The Benefits of Bacopa

What You Need to Know

woman thinking
People Images/Getty Images

Bacopa monnieri, also known as brahmi, water hyssop, or Bacopa monniera, is an herb long used in ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India) for memory, brain function, anxiety, and thyroid health.

Available in capsule or tablet form, bacopa contains saponin compounds such as bacosides and bacopasides. Preliminary evidence suggests that these compounds may have antioxidant properties, enhance the communication of brain chemicals involved in cognition, learning, and memory, and inhibit inflammation in the brain.

Bacopa should not be confused with gotu kola, another herb that goes by the name "brahmi."

The Benefits of Bacopa

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 the following 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. 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 nausea, stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, increased bowel movements, dry mouth, 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, and 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 and acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. 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 nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications 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.

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. 

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources