Research: The Anti-Cancer Properties of Tulsi Tea (Holy Basil)

Disclaimer: Tulsi and its active compounds are currently under investigation for their potential against various cancers. However, the research is in very early stages, and no human trials have been conducted thus far.

Tulsi is currently being studied for its potential usefulness against skin cancer, lung cancer, and breast cancer and potential preventative effects against liver cancer, stomach cancer, and oral cancer [1].

The research we discuss below is still in the animal and cell stages. Future studies will determine whether any of tulsi’s active compounds are useful in cancer therapies. Do not under any circumstances attempt to replace conventional cancer therapy with supplements like tulsi. If you want to use tulsi as a supportive measure, talk to your doctor to avoid any unexpected interactions.

The prime action of Holy Basil (also known as Tulsi) in cancer control comes from its ability to inhibit an enzyme called COX-2 that stimulates an inflammatory response in the body and triggers cancerous activities. Holy basil, by blocking the action of this enzyme, prevents inflammation and reduces pain.

Various animal and laboratory studies have indicated that Tulsi can repair and regenerate the cells damaged due to the exposure to radiation and oxidation demonstrating its immense potential at destroying the pre-cancerous lesions.
Studies have revealed that the phytonutrients in Holy basil directly kill the cancer cells thereby limiting the growth and spread of the cancer mass.

The active component of the leaves of Holy Basil, eugenol, inhibits the division and migration of the cancer cells. It also prevents the cancer cells from invading into the surrounding structures and induces apoptosis (the process of programmed cell death).

Additionally, Holy Basil contains several other cancer-fighting phytochemicals including apigenin, rosmarinic acid, luteolin, myretenal, carnosic acid and beta-sitosterol. These compounds stimulate the antioxidant activity and destroy the cancer cells.

Holy basil is effective in inhibiting the growth and progression of breast cancer by blocking the cell proliferation. It also prevents angiogenesis, a process by which new blood vessels are formed within the cancer mass. As a result of this, the cancer cells do not get oxygen and nutrition needed for their survival resulting in their death.

Skin Cancer

In mice, an alcoholic extract of tulsi leaves applied topically was protective against chemically-induced skin cancer [2].

Pre-treatment with an alcoholic extract of tulsi leaves decreased the number of tumors induced by a range of skin carcinogens in a mouse model of skin cancer [3].

In another study, a water-alcohol extract of tulsi reduced tumor size and increased survival rates of mice with melanoma [4].

Tulsi seed oil was also protective against the development of skin cancer and improved survival rates of mice with tumors [5].

Lung Cancer

In a review study, a tulsi alcohol extract induced cell death in human lung cancer cells and suppressed the growth of lung cancer cells in mice [6].

In mice, tulsi extracts reduced MMP9 activity, thus reducing the formation of tumors when tumor cells were injected into the animals [7].

Tulsi extract reduced the formation of tumors in mice injected with lung cancer cells [8].

Phytochemicals contained in tulsi, including carnosic acid, rosmarinic acid, and luteolin are able to inhibit the growth of lung cancer [9].

Breast Cancer

Cell studies have shown that tulsi leaf extract prevented the spread of breast cancer and prevented an increase in the levels of COX–2/inflammation [10].

In cell-based studies, Eugenol (a primary constituent of Tulsi), luteolin, and apigenin killed human breast cancer cells [R,11].

Carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid were shown to inhibit the growth of human breast cancer cells [12].

Prostate Cancer

Studies show that O. sanctum as a single agent and in synergistic combination with docetaxel is beneficial in the treatment of prostate cancer. Docetaxel (DTL), the approved drug for the treatment of metastatic androgen independent prostate cancer, has been shown to improve survival and quality of life in patients. However, the dose limiting adverse effect of DTL is febrile neutropenia and anemia. Research indicates that vicenin-2 and DTL co-administration results in greater decrease in the levels of proliferation marker, Ki67 and angiogenic marker-CD31, while increasing the tumor suppressor E-cadherin expression to a greater extent than either of the agents alone. [29]

Critical signaling proteins like pIGF-1R, which is important for androgen-independent prostate cancer survival and progression, and pAkt, proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), cyclin D1, fibronectinwere have also been shown to be significantly inhibited by co-administration of vicenin-2 and DTL. [30]

Liver Cancer

Tulsi (leaf alcohol extract) protected liver cells from DNA damage and increased antioxidant levels in response to cancer-causing chemicals and drug exposures [13].

In rats, tulsi significantly prevented chemical-induced liver cancer [14].

Ursolic acid, which is found in tulsi, prevented toxin–induced liver cancer in rats by decreasing oxidative stress [15].

Additional anti-cancer effects were also observed in liver cells from the tulsi phytochemicals apigenin, luteolin, carnosic acid, and rosmarinic acid [16].

Studies have also shown that myrtenal, a monoterpene present in tulsi, was effective in preventing toxin-induced liver cancer in rats [17, 18].

Stomach Cancer

Studies have shown that including tulsi leaves in the diet prevented chemically–induced stomach cancer in mice [19].

An alcohol-based 70% tulsi leaf extract reduced chemical–induced stomach cancer in rats [20].

In an animal study (rats), tulsi selectively induced cell death in chemical-induced stomach cancer, but not in the normal stomach tissue [21].

Eugenol was effective against chemically-induced stomach tumors in mice [22) and in rats [23, 24].

Cell culture studies have shown that phytochemicals in tulsi, luteolin, β-sitosterol, ursolic acid, and apigenin also inhibit growth and kill stomach cancers [25].

Oral Cancer

In a study of 41 patients in India (aged 17 – 56 years), tulsi combined with turmeric was shown to be highly potent against Oral Submucous Fibrosis (OSMF), which if not treated, can progress to oral cancer [26].

In hamsters, water extract of tulsi taken by mouth had the greatest anticancer activity against papillomas and squamous cell carcinomas [27].

In a cell study, tulsi water extract was shown to be highly effective against oral cancer cells [28].

Conclusion

Tulsi has man health benefits, new research is strengthening our conclusions about the benefits of Tulsi tea on our bodies. Try some Tulsi tea today and see for yourself!

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