The Health Benefits of Bacopa

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Bacopa (Bacopa monniera) is an herb long used in Ayurveda—the traditional medicine of India. Bacopa is widely promoted as a treatment for memory disorders, anxiety, and thyroid health. However, not all of these benefits are supported by scientific evidence. Bacopa is also referred to as andri, Bacopa monnieri, herb of grace, herpestis herb, Herpestis monniera, Indian pennywort, and water hyssop.

If you're considering trying bacopa, make sure to consult your primary care provider first to weigh the pros and cons and discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

It should not be confused with gotu hola, an herb that also goes by one of bacopa's other names—brahmi.

Health Benefits

Preliminary evidence suggests that bacopa may have antioxidant properties. The herb contains saponin compounds such as bacosides and bacopasides, which may enhance the communication of brain chemicals involved in cognition, learning, and memory, and inhibit inflammation in the brain.

However, to date, few studies have tested the health effects of bacopa. The research that has been done has focused on the treatment and/or prevention of several health problems.

Memory and Brain Function

Several studies indicate that bacopa may help preserve memory and enhance cognitive function. In a report published in the Journal of Ethnophamacology in 2014, researchers analyzed nine previously published studies assessing the effect of bacopa on cognitive function. In their conclusion, researchers stated that bacopa has the potential to improve cognition, but that large, well-designed trials comparing the supplement to medication are needed.

An earlier report also reviewed previously published studies on bacopa for cognitive performance and found some evidence suggesting that the herb extract may improve memory during free-recall tests.

In a 2016 study of 60 college students, researchers found that six weeks of twice-daily treatment with bacopa (at a dose of 300 mg per day) led to improvements in tests relating to cognitive function.

Anxiety

Studies suggest that bacopa may help alter the activity of certain enzymes involved in the stress response, suggesting that bacopa could allow the brain to be prepared to cope under stress.

One small study, published in Phytotherapy Research in 2014, assessed the effects of a bacopa extract in healthy participants engaging in multiple tasks. Researchers found positive cognitive effects, some positive mood effects, and a reduction in cortisol levels in those taking bacopa.

Selection, Preparation, & Storage

Bacopa is available in capsule or tablet form. You can find bacopa in your local vitamin store or online.

Currently, there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for the supplement. Doses typically depend on several factors including your current health status, age, and gender.

Always consult your healthcare provider to determine if bacopa is safe for you and to find out what dose may be appropriate.

Possible Side Effects

Bacopa may cause side effects such as:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased bowel movements
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue

Bacopa may also increase calcium levels in the blood, according to one clinical trial. The herb may also affect levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.

Interactions and Contraindications

There's a lack of research on whether the herb interacts with medications, including those that act on neurotransmitters. That said, interactions may occur with drugs that are changed by the liver, medications for Alzheimer's disease, anticholinergic drugs, cholinergic drugs, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, or thyroid hormones.

At present, there are no known interactions between bacopa and foods, other herbs, or supplements.

Keep in mind that the safety of supplements in nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions has not been established. Pregnant women shouldn't take bacopa, since there are no studies about safe use in pregnancy. Animal studies suggest that bacopa may reduce fertility.

Product Concerns

Supplements haven't been tested for safety and, due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.

For example, one study analyzed 12 samples and detected lead, calcium, and chromium in all of them, but at levels below the allowed limit. Another study found elevated levels of cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc and advised that bacopa be analyzed for its metal content prior to use in herbal supplements.

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