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Can Holy Basil Boost Testosterone?

Within the world of testosterone boosting supplements, there are numerous different nutrients, herbs and ingredients to choose from. In this article we’ll discuss holy basil – a traditional Ayurvedic herb – and why this understudied herb might not be your best T-boosting needs.

And with so many available it’s important that you make the right choice when you’re wanting to achieve your goals. Whilst some will give you a stronger, leaner physique, chiseled abs and a stallion-like sex drive, others just don’t deliver. Instead they leave you tired, unmotivated and remorseful.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is holy basil?
  • Can it improve health?
  • What does the science say about its role in testosterone boosting?
  • Are there any side effects?

What is Holy Basil?

Holy basil is a South Asian tropical plant also referred to as tulsi, tulasi or less commonly by it’s scientific name Ocimum tenuiflorum

It is a member of the mint family and as an aromatic shrub is characterized by its multi-branched green or purple leaves. As a supplement it is available in extracts, pills, and powders, but the most regularly consumed variety is tulsi tea.

This plant is different to the household pesto basil you might already be familiar with. As the ‘Queen of herbs’ tulsi is revered by local people as an elixir of life.

It has been used for thousands of years in traditional Ayurvedic medicine due to its supposed health benefits [1] and has even mentioned in the ancient Ayurvedic text, the Charaka Samhita. You’ll often find it around Hindu shrines for that reason.

It is made up of a number of bioactive compounds. These include a number of active bioflavonols and ursolic acid – a molecule also found in apple peels. The most abundant compound found in this herb is eugenol – a therapeutic molecule linked to its anti-inflammatory effects [2]. It also contain β-Elemene which has been studied for its potential cancer fighting abilities – but to date there have been no clinical trials to confirm this.

It is said to have anti-stress, anti-lipid and glycemic lowering properties.


Holy Basil

Does The Tulsi Plant Improve Health?

The tulsi herb has adaptogen properties. This means that it can help the body adapt to stress, both physical and psychological. It has been used medicinally to treat not only inflammatory diseases but also stomach complaints, headaches and common colds too.

One study found that in a group of 35 participants, 1000mg per day of the plant extract decreased symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder [3].

Tulsi has also been seen to increase a number of markers of immune health too. T-cells, natural killer cells and IL-4 were all seen to elevate when 24 healthy volunteers were given 300mg capsules [4]. There’s certainly potential for the herb to offer ‘immunomodulatory’ properties.  

Ursolic acid – a bioactive compound found in the herb – has been found to have weak anti-aromatase proprieties. This means that it may be useful in preventing testosterone from being covered to the female hormone estrogen [5]. However, no actual holy basil tests have looked at this yet, only ursolic acid in isolation or as part of other herbs.

In theory, this means that the herb could have a beneficial effect on testosterone levels. Unfortunately though with so little evidence to draw upon it is hard to confirm until more evidence is made available.

Let’s have a look at what research is available though…


Key Point: Holy basil may improve health by providing adaptogenic benefits including improved immune function and anti-stress properties.


Does Holy Basil Increase Testosterone?

Although there are studies looking at various health benefits of tulsi, there is a surprisingly low number directly assessing its effects on testosterone. In fact, the only one of note is an animal study from 2010 [6].

In the study, 2 g of tulsi was found to reduce sperm count and reproductive potential ina goup of rabbits. This backs up why village women have previously used the herb as a contraceptive. Interestingly, even though sperm count dropped, the T levels of the rabbits rose and both FSH and LH levels fell.

Whilst the testosterone boosting benefits may be of interest, they are likely to come with the obvious side effects of making sperm ineffective and conception difficult. 

At present there have been no human studies, nor any other animal studies that show potential. Holy basil is a massively understudied nutrient and one that you should be cautious of until more robust evidence is made available. At best we would say that the one study conducted on holy basil and testosterone is interesting. But nothing more.

Although this study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology didn’t measure T levels, it did however measure reproductive behaviour [7]. In the study, various doses ranging from 100mg per kg to 400 mg per kg were given to a group of male Wistar rats. At higher doses there was a reported decrease in sexual function score – seen at 200 – 400 mg per kg.

As a side note it would have been interesting to see how a low dose of the herb matched up sexual behaviour against a group receiving no supplement at all. As sexual behaviour decreased with increasing doses of the herb, it is questionable as to whether it had any positive benefit at all.



Key Point: Holy basil is a very understudied nutrient. One rabbit study found that it elevates T levels, but it also reduced sperm motility and sexual behaviour as well.


Are There Any Side Effects?

Although granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA and available in many health food stores, you may still suffer side effects or adverse reactions when using it.

Common reactions include the obvious decreased fertility effects and reductions in sperm motility. As with many adaptogen herbs it can also cause low blood pressure and low blood sugar too.

Whilst this may be useful for those with hypertension or diabetes, those who are healthy may see negative effects including dizziness, light-headedness and fainting. In severe cases it may lead to shock, loss of consciousness or coma.

In terms of adverse reactions, prolonged bleeding has been found to occur in those taking blood thinning medication such as warfarin. This can be a serious side effect for anyone who has a bleeding disorder or those on anti-coagulant drugs.

Women who are pregnant should completely avoid this supplement as it can stimulate uterine contractions. This may cause complications in either the short- or the long- term.


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References

  1. Pattanayak, P et al. Ocimum sanctum Linn. A reservoir plant for therapeutic applications: An overview. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010; 4(7): 95–105
  2. Kelm, MA et al. Antioxidant and cyclooxygenase inhibitory phenolic compounds from Ocimum sanctum Linn. Phytomedicine. 2000; 7(1): 7-13
  3. Bhattacharyya, D et al. Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders. Nepal Med Coll J. 2008; 10(3): 176-9
  4. Mondal, S et al. Double-blinded randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011. 14; 136(3): 452-6
  5. Nascimento, PG et al. Antibacterial and Antioxidant Activities of Ursolic Acid and Derivatives. Molecules 2014, 19, 1317-1327
  6. Sethi, J et al. Effect of tulsi (Ocimum Sanctum Linn.) on sperm count and reproductive hormones in male albino rabbits. Int J Ayurveda Res. 2010; 1(4): 208-10
  7. Kantak, NM et al. Effect of short term administration of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) on reproductive behaviour of adult male rats. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 1992; 36(2): 109-11

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