Unveiling the Healing Wonders of Holy Basil and Ursolic Acid in the Battle Against Cancer
Commonly revered as a sacred herb in the expansive tapestry of Asian medicinal lore, Holy Basil, or Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), bears an array of documented medicinal benefits. From potent anti-inflammatory attributes to its capacity as a primary adaptogen, the potential of this humble herb in combating cancer is a subject worthy of exploration.
Holy Basil: A Natural Panacea
Holy Basil is celebrated for its powerful anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-pain properties, borne from its capability as a COX-2 inhibitor. This remarkable herb is recognized for its stress-alleviating benefits and has been affectionately dubbed a primary adaptogen - a natural protector of the body against itself.
Its comprehensive healing profile also includes the ability to mitigate the risk and symptoms of diabetes, shield the liver, and lower blood fat levels. Furthermore, it champions a robust immune system, reinforcing the body's innate defenses.
Holy Basil: A Cancer Fighter
The anti-cancer prowess of Holy Basil lies within its unique assembly of bioactive phytochemicals, such as apigenin, eugenol, rosmarinic acid, myretenal, luteolin, β-sitosterol, ursolic acid, and carnosic acid. These compounds have been proven to possess significant epigenetic effects in a variety of cancers, including but not limited to lung, pancreatic, breast, prostate, oral, and skin cancer.
The phytochemicals exhibit a wide spectrum of anti-cancer activities, including enhancing antioxidant action, altering gene expression, inducing apoptosis, and stymieing angiogenesis and metastasis. In a notable study, Holy Basil exhibited the potential to challenge pancreatic cancer cells and tumors, not only within laboratory test tubes but also in cancer-stricken mice (1).
The Potency of Ursolic Acid
However, it is ursolic acid, making up roughly 2% of the Holy Basil leaf, that deserves a special mention. In 2015, it was reported that ursolic acid-initiated autophagy (a process where cancer cells turn against each other), leading to reduced tumor growth in cervical cancer. The response was found to be dose-dependent (2). Intriguingly, ursolic acid was also shown to attack prostate cancer and sensitize the cancer cells to a more potent attack by TRAIL drugs. Simultaneously, it was proven to confront colorectal cancer cells and augment the efficacy of CHOP drugs (3).
In 2017, a comprehensive review across all types of breast cancer (ER+ve, TNBC, ER-ve, HER2 etc) revealed that ursolic acid disrupts the glycolytic pathway in cancer cells, specifically targeting the AMPK pathway in cancer cell mitochondria, leading to cell cycle arrest, DNA damage, and cell death. Further, it seemed to increase the effectiveness of standard chemotherapy (4).
Present not only in Holy Basil but also in various natural foods like pistachio nuts, rosemary, thyme, Arabica coffee, eucalyptus, and fruit peels such as apple, ursolic acid's importance is magnified when used alongside either curcumin or resveratrol. This combination prevents cancer cells from using glutamine—an essential amino acid often harnessed as an energy source by cancer—as a growth catalyst. Essentially, these compounds starve prostate cancer.
Remarkably, research indicates Holy Basil could play an instrumental role in protecting healthy cells during chemo- and radiotherapy (5). Thus, this humble herb and its potent constituent, ursolic acid, present an exciting avenue in the exploration of alternative cancer treatments.