Carolina Holistic Medicine | Functional & Alternative Medicine | Charleston, SC

HPA Axis Dysregulation

with a Side of Holy Basil*

No question about it, this is a fast paced world. The expectations to multitask, handle traffic, respond to floods of emails, work full time, deal with family stressors, manage finances and perhaps cope with health issues happen simultaneously. Today’s world is a recipe for cooking up abnormal cortisol levels.
Whether a real life stressor or a perceived stressor, the body physiologically reacts the same by producing excess cortisol, the classic chemical fight or flight response. Over time, this chronic stress leads to a dysregulation in the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal axis, otherwise known as “adrenal fatigue,” and salivary testing will reveal suboptimal or low cortisol levels. But it’s not just a matter of feeling tired. Chronically elevated cortisol levels have been studied as a factor in spatial memory impairments, low levels of hippocampal cell survival and age-related cognitive dysfunctions.

Take a deep breath; in for 1… 2… 3… and out for 1… 2… 3… Ahhhhh, that’s better. It is important to identify HPA axis dysregulation and subsequent treatment approaches. The first step towards a healthy adrenal response is recognition of life’s stressors. Often times, patients are out of touch with stress levels because high levels are accepted as a societal norm. Discussions around stress, using words other than “stress” such as fear, tension, negative self-talk, fatigue or anxiety, as well as salivary cortisol testing, can open a window into an otherwise unappreciated etiology contributory to various health pathologies.

In addition to stress management techniques, health care practitioners can support patients toward a healthy HPA axis with the use of certain botanicals. Lucky for patients, an herb called Holy Basil (botanical name Ocimum sactum), also known as Tulsi or “The Incomparable One” is readily available for natural adrenal support. Holy Basil is one of the most sacred botanicals in all of India. As part of a larger group of herbs called adaptogens, this herb exhibits a normalizing effect on the entire system, and increases resistance to harmful stressors. Adaptogens like Holy Basil are generally non-toxic and can safely be used for long periods of time.

A study published in 2014 found Holy Basil to have protective effects on organs and tissues against chemical stress from industrial pollutants and heavy metals and also from prolonged physical exertion and ischemia. Additionally, it was found that Holy Basil counters metabolic stress through blood glucose, blood pressure and lipid level normalization and balances psychological stress through positive effects on memory and cognition through anxiolytic and antidepressant actions. Another study found protection against depletion of glutathione and plasma superoxide dismutase with Holy Basil supplementation.

The effects of stress can be easily and accurately measured using salivary adrenal function testing with DHEA and diurnal cortisol levels as objective biomarkers. Along with a thorough history, Labrix salivary testing can elucidate an otherwise unrecognized etiology behind chronic health issues. Once identified, a vast menu of treatment options are available, and Holy Basil may be just what the doctor ordered.

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