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What Is Bacopa Monnieri?
Bacopa Monnieri sounds like the name of some Italian Renaissance master, like Da Vinci. But in fact, it is a herb used in traditional Indian medicine. You can almost say that this is the stuff given to Indian kids when they have remembering Da Vinci and other stuff in school. (see what we did there?!). Jokes and levity aside, memory enhancer supplements like Bacopa Monnieri are serious business.
Nootropics are a group “smart drugs,” or cognitive and memory enhancer supplements, used by otherwise healthy folks to improve their memory, creativity, or motivation. While this term only came into the vogue in recent decades, humans have been using brain-enhancing products for thousands of years. Coffee and tea are the two most obvious examples that come to mind, effective thanks to the presence of the stimulant caffeine in them.
But no discussion on these brain supplements would be complete without a mention of Bacopa Monnieri. Though Indians have been using it as an integral part of their ayurvedic medical tradition for years, it is only in recent decades that the bacopa plant and the bacopa extract has become popular here in the west. Let’s delve into the long history of this wonder herb and assess the effects of the modern supplements derived from it.
If you ask an Indian about Bacopa Monnieri, you would probably get a quizzical stare. But ask them about “Brahmi, ” and you will probably see a spark of recognition in their eyes. It is the common name of Bacopa Monnieri in India. So important was effects of this plant in the eyes of ancient Indians that they named it in honor of Brahma, the God of Creation and Knowledge in Hindu mythology.
Bacopa, is a creeping plant or herb, found commonly in wetland regions in the Eastern Hemisphere. Its main native habitats are in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, South East Asia, and China. But in damp and marshy conditions it can grow pretty much anywhere in the world and is often found cultivated in Australia, Europe, South America, and the Southern states of the US, like Florida and Hawaii. Check out this video for a good look at this plant:
Bacopa is not an aromatic herb. It has soft fleshy leaves and small white flowers. Thanks to its ability to grow in wet and marshy conditions, Bacopa is also rather popular as an aquarium plant. It is also known by the English names water hyssop; thyme leafed gratiola, Indian pennywort. Names in other languages include Phrommi in Thai, Rau Dang in Vietnamese, and Jia Ma Chi Xian in Chinese.
Uses of Bacopa Monnieri In Traditional Indian Medicine
In Ayurveda, Bacopa is considered as a brain and memory booster. It has been in use for nearly 3000 years as a supplement for your brain. In fact, it is probably the oldest natural nootropic out there in existence. It is used in Ayurvedic medications for treating a wide range of related brain disorders and diseases, like Alzheimer’s, dementia, depression, epilepsy, and insomnia. Bacopa is also considered as a memory enhancer and stress buster. It is also used in medicines for asthma, gastroenteritis, ulcers, tumors, and inflammation.
In Indian medicine, bacopa supplementation is taken in a wide range of forms, like medicated butter or ghee (ghrita), medicated oils or powders (churna), as a fresh juice or leaves, in infusions, or teas, and tinctures or herbal liquors (kashaya and arishta). 1
Modern Research Into Bacopa
Due to its reputation and widespread use in traditional medicine as a brain booster, there has been a lot of interest in Bacopa in recent years. Several studies undertaken by researchers on the potential benefits of Bacopa extracts to the brain have resulted in positive results. 2 According to WebMD, bacopa benefits for memory and cognitive function seem to have been validated to some extent by research. There are indications that it can improve cognitive function and motor skills in young children between the ages of 8-12. 3
However, most researchers agree that we have only scratched the surface of the bacopa benefits. 4 More research is needed to verify its effects on a wide range of other conditions like anxiety, stress, epilepsy, asthma, gastric disorders, back and joint issues, and other conditions for which it is prescribed in Ayurveda.
How Does It Work
The main chemical components in bacopa extracts are known as bacosides. They have been named after the plant itself.Twelve different compounds have been identified in this class, of which Bacopa A is considered as the most commonly found active ingredient. They all belong to a class of components called triterpenoid saponins, and research indicates that they have similar chemical properties to other compounds (dammarane) found in plants like ginseng. Other ingredients include alkaloids like brahmine, nicotine, herpestine, apigenin, hersaponin, cucurbitacin, and plantainoside. 5
Bacopa Monnieri Dosage
Bacopa extracts are available as modern nootropic supplements in several forms, as powder, capsule or syrup. This is in addition to the availability of bacopa based traditional ayurvedic medicines. Bacopin, KeenMind, and BacoMind are examples of modern bacopa extracts or extract-based supplements. The best use of products like Bacopin is a daily dietary supplement. Studies indicate that a daily dosage of 300mg is a safe starting point. Effective doses can be anywhere between 200-400mg, depending on individual metabolisms and body features. It is generally considered safe for children as well as adults.
What Are The Top Benefits?
Research into the compounds indicate that Bacopa extracts work in three main ways:
As An Antioxidant For Brain Cells
We have all heard about oxidants (or free radicals), and their damaging effect on body cells. When there are too many free radicals in the body, they attack and damage the cells, resulting in a situation called Oxidative Stress (OS). OS occurs naturally in the body as part of the aging process but can be sped up by environmental factors like pollution, poor diet, and other such causes.
And the brain is especially vulnerable to oxidative stress, especially as we get older. This is why conditions like dementia and Alzheimers is a major concern for the elderly. Bacoside A was found to have a positive anti-oxidant impact on brain cells in rats. The compound increased the availability of glutathione in the brain. Glutathione is a very important anti-oxidant for living things and has been called the “Mother of All Antioxidants” for its protection against free radical damage.
Bacoside A also works in reducing the amount of alpha-synuclein and neuron degeneration in the brain. This mode of action means that the plant extracts may be useful in fighting Parkinsons Disease. The neuroprotective action of bacopa extracts also extends its effect on fighting Alzheimer’s disease. Bacopa supplements in rats resulted in reduced levels of colchicine in the brain. Colchicine is responsible for the neural death and reduced cognitive function in human brains.
Acetylcholine is an important neurotransmitter in the brain, responsible for sending nerve signals across the brain. Bacopa compounds were found to have a boosting effect on the presence of acetylcholine and related compounds in the brain of rats. OHDA is a synthetic compound that destroys brain cells and is used to study treatments for Parkinsons and Alzheimer’s disease. Bacosides have been shown to be effective in reducing OHDA levels in the brain. It has also shown promise is lowering toxins, poisons, and pesticides affecting the brain.
Promoting Increased Blood Flow
The brain needs oxygen to survive, so improved blood circulation is vital for cognition and general brain health. Lack of blood circulation can result in permanent cell damage and cell death, and build up of toxins and free radicals. A combination of Bacopa and Ginko extracts have shown some promise in improving blood circulation in the brain.
Adaptogens are special compounds that help combat the effects of stress. They help improve your moods and mental clarity, by helping the body’s adrenal system, and regulating hormones. They have to be completely natural herbal compounds that help the body and mind function properly against the effects of stress. Bacopa is also an adaptogen, in the same way, Ashwagandha, Ginseng, Holy Basil, and Reishi Mushroom are.
You can read a detailed overview of all the scientific studies on the benefits and effects of Bacopa Monnieri in this NCBI research article: 6
What Are The Potential Side Effects?
Compared to other chemical and synthesized supplement compounds, bacopa extracts have relatively low chance of extreme side effects. Long terms effects have not been studied properly yet, so we don’t know anything about that. But in the short terms, the following side effects have been noted:
- Increased Bowel Movements
- Stomach Cramps
- Dry Mouth
Stomach and gastric related discomfort seem to be the single main side effect of bacopa supplements. But anecdotal evidence found on Reddit forums related to the supplement indicate that when taken alone, Bacopa can have a negative impact on motivation, overall moods, and energy levels.
WebMD chooses to err on the side of caution because bacopa still needs a lot of research. So they suggest that the following class of individuals avoid this supplement:
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- Individuals with slow heart rate, as bacopa may reduce heartbeat speeds
- People with peptic ulcers and other GI issues
- People with lung conditions
Individuals with thyroid disorders, or taking thyroid medication
Due to the high chance or stomach related discomfort, bacopa supplements are best consumed with or after food. Try to avoid it on an empty stomach to minimize the chances adverse effects.
Supplementing Your Diet With Bacopa Monnieri
Several brands of bacopa tea bags can be found in herbal stores and online. They are a great way to enjoy the therapeutic and calming effects of bacopa on a daily basis. But if you don’t want to buy preprocessed and packaged extracts, you can try growing bacopa plant at your home.
Here is a video about growing it easily at home as an aquarium plant:
Bacopa plant can survive in most climate conditions, and since it grows well in marshy areas, is well suited for hydroponics. Once you get your home cultivation started, you can harvest fresh leaves and consume it any manner convenient for your tastes. Bacopa leaves can be used in salads and pesto recipes, as a bitter herb.
A great way to enjoy the benefits of Brahmi is in the form of an infusion, or herbal tea. You can use dried or fresh leaves and stems for this recipe. A sample of a Bacopa tea you can try at home is this:
- Bacopa leaves, 2tsp dried, or 2tbsp fresh chopped
- Rosemary, 2tsp dried, or 2tbsb fresh chopped
- Lemon Balm (or zest) 2tsp
- Honey or Stevia for sweetening
- 500ml water
Bring the water to boil, and add all the ingredients. Let the tea brew off the heat for a few minutes.7
Bacopa has a rather slow rate of action on the human body and brain, so it might be a few weeks before the benefits of this supplement become apparent. 8 There is a tendency to use it as a memory enhancer in a mixture of other nootropics. This process, known as stacking, involves combining several natural nootropics whose benefits complement each other. Here is an example of a balanced nootropic stack:
- Fish oil for omega 3 acids
- Multivitamins for overall health
- Alpha GPC for improved acetylcholine
- N Acetyl Tyrosine for improved focus
- Caffeine for improved energy and moods
- L-theanine to relax and balance caffeine
- Bacopa Monnieri for memory, cognition, and overall brain health
- Ashwagandha to reduce stress
According to detailed field reports from nootropic enthusiasts on Reddit, bacopa can also be combined with other herbal extracts like Gotu Kola, Ginseng, and Gingko Balboa.
Some of the ingredients in the stack mentioned above, like Ashwagandha, can be considered as an alternative for bacopa Monnieri. But this is only recommended if you experience severe side-effects from bacopa extracts. This is a unique herb, and few others have the same effect as far as memory and cognition are concerned.
Modern science still has a long way to go before all the benefits of Bacopa Monnieri can be deciphered. But we do know quite a lot by way of research, and what has been accumulated over thousands of years of continuous use of this wonder herb in the east. And they all suggest that Bacopa Monnieri is an extremely beneficial herb, and one of the best among memory enhancer supplements for the human brain.
Scientific & Reference Citations