Anxiety is a general reaction that helps an individual cope with stress. However, excessive, irrational reactions in response to simple, everyday situations are categorized under anxiety disorders. There are several types of anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. They often lead to insomnia or lack of sleep, although other factors such as alcohol and caffeine may also disrupt sleeping patterns. Apart from maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding the triggers that lead to anxiety and insomnia, certain medications and herbs such as holy basil may also help.
What is Holy Basil?
Holy basil, also known as tulsi or Ocimum sanctum, is a small, branched shrub that has been used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine to treat a variety of ailments. The pale, hairy, strongly aromatic leaves of the plant contain chemicals such as tannins, flavonoids and essential oils that are responsible for its biological activity. Holy basil supplements are available as tablets, capsules, liquid extracts and tea, and the dosage may depend upon the condition and age of the patient.
Benefits for Anxiety and Insomnia
According to a study published in the September 2008 issue of the “Nepal Medical College Journal,” 500 milligrams of holy basil capsules taken two times a day after meals can significantly lower the intensity of generalized anxiety disorder. Some animal studies, such as the one published in the October 2010 edition of the “Indian Journal of Pharmacology,” have also indicated that holy basil extracts have the ability to attenuate depression and anxiety in laboratory animals. Managing anxiety and depression may, in turn, help treat insomnia. Anxiety disorders also increase the count of white blood cells such as neutrophils. However, pretreatment with tulsi extracts can bring neutrophil levels back to normal in rats that have been exposed to noise stress, report the researchers of a study published in the November 2000 issue of the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology.” Ocimum sanctum supplements may also help treat other conditions, such as the pain that contributes to anxiety and insomnia. In fact, an article published in the January 2010 online edition of the “Journal of Brachial Plexus and Peripheral Nerve Injury” states that tulsi can help relieve neuropathic pain resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves and thereby help reduce the stress associated with it.
Clinical trials proving the safety and efficacy of holy basil in humans are lacking, and its side effects have not been documented scientifically. Drugs.com states that although holy basil is considered safe for short-term use, it may lead to reduced sperm count and toxic reactions in the liver. It may also interact with a class of drugs known as barbiturates that are used to inhibit the central nervous system.
Although holy basil supplements are easily available at most pharmacies and natural food stores, its production and distribution is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Do what you can to ensure that the supplements you are using are safe and pure. Remember that many of the benefits of holy basil have been proven in laboratory animals only, and their impact in actual clinical cases is unknown -- as are the side effects associated with them. Thus, always talk to a doctor before using holy basil supplements to treat anxiety and insomnia.
- Nepal Medical College Journal: Controlled Programmed Trial of Ocimum sanctum Leaf on Generalized Anxiety Disorders
- Indian Journal of Pharmacology: Effects of Ocimum sanctum and Camellia sinensis on Stress-induced Anxiety and Depression in Male Albino Tattus norvegicus
- Journal of Brachial Plexus and Peripheral Nerve Injury: Exploring the Potential Effect of Ocimum sanctum in Vincristine-induced Neuropathic Pain in Rats
- Drugs.com: Holy Basil
A freelance writer and blogger since 2007, Shamala Pulugurtha's work has appeared in magazines such as the "Guide to Health and Healing" and prominent websites like Brain Blogger and NAMI California. Pulugurtha has a postgraduate degree in medical microbiology from Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India and has completed course work in psychology and health education.