and initiate repair in liver damage. It is found to have a synergistic action with silymarin, a potent liver-protective herb.
Quick Gist: Multiple therapeutic properties of Holy basil can benefit overall health in alcoholism. It’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and liver protective properties can help the body detox from chronic alcohol consumption.
Dosage of Holy Basil For Alcoholism
There is no exact dosage of Holy basil prescribed for alcoholism. For those who have access to fresh tulsi leaves and are comfortable with the taste, chewing one leaf per day can have fantastic health benefits.
Holy basil extracts are available as capsules, powder, tinctures etc.
A dose of 500 mg standardized holy basil leaf extract twice a day after meals is beneficial for stress relief and reduction of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Holy basil tea is referred to as ‘liquid yoga’ owing to its calming effects. You can boil 5-6 fresh tulsi leaves can be boiled in water for ten minutes and then steeped as hot tea. It has a hot and slightly bitter taste. 1 cup a day should suffice.
If opting for readymade tea mixes, please buy from a trusted supplier.
Please consult a health practitioner before taking Holy basil supplements.
There are no known serious side effects of holy basil, especially of standardized extracts.
Certain sources suggest that holy basil has an anti-fertility effect based on the findings of animal studies.
However, Ayurveda experts have refuted these findings; they state that based on the animal study one would have to consume 100,000 times the amount of the lowest dose considered safe for humans, to experience the anti-fertility effect.
Substantially high doses of holy basil (40-80g) may exert an anti-fertility effect but it is not possible to consume those.
Tulsi has immunostimulatory properties and hence should be taken in limited amounts in autoimmune diseases.
Not much is known about the safety of holy basil supplements in pregnancy and lactation, but fresh leaves in diet should not pose any risk. Please consult a health practitioner before taking tulsi supplements.
There are limited studies proving the benefits of Holy Basil for alcohol addiction and withdrawal but we cannot ignore the anti-anxiety and detoxifying properties of this herb.
Tulsi is appropriately named ‘liquid yoga’ owing to its calming effect, and this makes it a viable therapeutic agent in reducing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
It is a natural detoxifying agent, and this property can help the system recover from deleterious side effects of chronic alcohol consumption. More research should be directed towards the effect of holy basil extracts on alcohol addiction.
Most Indian households do grow a tulsi plant for sacred purposes. I do consume fresh tulsi leaves as I find the taste refreshing but now having examined it from a scientific viewpoint I would like to try its anti-anxiety effect.
I would recommend holy basil for counteracting stress and anxiety during alcohol withdrawal, and in case you have tried it please share your thoughts below. If this article helped you, please do share it on social media and do give a thumbs up on Facebook as well!