Ingredient Type: Botanical, Herb, Extract
Also Known As: Bacopa monnieri, Brahmi, Bacopa whole plant extract
Bacopa a creeping herb that grows in marshy places and is frequently planted in freshwater aquaria. It is native to India and Australia but has spread throughout the tropics (1,2,3). It has been used for more than 3,000 years in the traditional Indian medicine systems of Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani (4,5). In India, the entire plant is used medicinally, including its flowers, fruits, leaves, roots, stems, and seeds. While its use in the Indian medicine is extensive, United States Pharmacopeia standards established only the use of dry leaves and stems (6). In fact, it wasn’t until the provisions of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 that bacopa was established as an acceptable dietary supplement (7).
The Hindi name for bacopa is brahmi; however, this term has also been applied to Centella asiatica (better known as gotu kola), as well as Merremia gangetia (8).
The history of the ayurvedic use of bacopa indicates its use for its anti-aging properties and overall improved strength of the brain (1,2,9,10). Conditions such as anemia, psychological disorders, fever, edema, skin diseases, constipation, poor memory, nervous weaknesses have been also treated with bacopa (1,2,3,9,10,11,12). In fact, in countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, where the traditional medicine is common, bacopa is a common active ingredient used in medicine and is regulated by the local committees (9,11,12).
WHAT DOES SCIENCE TELL US?
Bacopa Might Help Enhance Memory:
Eight studies from 2001 through 2016 looked at bacopa’s effect on memory (13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20). In most of the studies, participants were given 300 mg a day, but it did not go beyond 600 mg a day. One study included subjects who had age-associated memory impairment, while the rest of the studies included a generally healthy population. The smallest group of participants tested was 35 and the largest group of participants included 98 subjects. The age of participants varied from 18 to 65+ years old, thus presenting a wide range of ages. Two of the studies specifically evaluated the chronic and acute effects of bacopa on cognitive functions. The study that evaluated the chronic effects found that bacopa “significantly improved speed of visual information processing and memory consolidation” (13). The study in which subjects with memory impairment were recruited, the results showed significant improvement not only on the logical memory but also on mental control (15). When bacopa was studied for the acute effects in human cognitive function, with the dosage of 300mg administered, the findings suggested no acute effects (21).
In another 2013 study with 72 adult participants, no significant effects of bacopa on memory were observed with a dosage of 450 mg (22).
The most recent study available on bacopa’s effect on human memory is a 2016 six-week randomized placebo-controlled study. For this study, the participants targeted to study the bacopa effect on memory, medical students due to their high intellectual level. It not only yielded positive outcomes, particularly improvement of the working memory but also showed statistically significant improvement to cognitive functions; in addition, an increase of serum calcium levels was noticed. However, the increase was not beyond the normal range (20).
Bacopa Might Help with Stress and Maintain a Positive Mood:
In addition to its memory enhancing properties, bacopa has been shown to reduce anxiety. Although in a minor magnitude effect, the results in studies were consistent (13,16). A recent 2017 study evaluated bacopa’s preventative properties against oxidative stress yielding positive outcomes (23). While additional research is needed, the results of the 12-week randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled study on 72 healthy individuals indicated a trend for lower state anxiety in the group who received 450mg of B. monniera (Brahmi) extract (22). Two studies noted an anti-depressive effect, but due to the small magnitude, additional research is needed to confirm (16,18).
Bacopa Possibly Helps Improve Attention:
One out of three double-blind studies where bacopa was evaluated for attention improvement indicated positive results. In all three studies, the subjects were healthy and had no signs of dementia (14,16,22). A more recent study conducted on medical students, however, showed a significant improvement in attention and “freedom from distractibility” (20).
Bacopa Possibly Helps Reduce Inflammation:
Among recent studies, it was found that “Bacopa can limit inflammation in the CNS and offers a promising source of novel therapeutics for the treatment of many CNS disorders” (24,25,26). Additional repeated double-blind clinical trials using human subjects are needed to ensure the research findings.
Current studies have not yet evaluated its safety past 16 weeks. No interactions have been reported due to limited research.
It is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women until further safety evidence is available (27).
- One study reported gastrointestinal tract (GIT) side-effects of increased stool frequency, abdominal cramps, and nausea (18) and another reported diarrhea (13). Additional studies reported include upset stomach, dry mouth, thirst, fatigue, and palpitations (irregular heartbeats) (14,16,27).
- Kapoor L. Handbook of Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1990.
- Williamson EM, Hooper M. Major Herbs of Ayurveda. New York: Churchill Livingstone; 2002.
- Ayurveda Pharmacopoeia Committee. Brahmi (Whole plant). The Ayurveda Pharmacopoeia of India, Part I, Volume II, First Edition New Delhi (India): Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India; 1999.
- Ravishankar B, Shukla V. Indian Systems of Medicine: A Brief Profile. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines. 2007;4(3):319-337. doi:10.4314/ajtcam.v4i3.31226.
- Ayurvedic Medicine: In Depth. US Department of Health & Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). 2016. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/ayurveda/introduction.htm. Accessed February 18, 2018.
- United States Pharmacopeial Convention. Bacopa. In: United States Pharmacopeia, 34th Revision, National Formulary 29th Edition (USP 34-NF 29), 2nd Supplement. Rockville, MD: United States Pharmacopeial Convention. 2011;5327.
- Stough C, Nathan P, Lloyd J et al. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001;156(4):481-484. doi:10.1007/s002130100815.
- Singh HK and Dhawan BN. Effect of Bacopa monniera Linn. (brahmi) extract on avoidance responses in rat. J Ethnopharmacol. 1982;5(2):205-214.
- Manandhar NP. Plants and People of Nepal. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2002.
- Puri H. Rasayana: Ayruvedic Herbs for Longevity And Rejuvenation. London: Taylor and Francis; 2003.
- Unani Pharmacopoeia Committee. Jal Brahmi (Whole plant). The Unani Pharmacopoeia of India, Part I, Volume IV. New Delhi (India): Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India. 2007
- Siddha Pharmacopoeia Committee. Pirammi Valukkai (Whole plant). The Siddha Pharmacopoeia of India, Part I, Volume I, First Edition New Delhi (India): Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India. 2008.
- Roodenrys S, Booth D, Bulzomi S, Phipps A, Micallef C, Smoker J. Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2002;27(2):279-281. doi:10.1016/S0893-133X(01)00419-5
- Raghav S, Singh H, Dalal PK, Srivastava JS, Asthana OP. Randomized controlled trial of standardized Bacopa monniera extract in age-associated memory impairment. Indian J Psychiatry. 2006;48(4):238-242. doi:10.4103/0019?5545.31555
- Mills S, Bone K. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone; 2005.
- 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):707-713. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0018
- Stough C, Downey LA, Lloyd J, 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. Phyther Res. 2008;22(12):1629-1634. doi:10.1002/ptr.2537
- Morgan A, Stevens J. Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(7):753-759. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0342
- Peth-Nui T, Wattanathorn J, Muchimapura S, et al. Effects of 12-week Bacopa monnieri consumption on attention, cognitive processing, working memory, and functions of both cholinergic and monoaminergic systems in healthy elderly volunteers. Evidence-based Complement Altern Med. 2012;2012. doi:10.1155/2012/606424
- Kumar N, Abichandani LG, Thawani V, Gharpure KJ, Naidu MUR, Venkat Ramana G. Efficacy of Standardized Extract of Bacopa monnieri (Bacognize®) on Cognitive Functions of Medical Students: A Six-Week, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Evidence-Based Complement Altern Med. 2016;2016:1-8. doi:10.1155/2016/4103423
- Nathan PJ, Clarke J, Lloyd J, Hutchison CW, Downey L, Stough C. The acute effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy normal subjects. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2001;16(4):345-351. doi:10.1002/hup.306
- Sathyanarayanan V, Thomas T, Einöther SJL, Dobriyal R, Joshi MK, Krishnamachari S. Brahmi for the better? New findings challenging cognition and anti-anxiety effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monniera) in healthy adults. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2013;227(2):299-306. doi:10.1007/s00213-013-2978-z
- Bhatia G, Dhuna V, Dhuna K, Kaur M, Singh J. Bacopa monnieri extracts prevent hydrogen peroxide-induced oxidative damage in a cellular model of neuroblastoma IMR32 cells. Chin J Nat Med. 2017;15(11):834-846. doi:10.1016/S1875-5364(18)30017-7
- Benson S, Downey L, 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. Phytotherapy Research. 2013;28(4):551-559. doi:10.1002/ptr.5029.
- Downey L, Kean J, Nemeh F et al. An Acute, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Crossover Study of 320 mg and 640 mg Doses of a Special Extract of Bacopa monnieri(CDRI 08) on Sustained Cognitive Performance. Phytotherapy Research. 2013;27(9):1407-1413. doi:10.1002/ptr.4864.
- Nemetchek M, Stierle A, Stierle D, Lurie D. The Ayurvedic plant Bacopa monnieri inhibits inflammatory pathways in the brain. J Ethnopharmacol. 2017;197:92-100. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2016.07.073.
- Drugs – Bacopa – usage, dosage, interactions. AARP. http://healthtools.aarp.org/natstandardcontent/bacopa/3 . Accessed February 19, 2018.
See the Examine.com entry for Bacopa monnieri or the WbMD entry for bacopa for more information.