Bacopa (Bacopa monniera) has long been revered in Ayurvedic medicine as a tonic for improving memory—the plant is so highly valued that it’s called “Brahmi,” referring to Brahma, the creator of the universe in the Hindu tradition. Ayurvedic practitioners regard bacopa as a rasayana (restorative adaptogenic tonic), and for thousands of years have prescribed it for relieving debility (particularly mental debility), mental chatter, insomnia, depression, chronic fatigue, as a brain tonic to enhance memory development, learning, and concentration1 and to provide relief from anxiety and epileptic disorders.2 Bacopa is also recommended as a general tonic to slow the aging process. In India and Pakistan, bacopa is prescribed as a cardiac tonic, digestive aid, and to improve respiratory function in cases of bronchoconstriction.3
I find that bacopa is excellent for enhancing learning and concentration, while at the same time helping to ease anxiety. The resulting relaxation supports the ability of the brain to focus, learn, and retain information. In my experience, bacopa is effective for both children and adults. Bacopa is also a powerful protector against toxicity, both systemically and specifically for the brain, where it has been shown to inhibit brain damage induced from heavy metals such as mercury and other toxins, while activating the body’s innate defense and detoxification systems.
Native to India and the tropics, bacopa is a small, creeping herb with small oblong leaves and light purple flowers. It grows naturally in shallow water and marshes, from sea level to altitudes of more than 4,000 feet. Scientific analysis shows that the stems and leaves of bacopa contain a variety of active compounds including alkaloids (brahmine and herpestine), saponins (d-mannitol, hersaponin, and acid A) and monnierin. Other active constituents include betulenic acid, stigmastarol, and beta-sitosterol, as well as numerous bacosides and bacopasaponins. The constituents responsible for bacopa’s cognitive effects are bacosides A and B.4,5,6,7
Both bacoside A and B have been shown to modulate stress hormones released by the brain. Bacopa appears to positively affect the central nervous system by stimulating the gaba-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and cholinergic systems. This has a calming effect on the brain, and at the same time, increases the ability to concentrate and retain information. In India, yogis use this to their advantage: They traditionally drink a cup of bacopa tea prior to meditation practices to calm mental chatter and to facilitate a relaxed state of consciousness. To further enhance mental rejuvenation, gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is frequently combined with bacopa.
Recent research has focused primarily on the cognitive-enhancing effects of bacopa—specifically memory, learning, and concentration—and results support traditional Ayurvedic claims. For example, clinical trials show that bacopa improves the learning ability of children.8,9 Research on anxiety, epilepsy, bronchitis and asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and gastric ulcers also supports the Ayurvedic uses of bacopa. And bacopa’s antioxidant properties may offer protection from free radical damage in cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Bacopa monniera extract (BME) and isolated bacosides have been extensively investigated for their neuropharmacological effects, with a number of studies reporting their nootropic action. In addition, researchers have discovered BME possesses anti-inflammatory, cardiotonic and other pharmacological effects.10
RESEARCH STUDIES ON BACOPA
Stress Protective Properties:
As stress is linked to many diseases, research on effective antistress agents (adaptogens) from plants has gained importance in research and clinical settings. In one animal study, researchers evaluated the adaptogenic potential of a standardized extract of Bacopa monniera (BME) against acute and chronic stress (CS). Panax root powder (Panax quinquefolius) was used as a standard. Panax root powder, 100 mg/kg po, significantly reversed the acute stress-induced changes in spleen weight, plasma ALT, AST, and CK. Chronic stress exposure resulted in a significant increase in the ulcer index, adrenal gland weight, plasma AST, and CK with a significant decrease in thymus and spleen weight, plasma triglycerides, and cholesterol. Pretreatment with low dose of BME extract at 40 mg/kg significantly reversed changes in ulcer index and plasma AST only, whereas pretreatment with a higher dose significantly reversed CS-induced changes in ulcer index, adrenal gland weight, CK, and AST. Panax root powder significantly reversed CS-induced increase in ulcer index, adrenal gland weight, CK, and AST. Researchers concluded that Bacopa monniera extract possesses potent adaptogenic activity.11
Bacopa extract has also been found to possess significant anti-oxidative activity in humans and animal studies, and has been shown to inhibit lipid peroxidation.12
Neuroprotective And Memory Enhancing Benefits:
The standardized extract of Bacopa monniera (BME) has significant anti-oxidant effects, anxiolytic activity, and improves memory retention in Alzheimer’s disease. BME was investigated for potential antidepressant activity in rodent models of depression. The effect was compared with the standard antidepressant drug imipramine (15 mg/kg, ip). BME, given in an oral dose of 20 and 40 mg/kg once daily for 5 days, was found to have significant antidepressant activity in forced swim and learned helplessness models of depression and was found comparable to imipramine.13
In other research, the neuroprotective effect of bacopa extract against aluminum-induced changes in peroxidative products, such as thio-barbituric acid-reactive substance (TBA-RS) and protein carbonyl content and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity was studied. Effects on lipofuscin (age pigments) accumulation and ultrastructural changes were also evaluated. Bacopa effects were compared with those of l-deprenyl. Co-administration of bacopa extract during aluminum treatment significantly prevented the aluminum-induced decrease in SOD activity as well as the increased oxidative damage to lipids and proteins. Protective effect was also observed at the microscopic level. Fluorescence and electron microscopic studies revealed considerable inhibition of intraneuronal lipofuscin accumulation and necrotic alteration in the CA1 region of the hippocampus. Observations showed that bacopa’s neuroprotective effects were comparable to those of l-deprenyl at both biochemical and microscopic levels.14
In a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (all trials were conducted for a period of 12 weeks), bacopa was found to improve performance on 9 of 17 tests in the domain of memory free recall.15 In sum, bacopa appears effective against cognitive impairment in aging and Senile Dementia of Alzheimer’s Type (SDAT). The present results suggest that bacosides possess immense potential to act as a neuroprotective agent due to its pleiotropic action for the prevention of aging complications and SDAT progression. 16
Benefits For Parkinson’s Disease
Neurodegenerative Parkinson’s disease (PD) is associated with aggregation of protein alpha synuclein and selective death of dopaminergic neurons, thereby leading to cognitive and motor impairment in patients. The disease has no cure; current therapeutic strategies rely on dopamine agonist drugs that turn ineffective after prolonged use. Studies show that B. monnieri reduces alpha synuclein aggregation, prevents dopaminergic neurodegeneration and restores the lipid content in nematodes, thereby proving its potential as a possible anti-Parkinsonian agent.17
Protection Against Toxins And Carcinogens:
N-Nitrosodiethylamine (DEN) is a notorious carcinogen, present in many environmental factors. DEN induces oxidative stress and cellular injury due to enhanced generation of reactive oxygen species; free radical scavengers protect the membranes from DEN-induced damage. In a study designed to evaluate the protective effect of bacoside A on carcinogen-induced damage in rat liver, researchers concluded that pretreatment of bacoside A prevents the elevation of LPO and activity of serum marker enzymes and maintains the antioxidant system, thus protecting the rats from DEN-induced hepatotoxicity.18
Chemoprevention is an effective approach to control hepatocarcinogenesis. In a recent study, researchers concluded that bacoside A effectively prevents DEN-induced hepatocellular carcinoma by quenching lipid peroxidation and enhancing antioxidant status through free radical scavenging mechanisms, and has the potential of protecting endogenous enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidant activity.19
Chronic exposure to cigarette smoke affects the structure and function of mitochondria, which may account for the pathogenesis of smoking-related diseases. In laboratory studies of rats, bacopa has shown to possess mitrochondrial membrane-stabilizing properties in the brain during exposure to morphine. Researchers have also evaluated the protective effect of bacoside A against mitochondrial dysfunction induced by cigarette smoke. In animal studies, administration of bacoside A prevented the structural and functional impairment of mitochondria upon exposure to cigarette smoke. 20
Aluminum-induced neurotoxicity is well known and has been reported to accelerate oxidative damage to biomolecules like lipids, proteins and nucleic acids. Bacopa has been studied to determine the potential for inhibiting aluminum toxicity in the cerebral cortex. Findings strongly suggest that bacopa has potential to protect the brain from oxidative damage resulting from aluminum toxicity.21
Bacopa has been shown to have significant antiulcerogenic activity, and to increase mucin secretion while decreasing cell shedding, with no effect on cell proliferation. The gastric, prophylactic and curative effects of bacopa may be due predominantly to its effects on mucosal defensive factors.22
THERAPEUTIC DOSING RANGE
Traditional daily doses of bacopa are 510 mg of non-standardized powder, 8-16 ml of infusion, and 30 ml daily of syrup (Brahmi). Dosages of a 1:2 fluid extract are 5-12 ml per day for adults and 2.5-6 ml per day for children ages 6-12. For bacopa extracts standardized to 50-percent bacosides A and B, the dosage is 200-400 mg daily in divided doses for adults, and for children, 100-200 mg daily in divided doses. I find bacopa very helpful for children, particularly as a tonic herb in children’s formulations for ADD and ADHD.
Two formulas of mine contain a very potent bacopa extracts standardized to more than 30% bacosides A and B. One of these formulas features bacopa and is specific for supporting cognition, mood, and for protecting the brain against stress, chronic disease, and aging.
Therapeutic doses of bacopa are not associated with any known side effects, and bacopa has been used safely in Ayurvedic medicine for over a thousand years. A double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial of healthy male volunteers investigated the safety of pharmacological doses of isolated bacosides over a four-week period. Concentrated bacosides given in single (20-30 mg) and multiple (100-200 mg) daily doses were well tolerated and without adverse effects.23
1 Mukherjee DG, Dey CD. Clinical trial on Brahmi. I. Journal of Experimental Medical Sciences 1966; 10(1): 5-11.
2 Singh HK, Dhawan BN. Neuropsychopharmacological effects of the Ayurvedic nootropic Bacopa monniera Linn. (Brahmi). Indian Journal of Pharmacology 1997; 29(5): S359-S365.
3 Nadkarni KM. The Indian Materia Medica. Columbia: South Asia Books, 1988: 624-625.
4 Kapoor LD. CRC Handbook of Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants. Boca Raton: CRC Press Inc, 1990: 61.
5 Chakravarty AK, Garai S, Masuda K, Nakane T, Kawahara N. Bacopasides III-V: three new triterpenoid glycosides from Bacopa monniera. Chemical & Pharmaceutical Bulletin 2003; 51(2): 215-217.
6 Hou CC, Lin SJ, Cheng JT, Hsu FL. Bacopaside III, bacopasaponin G, and bacopasides A, B, and C from Bacopa monniera. Journal of Natural Products 2002; 65(12): 1759-1763.
7 Mahato SB, Garai S, Chakravarty AK. Bacopasaponins E and F: two jujubogenin bisdesmosides from Bacopa monniera. Phytochemistry 2000; 53(6): 711-714.
8 Singh HK, Dhawan BN. Neuropsychopharmacological effects of the Ayurvedic nootropic Bacopa monniera Linn. (Brahmi). Indian Journal of Pharmacology 1997; 29(5): S359-S365.
9 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 Journal of Pharmacology 2000; 42(2 Suppl.).
10 Russo A, Borrelli F. Bacopa monniera, a reputed nootropic plant: an overview. Phytomedicine 2005; 12(4): 305-317.
11 Rai D, Bhatia G, Palit G, Pal R, Singh S, Singh HK. Adaptogenic effect of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi). Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior 2003; 75(4): 823-830.
12 Russo A, Izzo AA, Borrelli F, Renis M, Vanella A. Free radical scavenging capacity and protective effect of Bacopa monniera L. on DNA damage. Phytotherapy Research 2003; 17(8): 870-875.
13 Sairam K, Dorababu M, Goel RK, Bhattacharya SK. Antidepressant activity of standardized extract of Bacopa monniera in experimental models of depression in rats. Phytomedicine 2002; 9(3): 207-211.
15 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. Epub 2012 Jul 2.
16 Rastogi M, Ojha RP, Devi BP, Aggarwal A, Agrawal A, Dubey GP. Amelioration of age associated neuroinflammation on long term bacosides treatment. Neurochem Res. 2012; Apr;37(4):869-74. Epub 2011 Dec 25.
17Jadiya P, Khan A, Sammi SR, Kaur S, Mir SS, Nazir A. Anti-Parkinsonian effects of Bacopa monnieri: insights from transgenic and pharmacological Caenorhabditis elegans models of Parkinson’s disease. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2011; Oct 7;413(4):605-10. Epub 2011 Sep 8.
18Janani P, Sivakumari K, Geetha A, Ravisankar B, Parthasarathy C. Chemopreventive effect of bacoside A on N-nitrosodiethylamine-induced hepatocarcinogenesis in rats. J Cancer Res Clin Oncol. 2010; May;136(5):759-70. Epub 2009 Nov 15.
19Janani P, Sivakumari K, Parthasarathy C. Hepatoprotective activity of bacoside A against N-nitrosodiethylamine-induced liver toxicity in adult rats. Cell Biology and Toxicology 2008; [Epub ahead of print].
20 Anbarasi K, Vani G, Devi CS. Protective effect of bacoside a on cigarette smoking-induced brain mitochondrial dysfunction in rats. Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology and Oncology 2005; 24(3): 225-234.
21 Jyoti A, Sethi P, Sharma D. Bacopa monniera prevents from aluminum neurotoxicity in the cerebral cortex of rat brain. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2006; 111(1): 56-62
22 Sairam K, Rao C, Babu MD, Goel RK. Prophylactic and curative effects of Bacopa monniera in gastric ulcer models. Phytomedicine 2001; 8(6): 423-430.
23 Singh HK, Dhawan BN. Neuropsychopharmacological effects of the Ayurvedic nootropic Bacopa monniera Linn. (Brahmi). Indian Journal of Pharmacology 1997; 29(5): S359-S365.