The Benefits of Bacopa

What You Need to Know

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Bacopa monnieri, also known as brahmi or water hyssop, is an herb long used in ayurveda to enhance memory, sharpen brain function, and reduce anxiety

Available in capsule or tablet form, current evidence suggests that bacopa may enhance the communication of brain chemicals involved in cognition, learning, and memory and inhibit inflammation in the brain. 

The Benefits of Bacopa

To date, few studies have tested the health effects of bacopa. However, research suggests that the herb shows promise in the treatment and/or prevention of the following health problems:

1) Cognitive 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.

In a 2008 study of 48 dementia-free older adults (ages 65 and up), researchers found that 12 weeks of treatment with bacopa (at a dose of 300 mg per day) led to significant improvements in memory, depression, anxiety, and heart rate.

2) Alzheimer's Disease

Findings from animal studies and test-tube research suggest that bacopa may help fight Alzheimer's disease. In a 2008 study of brain cells in culture, for example, scientists discovered that antioxidants in bacopa helped suppress oxidative stress (a destructive process thought to contribute to Alzheimer's disease). And in a 2010 study on rats with an animal model of Alzheimer's disease, bacopa appeared to preserve memory and protect against loss of function in brain cells.

3) Stress

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

Possible Side Effects

Bacopa may cause side effects such as dry mouth, nausea, stomach cramps, increased bowel movements, and fatigue. 

Bacopa may increase calcium levels in the blood, according to one clinical trial.

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, chromium in all samples, 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.

Bacopa is also known as brahmi and shouldn't be confused with gotu kola and other herbs that are also sometimes called brahmi.

Bacopa may negatively interact with certain medications such as anticholinergic medications, medications of Alzheimer's disease (acetylcholinesterase inhibitors), and medications used for glaucoma. Bacopa may affect levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, and there's a lack of research on whether the herb may interact with medications that act on these neurotransmitters. 

Keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can also get tips on using supplements here, but it's important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

The Takeaway

Although bacopa is being widely promoted as a treatment for memory disorders and studies appear promising, there's still a lack of large-scale clinical trials (the kind of research we want to see to put full stock in a treatment).

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

View Article Sources
  • Benson S, Downey LA, Stough C, Wetherell M, Zangara A, Scholey A. An acute, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over study of 320 mg and 640 mg doses of Bacopa monnieri (CDRI 08) on multitasking stress reactivity and mood. Phytother Res. 2014 Apr;28(4):551-9.
  • Calabrese C, Gregory WL, Leo M, Kraemer D, Bone K, Oken B. Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 14(6):707-13.
  • Kongkeaw C, Dilokthornsakul P, Thanarangsarit P, Limpeanchob N, Norman Scholfield C. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;151(1):528-35. 
  • Limpeanchob N, Jaipan S, Rattanakaruna S, Phrompittayarat W, Ingkaninan K. Neuroprotective effect of Bacopa monnieri on beta-amyloid-induced cell death in primary cortical culture. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 30;120(1):112-7.
  • Sadhu A, Upadhyay P, Agrawal A, et al. Management of cognitive determinants in senile dementia of Alzheimer's type: therapeutic potential of a novel polyherbal drug product. Clin Drug Investig. 2014 Dec;34(12):857-69.