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Holy Basil May Decrease the Stress Hormone Cortisol


A series of scientific studies examining the herb holy basil have found that holy basil decreases stress hormone cortisol. Studies have shown that lower levels of cortisol are associated with improved mental clarity and memory, and long-term, can reduce the risk of age-related mental disorders.

Cortisol’s connection to stress and illness is confirmed by Emma Adam, Northwestern University assistant professor of education and social policy. She says, “When cortisol is activated, you put rest and repair operations on hold to deal with immediate crisis. If you’re always activating the stress systems, and not giving your emotions or your body a break, this constantly or chronically elevated level of [stress] hormones could cause wear and tear that contributes to a variety of stress-related illnesses.”

A study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, found holy basil to be a potent anti-stress agent and has a high margin of safety. This plus a series of other medical studies thus far have been conducted in laboratory animals, not humans.

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Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is a member of the mint family and is related to the sweet basil. It is a powerful antioxidant with demonstrated antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Holy basil functions as an adaptogen, increasing the body's natural response to both physical and emotional stress. It is important to note that adaptogenic herbs do not alter mood; they help the body function optimally during times of stress.

Daily stress leads to fluctuations in brain serotonin levels, increases in dopamine levels and holy basil appears to help people maintain normal levels of these brain chemicals in times of stress. Holy Basil helps with stress due to its ability to normalize neurotransmitter levels in the brain with the reduction of COX-2.

Herbalist Roy Upton states, “Stress can elevate cortisol levels, which triggers the production of inflammatory COX-2 enzymes. This cascade effect then influences blood sugar changes and increases metabolic inflammation. Research has shown that ursolic acid and the triterpenoic acids, isolated from holy basil, effectively improve the body's response to stress.”