Bacopa monnieri is an Ayurvedic herb that relaxes and mentally-stimulates you all at once. It’s commonly known for its mood-enhancing and anti-inflammatory benefits, but this is just scratching the surface of its medicinal potential. Read on to discover the amazing benefits of bacopa, along with the possible side effects.
What is Bacopa Monnieri?
Bacopa monnieri is an herb native to the wetlands of southern India and Australia, often growing as a weed in rice fields. The entire plant is used medicinally in the Indian traditional medicine system of Ayurveda [1, 2].
Use in Ayurveda
In India, bacopa is locally known as brahmi after “Brahma,” the mythical creator of the Hindu pantheon. Ayurvedic practitioners classify it as a medhya rasayana–an herb taken to sharpen the intellect and improve mental deficits. In other words, bacopa is probably one of the oldest-known nootropics in the world [1, 2].
Allegedly, ancient Vedic scholars used Bacopa monnieri to better memorize lengthy sacred hymns and scriptures. They often combined it with other intellect-sharpening herbs like Gotu Kola. Preparations with bacopa are also commonly prescribed for cognitive dysfunction in Ayurveda .
Ayurveda doesn’t separate herbs that enhance cognition in healthy people from those that lessen existing cognitive problems. That’s why bacopa is equally popular among young professionals and students as it is among older people.
I think bacopa’s true power lies in offsetting cognitive decline with aging. We’re on a quest to increase lifespan, but we should really be seeking to increase healthspan–life lived in good health. To achieve this, we should maintain mental sharpness, brain health, and work capacity into old age.
Just in the US, over 3.4 million people suffer from dementia and most of them are over 65 years of age. Many more cases of subtle (sub-clinical) cognitive dysfunction go undiagnosed, as is the case with brain fog. Bacopa is a revitalizing, relaxing, and mentally-stimulating herb – one I believe can support our healthspan extension quest .
A number of recent studies have looked into bacopa’s therapeutic potential. The herb contains a mix of synergistic compounds that protect the brain, scavenge free radicals, and increase acetylcholine–the most important neurotransmitter for memory and learning. And unlike synthetic smart drugs, bacopa causes minimal side effects .
- Improves memory and learning
- Potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant
- Reduces stress, anxiety & depression
- Protects the brain
- Improves immunity
- Protects the liver and kidneys
- Fights fatigue
- May reduce fertility in men
- Some may find it reduces cortisol too much
- Doesn’t taste good and can cause nausea or stomach upset
Bacopa monnieri contains a mixture of active compounds. Some are unique to it, like brahmine, the first alkaloid isolated from the herb. It also contains apigenin, a relaxing alkaloid found in many plants such as chamomile [1, 2].
However, its most important active compounds are its bacosides, so-called steroidal saponins. These plant compounds are responsible for improving learning and memory. Over 12 unique bacosides have been discovered in bacopa so far [1, 2].
Benefits of Bacopa Monnieri
Mechanism of Action
Bacopa increases levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which enhances cognition and intellectual capacities. Your body uses acetylcholine for cholinergic activity, which counteracts the fight-or-flight response. It gets your body into a state of “resting and digesting.” Rest also enables a higher state of consciousness: selective attention, perception, and memory [3, 4].
Specifically, bacopa has dual boosting action: it inhibits acetylcholinesterase–the enzyme that breaks acetylcholine down, and it activates choline acetyltransferase–the enzyme that produces acetylcholine .
One group of scientists discovered that bacopa can help neurons branch out. It increases dendritic branching – dendrites being the parts of neurons that send out information by connecting with other neurons. Better-branched neurons enhance learning and memory.
Image taken from Vollala et al, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3093798/
In the image above, neurons branch out more as bacopa doses are increased – from A to D.
1) Increases Antioxidant Defense
Being the most metabolically-active organ, the brain needs to regularly deal with oxidative stress. Plus, it carefully filters the compounds it lets in via the blood-brain barrier. If its internal antioxidant defenses fall, damage is likely. Based on rat studies, bacopa’s active compounds can easily cross into the brain and offer protection .
Importantly, it prevents free radicals from destroying lipids in the brain. The brain is rich lipids, which make it functional and well-connected. Since these lipids are sensitive to damage, bacopa’s action goes a long way to protect the brain’s crucial components .
2) May Increase Longevity
Antioxidant defenses usually drop with aging, while oxidative stress increases. In mice, Bacopa prevents the formation of malondialdehyde and lipofuscin, which are key indicators of aging. It also restores antioxidant balance in aged mice .
What’s more, bacopa increased the lifespan of C. elegans, a worm species famous for its use in longevity studies. In C.elegans worms under stress, bacopa enhances stress tolerance, turnes on stress-fighting genes (specific heat shock proteins like hsp-16.2), and scavenges free radicals. With more research, bacopa may turn out to be a great longevity herb for people under high stress .
3) Reduces Inflammation
Bacopa reduces inflammation throughout the body. In rats, it lowered age-related chronic brain inflammation. It may also reduce chronic whole-body and brain inflammation driven by an overactive immune system, according to a cell study [14, 15].
In a cell-based study, alcoholic extracts of bacopa blocked proteins that contribute to arthritis. Its effect was almost as strong as that of diclofenac (Voltaren), a widely-used anti-inflammatory drug .
4) Combats Stress & Depression
Stress produces changes in blood and brain chemistry: in the blood, cortisol levels rise; in the brain, noradrenaline levels rise and serotonin and dopamine levels fall. In one rat study, bacopa normalized all of these changes .
5) Enhances Cognitive Function & Memory
Bacopa enhances cognitive function, attention, and reaction time, according to a review of 9 studies and over 500 people .
Additionally, bacopa improves language skills and symptoms of hyperactivity and attention-deficit in children and adolescents, according to another review .
Bacopa improved cognitive function and lessened anxiety and depression in 54 people over 65 years of age. In another trial of 98 people over 55 years of age, 300 mg/d of Bacopa extract enhanced learning and memory [29, 30].
The same is true for middle-aged people. Bacopa improved memory in a trial of 76 people aged 40 to 65 years. After supplementing, the participants were significantly better at remembering new information .
Bacopa leaf extracts significantly enhanced learning and memory in rats. It also maintained good memory in mice given drugs that trigger brain damage and amnesia. One of the tested drugs it protected against was diazepam (Valium), and anti-anxiety medication known for producing brain fog-like side effects in the long run [32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37].
6) May Improve Cognition in Schizophrenia
People with schizophrenia often experience cognitive problems, and conventional drugs can do little to treat them. Some antipsychotics even worsen cognitive issues. Interestingly, Bacopa reduced cognitive impairment in a rat model of schizophrenia by increasing the function of glutamate. It might be a good option with more clinical research .
7) Protects the Brain
In rats, bacopa increased blood flow and reduced inflammation in the brain. It also stimulated the growth of neurons and reduced oxidative damage from aluminum and mercury. Since it improves brain health, bacopa may also protect against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease [3, 40, 5, 41, 42, 43, 44].
8) May Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease involving excessive deposits of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain, leading to cell death and memory loss. In rodents, Bacopa reduced beta-amyloid deposits in the brain and improved cognitive function [45, 46].
9) May Protect Against Parkinson’s Disease
In worms, bacopa prevented the loss of dopamine neurons that is typically seen in Parkinson’s disease .
Oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction is strongly linked to Parkinson’s. Environmental factors such as herbicides and other neurotoxic agents may be involved in the development of the disease. In one cell study, bacopa reduced mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress caused by herbicides .
10) Reduces Symptoms of ADHD
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is estimated to affect around 5% of the children of the world. The standard treatment is stimulants, but these come with side effects and long-term risks. For these reasons, we’re in high need of natural options for treating ADHD in children .
As part of an herbal mixture, Bacopa improved attention, cognitive function and impulse control in a trial of 120 children with ADHD. What’s more, an extract of bacopa alone improved restlessness, self-control, and attention-deficit in 31 children with ADHD. The extract was well-tolerated [52, 53].
11) Supports the Heart
In rats, bacopa reduced blood pressure and protected the heart against damage from lack of oxygen. The extract also reduced cholesterol and protected the aorta from the effects of high cholesterol in rats [54, 55, 56].
In combination with other herbs, bacopa protected both the heart and kidneys against damage in rats .
Bacopa triggers the release of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and reduces blood pressure. The extract dissolved blood clots in a cell study, which might help reduce excessive blood clotting that can clog the arteries [58, 54].
12) May Reduce Bronchitis, Allergies & Asthma
Traditionally, bacopa is used to treat asthma and cough, and a hot poultice of the herb is applied for bronchitis and chest ailments in children .
13) May Boost the Immune Response
14) May Improve Diabetes
Bacosine, a component of bacopa, might have insulin-like activity, according to a study on diabetic rats. Besides lowering blood sugar, bacosine also reversed weight loss, reduced glycogen stores in the liver, and improved sugar control in the rats .
15) Fights Bacterial and Yeast Infections
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Klebsiella pneumoniae
- Escherichia coli
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Streptococcus species
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bacillus cereus
- Salmonella typhi
- Shigella species
- Proteus vulgaris
These bacteria cause a range of problems, from food poisoning to skin infections to ulcers and lung diseases.
16) May Help Prevent Cancer
In a rat study, an extract of bacopa inhibited colon cancer. It worked by blocking the enzymes of gut bacteria associated with colon cancer risk. Also in rats, bacoside A from bacopa prevented liver cancer [75, 76].
The anticancer activity of bacopa may be tied to its antioxidant properties. In rats with tumors, bacopa extract improved antioxidant status to lower markers of tumor growth .
17) Protects the Gut & Stomach
In a trial of 169 patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bacopa in combination with Indian bael, reduced symptoms in 65% of the patients. People who suffered from the diarrhea form of IBS experienced the greatest improvement .
Bacopa also relaxes the smooth muscles of the intestine, reducing spasms which are common in IBS .
18) Lowers Fatigue
Bacopa prevented fatigue in rats that were forced to swim. It also reduced the drop in antioxidants that normally happens with exhaustion .
In mice, bacopa prolonged the time the animals could exercise before becoming exhausted. It also boosted antioxidant levels, and reduced markers of inflammation – including interleukin-1 (IL-1) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) .
19) May Protect the Liver
Ayurvedic practitioners have long known about the rejuvenating effects of bacopa, but they were oblivious to the herb’s ability to protect the liver. Recent studies suggest bacopa may do just that, mainly by enhancing antioxidant defense.
Tylenol is known to cause liver damage, and people with any kind of liver issue know to avoid it in high doses. Bacopa protected the liver against damage from Tylenol in rats. It reduced alkaline phosphatase and bilirubin – markers of liver damage. Plus, bacopa increased the activity of key liver antioxidants, catalase and glutathione [88, 89].
20) May Increase Muscles & Strength
Bacopa contains ecdysterone, a plant steroid that promotes muscle growth in animals. The great news is that this compound lacks the adverse side effects of synthetic muscle building steroids [92, 93].
Its use has been described in Russian scientific literature. In strength training athletes, ecdysteroids increased muscle mass, strength and endurance, and reduced body fat levels. Pretty impressive for one of bacopa’s “minor” active compounds .
Athletes might especially benefit from this herb because it also lowers physical and mental fatigue and inflammation – all of which are key for top performance. Bacopa has a dark side, though. It may lower fertility in men in the long run (see “Side Effects”), so using ecdysteroids from other plants might be a better option.
21) May Lower Opioid Dependence & Withdrawal Symptoms
Bacosides may help people overcome opioid dependence and difficult withdrawal symptoms. More research is needed, but the animal studies so far are promising.
In mice, bacopa extract prevented depression symptoms associated with morphine withdrawal. A tissue study confirmed that bacopa reduces the unwanted effects of the opioid blocker naloxone, so it might help make withdrawal less drastic [95, 96, 97].
In another rat study, the extract prevented kidney and liver damage from opioids. In mice, it prevented opioid-triggered surges in neurotransmitters such as dopamine. In healthy people, dopamine increased motivation. But in people who struggle with addiction, it reinforces craving.
22) Promotes Hair Growth
In animal studies, herbal oil formulas with bacopa increased the size of hair follicles and the length of time that hair spends growing. Many Ayurvedic hair care products contain bacopa, hair oil being especially popular [100, 101, 102].
23) Boosts Skin Health & Wound Healing
Similar to its benefits for hair health, bacopa may improve the appearance of your skin when applied as a cream or oil. It is traditionally used to treat eczema, and ringworm (a skin infection caused by a fungus) – which is not surprising given its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial action [103, 104].
Bacopa also enhances wound healing in rats. It increases the cross-linking of collagen, which strengthens and firms the skin barrier. It also kills skin pathogens and boosts skin antioxidants. In fact, bacopa sped up wound healing better than standard treatment with the antifungal drug nitrofurazone [105, 106].
24) May Increase Thyroid Hormones
In mice, Bacopa leaf extract increased the thyroid hormone T4. It also boosted antioxidants inside the cells, including superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase. In turn, bacopa might be useful in people with mild hypothyroidism, but clinical studies have yet to confirm it .
25) May Help with Menopause & Irregular Cycles
In traditional medicine, special bacopa preparations are used by women to rebalance hormones. The fresh whole bacopa plant is crushed and squeezed, and women take the juice with cow’s milk as a remedy for irregular menstrual cycles .
Bacopa extracts may help manage the symptoms of menopause. In a trial of 25 postmenopausal women, the extract prevented insomnia, reduced cholesterol and triglycerides, and lowered blood pressure. In turn, it might also reduce the risk of heart disease .
Let’s not forget that bacosides, which likely carry this effect, have a strong brain-protective effect that menopausal women need. In female rats, these compounds lessened cognitive decline with aging by protecting the hippocampus. Drops in estrogen after menopause seem to gradually shrink the hippocampus and cause cognitive decline [110, 111].
26) May Prevent Seizures
Bacopa seems to calm excessive activity in the brain, which might explain its anti-seizure benefits.
In a trial of 50 children, an herbal remedy containing bacopa prevented mild seizures during episodes of fever .
Bacopa also prevented or reduce epileptic seizures in rats. It might work by lowering glutamate and increasing GABA levels in the brain. Its extract also protected rats from depression linked with epilepsy [113, 114, 115, 116, 117].
Phenytoin, a drug used to treat seizures, may also impair cognition. In mice, bacopa protected against cognitive impairment caused by phenytoin. It may be a useful add-on to medications for epilepsy, with proper medical supervision .
27) May Prevent Damage from Cigarette Smoke
Exposure to cigarette smoke is an aging accelerator and risk factor for developing heart disease – and many other chronic diseases. Even if you don’t smoke, you can still be exposed to cigarette smoke passively .
Cigarette smoke causes oxidative damage to the mitochondria – your cells’ powerhouses – and brain cells. In rat studies, bacopa protected against damage from cigarette smoke by boosting antioxidant defense [120, 121, 122, 123].
Bacopa Monnieri Side Effects & Safety
In rats, no adverse effects were found at a mega dose of 500 mg/kg body weight .
However, bacopa reduced fertility and suppressed sperm production in male mice. These effects were reversible and produced no lasting toxicity .
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid bacopa due to the lack of safety data.
Bacopa Monnieri Dosage
The most common dosage across studies was 300-450 mg extract/day .
One review study recommended the following doses of Bacopa :
- 5-10 grams of whole plant powder
- 8-16 ml of infusion
- 30 ml of syrup
Check the supplement label to make sure you are getting a product with Bacopa monnieri. Other Ayurvedic plants are sometimes also called brahmi, so you should make sure the botanical name is specified.
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Bacopa monnieri is among the best cognitive-enhancers and rejuvenators known to Ayurvedic medicine. The latest research suggests it’s an all-around beneficial herb for the mind and body.
Bacopa works by boosting two key neurotransmitters in your brain: acetylcholine and GABA. In turn, it makes you feel relaxed and mentally-stimulated at the same time. It’s a good option for reducing stress and improving memory and learning – especially if you’re older. Research confirms it powerfully enhances antioxidant defense, protecting your whole body against oxidative damage.
Bacopa may also lower inflammation, histamine reactions, allergies, and asthma. Plus, it kills bacteria and fungi, and it might heal gut damage – so people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may want to give it a try as well.