Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum)

Consult your diabetes care team before starting any nutritional supplement. Blood glucose levels should be checked more often to determine the effectiveness of the supplement or if a medication change is needed.

Supplement of the Month

| Sep 1, 2005

Holy basil, or Ocimum sanctum, is an herb native to India and is regarded as one of the most important plants used in Ayurvedic medicine.

Holy basil is also known as “tulsi.” It has a pleasant aroma and is available in both red and green varieties. It grows abundantly around Hindu temples, and although it is native to India, it is now widely grown throughout the world. The plant is hairy with multiple branches and small, tender leaves. The leaves and stems are used medicinally.

May Improve Beta Cell Function

The leaves of the holy basil plant contain essential oils that yield eugenol, methyl eugenol and caryophyllene, and they also yield other substances such as ursolic acid and apigenin. Researchers have theorized that holy basil leaves may improve pancreatic beta cell function and thus enhance insulin secretion.

Research Supports Herb’s Diabetes Benefits

There has been one small controlled trial of 40 people with type 2 diabetes. Patients were asked to stop their diabetes medications seven days before the start of the trial. Then all patients were given holy basil leaves for a run-in period of five days. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to take 2.5 grams of powdered holy basil leaf, and 20 were given placebo for four weeks and then were crossed over to the other treatment group without a washout period for another four weeks.

In the first group, average fasting glucose declined from 134.5 mg/dl to 99.7 mg/dl after four weeks of treatment with holy basil. After being crossed over to placebo for four weeks, it increased to 115.6 mg/dl. In the placebo-first group, average fasting glucose declined from 132.4 mg/dl to 123.2 mg/dl after four weeks and then declined even further to 97.2 mg/dl after being crossed over for four weeks to holy basil.

Overall, mean fasting blood glucose was 21 mg/dl lower in the holy basil group. There were no adverse effects reported by those taking the holy basil or the placebo.

Holy Basil

Holy basil has not yet been studied in people with type 1 diabetes.

There is no typical dose for holy basil, but in the one human study, 2.5 grams of a dried leaf powder was used once per day on an empty stomach.

Side Effects

Although holy basil has been used to treat diabetes, it has primarily been used to treat other ailments such as asthma, heart problems, arthritis and respiratory infections. Another popular use is for stress management.

Drug Interactions

There are no reported cases of drug interactions involving holy basil. Theoretical interactions would be possible hypoglycemia when taken by diabetics treated with insulin or insulin secretagogues such as sulfonylureas (glyburide, glipizide, Amaryl), Prandin or Starlix.

Holy basil is available from www.iherb.com and www.drugstore.com.

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