Holy Basil and Testosterone: Tulsi for Hormonal Health?
By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Mon 24 September 2018
Medical Review by Gerardo Sison, PharmD
Holy basil, also known as tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) is a plant generously used in Indian herbal medicine of Ayurveda.
Tulsi is commonly praised for its testosterone boosting effect. However, it’s also used as an anti-fertility agent. Human data of holy basil limited, although the animal research on this plant is pretty impressive. Even though tulsi may raise testosterone levels, it also powerfully suppresses the HPTA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Testicular Axis).
Here’s a look into the hormonal effects of holy basil.
Tulsi and Testosterone Production
Holy basil is part of the family of plants labeled as Labiatae, more commonly known as mint.
Since some plants from the Labiatae family (peppermint and spearmint at least) powerfully suppress testosterone production, I started looking at the tulsi research from the similar point of view, as in; maybe holy basil is also antiandrogenic.
The active ingredients in tulsi are as follows:
- Rosmarinic acid and oils with aromatic properties.
- Ursolic acid (likely responsible for the hormonal effects).
- Eugenol (which is said to be the main active component).
- Apigenin (flavonol that can increase StAR and lower estrogen).
The research on humans suggests that consumption of holy basil can lead to improved immunity (due to an increase in lymphocytes and T killer and helper cells1). At a dosage of 1g/day tulsi can lead to lowered depression and reduced feelings of anxiety2.
When it comes to hormones, both holy basil and the active ingredient; ursolic acid have been studied in-vitro and in animals. Holy basil fed to male albino rabbits at 2g/day was able to absolutely skyrocket testosterone levels from the average of 303 ng/dL all the way to 1500 ng/dL, which was the maximum limit of the testing apparatus, there’s no way to tell how high the rabbits testosterone levels really were at the end, but since luteinizing hormone (LH) production stopped completely, it seems to be comparable to steroid-induced HPTA shutdown3.
Multiple other studies have shown that the administration of tulsi powerfully suppresses sperm production and results in lower quality and quantity of semen4. This takes place with isolated ursolic acid too, suggesting that it’s the main ingredient behind the HPTA suppression in holy basil5,6.
Conclusion on Tulsi and Testosterone
I have never seen such impressive increases in testosterone production from a single herb before (albeit this was in rabbits).
Even though holy basil absolutely skyrocketed testosterone production, it’s good to keep in mind that this was likely due to some androgenic/anabolic compound in the plant that directly increased testosterone levels in the gonads, NOT via increased production and signals from the brain through the gonadotropins (LH and FSH).
Since holy basil leads to complete shutdown of the production of luteinizing hormone, it effectively STOPS the natural production of testosterone and leads to lowered follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which suppresses sperm production (which is probably why it’s used as an anti-fertility agent in India).
Would this take place in humans? I simply do not know.
At this point, I wouldn’t recommend holy basil. It seems to be incredibly anabolic herb, but so much so that it results in similar side effect as steroids and TRT does (shutdown of the natural production). There are compounds that increase testosterone levels without suppressing the HPTA, which are much safer to use.