Bacopa Monnieri - An Overview
Bacopa Monnieri is a nootropic herb that has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It has proven benefits for:
- Memory and retaining information
- Lowering inflammation
- Raising mood and fighting stress
It is considered an adaptogen, helping the body adjust to stress and relieving anxiety.
It is a very popular ingredient in pre-made stacks due to its potentially potent effects on memory in particular.
Bacopa is also known as water hyssop, or “Brahmi”, after the supreme god Brahma in the Hindi faith (which gives you an idea of how well they regard it)
This perennial, aquatic plant grows mainly in India and Southeast Asia.
It’s first known uses were recorded in ancient texts from the region, where it was recommended for scholars and priests trying to memorize long passages of text during their studies.
Bacopa has been adopted by the modern nootropics community for the same reasons.
And you don’t have to take the word of old scriptures either; numerous clinical trials have confirmed that it is an effective supplement for cognition, brain health, and anxiety.
It’s primary nootropic compound, bacoside, has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier easily.
This nootropic supplement has been shown to reduce brain inflammation through its potent antioxidant properties.
It can potentially raise mood through modulating serotonin activity.
Bacopa also increases levels of acetylcholine, which is a vital neurotransmitter for learning and memory.
Millions of people through the ages have turned to Bacopa monieri to help learn and retain knowledge.
In fact, it may be the best all-around nootropic for learning currently out there.
Anybody who could benefit from this action (which is basically everyone on the planet, not just students), may want to consider adding Bacopa to their stack.
What Does Bacopa Monnieri Do?
Bacopa has several major effects for those who regularly supplement with it.
Bacopa For Memory
This herb can significantly increase memory. A few modern studies have recently validated it’s centuries-old reputation as a memory-aid.
One large double-blind placebo-controlled study found “evidence that B. monnieri has potential for safely enhancing cognitive performance.”
In particular, the group that had supplemented with Bacopa saw a significant increase in word recall, attention, overall memory scores, and the ability to focus while learning.
It also saw less stress/anxiety and lower heart rates. The placebo group did not see any such effects.1Bhattacharya SK, Ghosal S. Anxiolytic activity of a standardized extract of Bacopa monniera: an experimental study, Phytomedicine. 1998
A similar study suggests that supplementing with Bacopa can improve higher-order cognitive skills.
After 12 weeks of taking 300mg Bacopa extract daily, test subjects had improved on multiple measures of learning rate and memory consolidation compared to the placebo group.2Stough C, et al. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects, Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001
Another study found that Bacopa can actually improve memory retention by slowing the rate that information is forgotten.
Unlike some other studies, the researchers did not find that Bacopa Monieri increased the rate of learning, cognitive performance, or the ability to encode new memories.
Instead, they theorized that it may work by decreasing how fast you forget newly acquired information.
This would obviously be a huge benefit to students or anyone who is trying to learn a new skill. It’s is an interesting preliminary finding, and we look forward to seeing more research3Roodenrys S, et al. Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory, Neuropsychopharmacology. 2002
Bacopa For Cognitive Decline
Bacopa’s brain-boosting qualities can also help fight the effects of aging. As you get older, it’s no secret that your mental faculties start to slip.
However, going senile is not a foregone conclusion, and there are many supplements that slow the aging process, including Bacopa.
One of the major contributors to mental decline is oxidative damage and inflammation of the brain.
This can be caused by any number of factors, including poor diet, drugs/alcohol, physical injury, stress, or toxins.
However it’s caused, it’s bad news, degrading the neurons in your brain, and making it difficult to think clearly.
This type of damage can ultimately lead to Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Luckily, Bacopa is an anti-oxidant, and there is clinical evidence that it can fight the effects of aging on the brain.
One study of adults who were suffering from the early stages of geriatric Alzheimer’s showed a marked improvement in overall cognition after six months of taking Bacopa.
The patients who took Bacopa scored significant gain across several measures of mental performance, including attention, language and verbal ability, and spatial/temporal orientation.4Aimi Syamima Abdul Manap, et al Bacopa monnieri, a Neuroprotective Lead in Alzheimer Disease: A Review on Its Properties, Mechanisms of Action, and Preclinical and Clinical Studies, Drug Target Insights. 2019
Bacopa For Anxiety
Bacopa Monieri may also have anti-anxiety benefits.
Ayurvedic medicine has used this herb for a very long time to treat nervous disorders, and modern science is now starting to confirm just how powerful it can be.
One particularly interesting study in India looked at the efficacy of Bacopa extract versus the pharmaceutical drug lorazepam.
You may be familiar with lorazepam under the brand names Ativan or Xanax.
Lorazepam is one of the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety drugs across the world, but it comes with a host of potential side-effects.
These include sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and amnesia.
This Indian study compared the action of Bacopa and lorazepam side-by-side and found that Bacopa “produced a dose-related anxiolytic activity, qualitatively comparable to that of lorazepam, in all the test parameters.” i.e, Bacopa worked just as well as the pharmaceutical in lowering anxiety levels.
Even better, Bacopa did NOT induce the same negative side-effects as lorazepam. It did not impair motor skills, or cloud thinking.
The researchers concluded “the advantage of B. monniera over the widely used benzodiazepine anxiolytics lies in the fact that it promotes cognition unlike the amnesic action of the latter.”
So, not only did the herbal supplement NOT cause memory loss, it actually IMPROVED mental performance. If you ask us that’s a clear win-win.5Bhattacharya SK, Ghosal S. Anxiolytic activity of a standardized extract of Bacopa monniera: an experimental study, Phytomedicine. 1998
Bacopa For Stress
This nootropic is considered an adaptogen, meaning it could also be useful for general stress-resistance. Adaptogens are supplements that help buffer your body against stress.
Bacopa monnieri may lower cortisol, which is the major hormone involved in our fight-or-flight response.6Benson S, et al 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
Under difficult and stressful conditions, cortisol levels tend to rise, which can be helpful for focus and motivation.
However, if they stay too high for too long, it can be harmful. It could lead to a number of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure.
What’s worse, chronic stress actually rewires the brain, causing structural changes in your neural pathways.
These changes are actually very counter-productive, and your brain was not designed to operate that way.
Unfortunately, many people in our modern world are bombarded with stressful stimuli daily, which can result in raising their cortisol levels and negatively restructuring their neural pathways.
Bacopa For Mental Clarity and Processing
Bacopa has some “classic” nootropic properties, boosting mental speed and accuracy.
One double-blind clinical trial found that the supplement “significantly improved performance on the ‘Working Memory’ factor, more specifically spatial working memory accuracy.”
This included better scores on a “rapid visual information processing task.”
“Working memory” is the part of short-term memory that is concerned with immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing.
It’s essentially the information that you’re working on “right now” and it is critical for reasoning and the guidance of decision-making and behavior.
So, any improvement to this system is going to improve work-rate and flow.
The major effects seemed to kick in after 5 weeks of daily supplementation, and peaked after 12.
The researchers ultimately concluded that there is evidence for Bacopa’s “cognitive enhancing effects,” and that more study is needed.7Stough C, et al. Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial, Phytother Res. 2008
In one preliminary animal study, Bacopa “was found to have significant antidepressant activity” in rats, and “was comparable to that of imipramine [a pharmaceutical antidepressant].”
While this is just an initial study, it does suggest evidence for what many nootropics enthusiasts have long suspected: Bacopa Monieri can fight the blues and lift mood.8Sairam K, et al. Antidepressant activity of standardized extract of Bacopa monniera in experimental models of depression in rats, Phytomedicine. 2002
How Bacopa Monnieri Works In The Brain
Bacopa monnieri’s nootropic effects are not precisely understood at this point, but they are believed to come from two biological compounds, known as bacosides A and B. These seem to be the primary nootropic chemicals.
Bacosides are most likely responsible for the memory enhancement and increased neuroplasticity this herb is famous for.
Researchers have found that as soon as the bacosides cross the blood-brain barrier, they start to modulate several of the most important neurotransmitters in the brain.
Does Bacopa Increase Serotonin?
Bacopa does seem to have a pronounced effect on the serotonin system, among others.
Serotonin (5-HT), along with acetylcholine (ACh), GABA, catecholamines, and glutamate (GLU), are all affected by Bacopa.
It up-regulates the activity of these pathways, particularly 5-HT and ACh, which initiates a complex and inter-related cascade of effects that researchers are still attempting to fully disentangle.
What we do know is multiple neurotransmitters involved in learning and memory start to work more. Parts of the brain associated with cognition start to fire up.
This all adds up improved mental performance and greater recall abilities (potentially).9Koilmani Emmanuvel Rajan, et al. Molecular and Functional Characterization of Bacopa monniera: A Retrospective Review, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2015
Bacopa Monnieri also undoes the damage that chronic stress does to the brain.
How does it achieve this? Let’s take a look.
Your brain is protected by a protein called “HSP70.” “HSP” stands for “heat shock protein,” and it is responsible for maintaining the shape of your brains and keeping them healthy in times of stress or elevated temperature.
It also uses EROD (7-ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase) and PROD (7-pentoxyresorufin-O-dealkylase), which are known as cytochrome enzymes that help detox your brain. They convert toxins into less harmful compounds.
When you experience stress, your brain starts increasing levels of HSP70. But research shows that by taking Bacopa, you avoid most of this increase in Hsp70, particularly in memory storage regions.
By producing less Hsp70, Bacopa actually makes your brain less susceptible to stress. Even with stressful stimuli, your brain stays chilled out in a non-stressed state.
Bacopa also affects EROD and PROD. Rats treated with Bacopa saw an increase in these two enzymes, even though they had not been exposed to stress.
This suggests that Bacopa helps build up an excess of these protective enzymes to help you better deal with stress when it happens.
This is an interesting pre-emptive effect that definitely accounts for some of Bacopa’s nootropic effects.
Bacopa monnieri is a powerful antioxidant, but it’s considered a special one that goes above and beyond.
It’s fight inflammation well enough on their own, but they also appear to regenerate the enzymes superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase.
These are considered “super anti-oxidants,” and are critical for purging the frontal cortex of harmful compounds.10Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Kumar A, Ghosal S. Antioxidant activity of Bacopa monniera in rat frontal cortex, striatum and hippocampus, Phytother Res. 2000
Increased blood flow
There is some preliminary evidence that Bacopa may increase blood flow to the brain by as much as 25%.
This is based on a single rat study, so take it with a grain of salt, but it could suggest a mechanism of action in humans. Obviously more blood flow means better cognition.11Kamkaew N, et al. Bacopa monnieri increases cerebral blood flow in rat independent of blood pressure, Phytother Res. 2013
Prevents Beta Amyloid Plaques
Bacopa Monnieri may also prevent the buildup of Beta-Amyloid plaques in the brain. Beta-Amyloid is a sticky compound that accumulates in the brain, disrupting communication between brain cells and eventually killing them.
It is one of the primary culprits that researchers suspect may be responsible for Alzheimer’s.
Obviously decreasing this compound would be beneficial to pretty much anyone, especially older people who may be susceptible for cognitive degeneration.
Again, there is only a single animal study that found reduced levels of Beta Amyloid in mouse brains after a few weeks taking Bacopa.
There have been no human trials. But, it’s a start, and hopefully will encourage future studies.12Dhanasekaran M, et al Neuroprotective mechanisms of ayurvedic antidementia botanical Bacopa monniera, Phytother Res. 2007
Bacopa Monnieri Potential Side Effects
Bacopa is relatively mild, and there are not typically any associated side-effects. Some studies reported the occasional gastrointestinal issue, such as upset stomach. Some users have reported fatigue.
Bacopa may interfere with some anti-depressants, so always talk to your doctor before starting if you are on medication.
Can Bacopa Be Taken Long Term?
Bacopa can be taken long term. In fact, it seems to become more potent the longer you take it.
This is in contrast with most other brain-boosting supplements, which seem to become less effective over time (especially stimulants).
That said, you should always consider cycling any nootropic you take, bacopa included.
We strive to bring you the most up to date, research-based information about Bacopa Monnieri and other nootropics.
Something we missed? Do you use Bacopa Monnieri? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
About the author:
Erik Levi is a co-founder of HolisticNootropics.com and a certified holistic nutritional therapy practitioner.
As an NTP Erik takes a nutrition first approach to health. He has worked with many different people to help them use nutrition to optimize their quality of life.
Erik believes that mental health is a physiological process and cognitive enhancement is not something that can be achieved by just taking some pills with good Amazon reviews.
Instead, true cognitive enhancement comes with the right balance of nutrients, movement, and gratitude. Erik continues to stay up to date with the most current nootropic and holistic health research and promises to deliver the best solutions possible.
You can check out his personal health blog/podcast/YouTube Channel all under the name Holistic A-Hole.