Bacopa monnieri, locally known as Brahmi is a wetland herb from India, Bacopa has been studied for its supposed ability to enhance memory, sharpen focus, and promote overall mental well-being (1). The question is whether or not any of the supposed benefits of Bacopa are legitimate.
With the boom in nootropics and brain boosting supplements in recent years bacopa has been the centerpiece of a lot of studies. The findings have actually looked rather positive for the herb.
Among the most compelling areas of interest are its roles in cognitive enhancement, anxiety reduction, antioxidant activity, and neuroprotection. Some supplement manufacturers may well over egg bacopa benefits, but that doesn’t mean that none actually exist. It’s not liable to replace anything medicinal in the near future, but as a complimentary ingredient it could have some notable use.
Does Bacopa Improve Memory And Focus?
The most often cited benefit of Bacopa, is its potential to boost cognitive performance. This includes the plant's influence on memory, learning, and attention.
As you’d expect Bacopa has garnered considerable attention from the scientific community.
A systematic review that looked at dozens of randomized control trials showed compelling evidence that Bacopa improves memory recall, sharpens attention, and quickens the pace of visual information processing in healthy adults (2).
It should be noted that it seems to be more effective at enhancing memory than aiding attention. Most studies suggest that it has a mild to moderate impact on improving memory in adults.
As for attention the results whilst still mildly possitive, but were far less conclusive.
Going beyond that, in terms of anecdotal evidence it looks positive, although more studies will be needed for conclusive results of course.
The cognitive benefits of Bacopa, intriguingly, extend beyond the adult population. An independent study focusing on children aged between 6 and 8 years demonstrated that Bacopa supplementation significantly enhances spatial working memory and visual information processing capabilities (3). These findings hint at bacopa having more cognitive benefits than initial suspected, suggesting its potential to bolster cognitive development across different age groups, including children.
Does Bacopa Help Anxiety?
Apart from its cognitive-enhancing attributes, Bacopa's benefits extend to its promise as a natural assistant for managing anxiety.
Research into Bacopa's effects has highlighted its ability to help manage the bodies physiological stress responses. Suggesting bacopa has potential in managing both acute and chronic forms of stress (4).
Stress, often considered the bedrock of anxiety, triggers a series of physiological reactions. This results in the release of cortisol, commonly referred to as the "stress hormone". Elevated cortisol levels over an extended period can take a toll on mental and physical health, leading to a range of conditions including, but not limited to, anxiety. Bacopa has been identified as a reasonable regulator of cortisol levels. There are other herbs that have similar effects which is why Bacopa is often combined with Ashwagandha to compound it’s effects on stress.
Bacopa's Role in Neuroprotection
Bacopa's potential to help protect the brain from oxidative stress is currently being researched in multiple trials. It could have some potential benefits in terms of neurodegenerative conditions, although research is still early.
Bacopa's antioxidant defense it thought to come from its compounds known as bacosides. These potent antioxidants demonstrate a remarkable ability to scavenge free radicals, unstable molecules that can cause cellular damage. Of course, bacopa is not unique in this sense as there are multiple other herbs with similar effects. What’s unique about Bacopa is how focused on the brain the effects of these compounds seem to be.
Oxidative stress occurs when the body's antioxidant defenses are overwhelmed by the production of these free radicals. This ends in damage to various cellular components, including proteins, lipids, and DNA. When this oxidative stress targets brain cells, it sets the stage for neurodegenerative diseases.
By acting as powerful scavengers of free radicals, Bacopa's bacosides counteract oxidative damage, thus protecting neuronal cells from damage (6).
Research shows that Bacopa protects neurons from different types of toxicity, contributing to overall brain health and potentially serving a preventative role in neurodegenerative diseases (7).
This neuroprotective property of Bacopa does seem to increase the evidence that it has a notable effect on brain health and cognitive performance all in all.
A Bit More On Bacopa Studies
Even a cursory review of the academic literature lends some decent backing for Bacopa's benefits.
The cognitive enhancing effects of Bacopa, are pretty well supported in the scientific literature for a natural supplement.
Noteworthy among these are the works of Pase et al. (2) and Negi et al. (8), both of which provide compelling evidence of Bacopa's influence on various aspects of cognition.
Pase et al. showcase Bacopa's positive impact on memory recall, attention, and visual information processing in adults, while Negi et al. extend this understanding to the pediatric population, demonstrating Bacopa's efficacy in enhancing spatial working memory and visual information processing in children.
Along with this there’s a good amount of research to back up Bacopa's anxiety reducing properties. Key studies in this area include those by Saini et al. (4) and Bhattacharya and Ghosal (5). Saini et al. provide evidence of Bacopa's efficacy in reducing both acute and chronic forms of stress. Bhattacharya and Ghosal shed light on Bacopa's role in regulating cortisol levels, offering an explanation for its anxiety reducing effects.
When we turn to Bacopa's neuroprotective effects, the work of Russo et al. (6) and Priyanka et al. (7) stand out. Russo et al.'s research underscores the role of Bacopa's bacosides in countering oxidative stress and shielding neuronal cells from damage. Priyanka et al., on the other hand, delve into Bacopa's neuroprotective properties, showing how Bacopa safeguards neurons against various forms of toxicity.
What About Bacopa Side Effects?
Excluding allergic reactions, the most common side effects of bacopa are diarrhea, dry mouth, lethargy, nausea and stomach cramps. It should be noted that anecdotally, stomach cramps are pretty common with bacopa.
Bacopa should also be avoided by people with a gastrointestinal blockage, ulcers, UTI's or other stomach and bowel related conditions. There are some concerns about thyroid and lung conditions too, so best to check with a healthcare provider if you have one of these issues and are planning to take bacopa.
Generally 300-600mg of Bacopa is recommended per day depending on what you're using it for. Typically 300mg is assuming a bacoside content of 55%, leaves tend to be closer to 20% so always check which version you're getting.
Bacopa Benefits Conclusion
All in all it seems that Bacopa is reasonable inclusion for natural anti anxiety supplements and for brain boosting nootropics. There's a reasonable amount of scientific backing. That's not to say every trial has been positive, there are a notable amount of bacopa studies that showed no results. But, there are more to back that it does at least work for a significant proportion of the population.
All in all it scores highly as a memory improvement supplement, particularly in over 50s. Bacopa is OK for attention issues. And Bacopa seems to score reasonable for anxiety, although there are notably better herbal options. As for neuroprotection it looks promising.
Bacopa For Attention - 3/5
Bacopa For Memory - 4/5
Bacopa For Stress and Anxiety - 3/5
Bacopa For Neuroprotections - 3/5
The scores below are based on current research and subject to change.
1. 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 Jul;14(6):707-13.
2. Pase MP, Kean J, Sarris J, Neale C, Scholey AB, Stough C. The cognitive-enhancing effects of Bacopa monnieri: a systematic review of randomized, controlled human clinical trials. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Jul;18(7):647-52.
3. Dave UP, Dingankar SR, Saxena VS, et al. An open-label study to elucidate the effects of standardized Bacopa monnieri extract in the management of symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. Adv Mind Body Med. 2014 Spring;28(2):10-5.
4. Saini N, Singh D, Sandhir R. Neuroprotective Effects of Bacopa monnieri in Experimental Model of Dementia. Neurochem Res. 2012 Sep;37(9):1928-37.
5. Bhattacharya SK, Ghosal S. Anxiolytic activity of a standardized extract of Bacopa monniera—an experimental study. Phytomedicine. 1998 Apr;5(2):77-82.
6. Russo A, Borrelli F. Bacopa monniera, a reputed nootropic plant: an overview. Phytomedicine. 2005 Apr;12(4):305-17.
7. Priyanka HP, Bala P, Ankisettipalle S, ThyagaRajan S. Bacopa monniera and L-deprenyl differentially enhance the activities of antioxidant enzymes and the expression of tyrosine hydroxylase and nerve growth factor via ERK 1/2 and NF-κB pathways in the spleen of female Wistar rats. Neurochem Int. 2013 Feb;62(3):217-28.
8. Negi KS, Singh YD, Kushwaha KP, et al. Clinical evaluation of memory enhancing properties of Memory Plus in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Indian J Psychiatry. 2000 Apr;42(2):Supplement.