Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is an herb with a rich history of use in Ayurveda and other traditional medicine systems, primarily as a nerve tonic and nootropic.
Traditionally, bacopa was used to primarily enhance cognition and memory recall.
Modern-day research has shown that bacopa may indeed have these cognitive and nootropic benefits, as well as benefits for mood disorders, cancer, and other ailments.
In this article, we’ll go over the main bioactive compounds in bacopa, its health benefits, dosage, and safety.
Table of Contents
What is Bacopa?
Bacopa, known scientifically as Bacopa monnieri, is a perennial herb found growing primarily in wetland regions. It’s found in these wetland areas throughout many areas of the world, including southern India, Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
There are also many other common names for bacopa, including brahmi, water hyssop, thyme-leafed gratiola, herb of grace, and Indian pennywort.
Typically, all parts of the plant are used for medicinal purposes, either fresh or dried.
There are a number of beneficial constituents in bacopa, including the following:
- Brahmine and other alkaloids
- Flavonoids, such as luteolin
- Saponins, including bacosides and bacopasides, and bacopasaponins
- Triterpenes, such as beta-sitosterol and sigmasterol
Among these, the bacosides have received the most attention for their potential benefits, especially related to cognitive function and brain health.
Health Benefits of Bacopa:
Due to the many bioactive constituents in bacopa, it is unsurprising that bacopa was used as a traditional medicine for many years.
Today, modern research has illuminated a number of different health benefits of bacopa, many of which have been found in clinical trials. The main researched benefits of bacopa are listed below.
1. May Improve Cognitive Function
Bacopa has received the most attention as a nootropic/brain-enhancer. There are a number of clinical trials showing that bacopa benefits cognitive function and brain health.
In one double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, participants who received 300mg of bacopa extract had significant improvements in learning, memory, and overall cognitive function compared to placebo. Moreover, the bacopa group also had significantly lower anxiety levels compared to the control group.
Next, a 90-day clinical trial involving 62 subjects found that those who took 300mg of bacopa had significantly better working memory (which is essentially short-term memory) and information processing compared to the control group.
Also, in a placebo-controlled clinical trial involving 60 medical students, those who took a standardized bacopa extract had significant increases in cognitive functioning compared to placebo, including improved memory recall, attention, and reaction time.
Another clinical study looked into the effects of Bacopa monnieri in middle-aged adults. The researchers found that bacopa was associated with significant increases in information retention compared to the placebo. However, no significant changes were found for short-term memory, attention, or everyday memory function.
In another clinical study conducted on 98 individuals aged 55 and over, the group who received 300mg of bacopa per day had a significant increase in verbal learning, memory acquisition, and retention compared to placebo.
Lastly, in a clinical trial involving 60 healthy elderly individuals, the researchers found that Bacopa monnieri extract (either 300mg or 600mg) was related to significant improvements in working memory, attention, and cognitive processing. They also studied the effects on certain brain systems and found that those who took bacopa had suppressed acetylcholinesterase activity, which leads to higher acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter important for memory, focus, and cognition.
Summary:Clinical human studies indicate that bacopa may benefit brain health and function by improving information retention, memory recall, and focus.
2. May Help with Dementia
In addition to cognitive benefits for healthy individuals, it also seems that bacopa benefits brain health for people with neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
In one year-long clinical study in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment, researchers compared the effects of bacopa supplementation (300mg) to donepezil (a common Alzheimer’s medication). They found that there was no significant difference between the two treatments and that both appeared to slightly improve memory and reduce cognitive impairment.
Next, in a randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trial, researchers recruited healthy elderly individuals and those with senile dementia of Alzheimer’s type (SDAT). The elderly individuals with SDAT were given either donepezil or 500mg of an herbal compound containing bacopa, sea-buckthorn (Hippophae ramnoides), and aerial yam (Dioscorea bulbifera).
After 12 months, the researchers found that the mixture of bacopa and other herbs was associated with significant improvements in cognitive function, such as attention and recall, compared to the donepezil group. The herbal group also showed significantly lower levels of inflammation and oxidative stress compared to the donepezil group.
In a pilot study involving patients with dementia, supplementing with 250mg of bacopa for 12 weeks appeared to reduce further cognitive decline and mental deterioration typically associated with dementia.
Also, in an uncontrolled clinical study, Bacopa monnieri extract supplementation led to significant improvements in aspects of cognitive function, such as time orientation, attention, and comprehension. The researchers also noted that Bacopa monnieri seemed to improve overall quality of life, while also decreasing irritability and insomnia.
Finally, one study determined a few specific neuroprotective effects of bacopa that may be the reason for the above benefits. Specifically, they found that bacopa extracts contain various substances that reduce free radicals, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Moreover, bacopa also reduces beta-amyloid plaque build-up, which is a key marker in Alzheimer’s disease and reduced brain function.
Summary:According to human clinical research, bacopa has been found to benefit individuals suffering with neurological disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
3. May Improve Mood
Beyond cognitive benefits, bacopa may also have psychological benefits, such as reducing depression, lowering anxiety, and improving mood.
In a comparative clinical study, patients with anhedonia (lack of pleasure) were assigned either Citalopram (a common antidepressant) or Citalopram alongside 300mg of bacopa. The researchers found that the bacopa + Citalopram group had significant improvements in depression and anhedonia compared to the Citalopram-only group.
In another placebo-controlled trial involving 48 elderly individuals, those who took 300mg of Bacopa monnieri extract daily for 12 weeks showed significantly lower depression and anxiety compared to the placebo, who actually showed increases in those areas.
Additionally, a clinical trial involving 100 individuals with poor sleep showed that those who took a standardized bacopa extract had significantly improved emotional well-being, mood, and general health compared to the placebo, however, the researchers noted that there weren’t any significant improvements in sleep quality itself.
Also, in a stress-induced animal model of depression, short-term bacopa extract administration in rats seemed to deliver antidepressant and stress-lowering actions similar to common antidepressant medications.
Lastly, a study done on mice exposed to chronic stress found that bacopaside supplementation exerted anti-stress and antidepressant activity. The researchers also found that bacopaside extract seemed to lower cortisol, a major stress hormone, while also increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a compound important for overall brain function that’s often decreased in depressed patients.
Summary:Several clinical trials show that bacopa may work to improve mood by lowering levels of depression and anxiety.
4. May Reduce ADHD
There is another way that bacopa benefits brain health. Specifically, some research shows that bacopa benefits individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and related symptoms.
In one placebo-controlled clinical trial done on male children aged 6-to-14, those who received bacopa extract showed significant improvements in aspects of cognition, mood, and sleep compared to the placebo group.
In another clinical trial in 31 children aged 6-to-12, a standardized extract of Bacopa monnieri (225mg) appeared to significantly improve restlessness, self-control, impulsivity, attention deficits, psychiatric problems, and learning problems in the majority of the patients. Most notably among these, significant improvements were seen in restlessness, self-control, and attention.
It would be beneficial to have more clinical studies to further confirm these effects, perhaps in other age groups as well.
Summary:Studies have found that bacopa may reduce symptoms of ADHD in children by improving cognition and attention levels. Additional human research is needed to confirm these findings.
5. May Help in Parkinson’s Disease
There are even more potential benefits of bacopa for other brain disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder affecting the brain and central nervous system. It involves nerve cell damage, which leads to decreased dopamine levels and many troubling symptoms, such as tremors, muscle stiffness, shaking, and poor balance.
In an animal model of Parkinson’s disease, Bacopa monnieri extract administration decreased inflammation and oxidative stress, while also reducing alpha-synuclein, a protein often elevated in Parkinson’s disease. Overall, the researchers concluded that bacopa had neuroprotective effects specific to Parkinson’s disease.
Next, in a zebrafish model of Parkinson’s disease, a bacopa extract seemed to improve swimming activity and anxiety, which suggests that bacopa may improve behavior in Parkinson’s disease.
Another study in fruit flies found that the flies who were given a bacopa leaf extract had significant improvements in behavioral abnormalities (such as loss of climbing function) and reduced oxidative stress compared to the control group.
Finally, a study done on roundworms showed that a bacopa extract showed a number of anti-Parkinsonian effects, such as reducing alpha-synuclein build-up and preventing dopamine degeneration. Thus, the researchers concluded that bacopa may aid Parkinson’s since increased alpha-synuclein levels and decreased dopamine levels (a neurotransmitter) levels are often seen in Parkinson’s patients.
Ideally, clinical trials should be done to confirm these effects, but the initial results are promising.
Summary:Animal clinical studies have found that bacopa may benefit Parkinson’s disease by reducing oxidative stress and increasing dopamine levels. Human clinical studies are needed to verify these findings.
6. Anti-Cancer Properties
Lastly, emerging research shows that bacopa may have anti-cancer properties, although no clinical research has been done yet.
In an in vitro study, a bacopaside extract from Bacopa monnieri seemed to inhibit colon cancer cell growth, mainly by causing cell cycle arrest and apoptosis (cell death).
In another in vitro study, bacopaside treatment seemed to inhibit breast cancer cells, which ultimately helped to slow breast cancer growth.
Another in vitro study found that bacoside A treatment may have anti-cancer activity in glioblastoma (a cancer of the brain or spinal cord) cells by causing cell cycle arrest and apoptosis.
Another study found that various extracts of bacopa were protective against oxidative damage and stress in neuroblastoma (a type of nerve cell cancer) cells.
Lastly, a study found that an ethanolic extract of bacopa appeared to have cytotoxic activity against breast cancer cells, largely due to bacopasides and other compounds.
Evidently, more research in humans (or at least in animals) would strengthen these possible benefits, but the initial research is promising.
Summary:In vitro research indicates that bacopa may be able to inhibit cancer cell growth and cause cancer cell death. Human clinical research is required in order to confirm this.
In general, current research states that bacopa is safe and non-toxic for most individuals.
Some possible side effects of bacopa include dry mouth, stomach cramps, nausea, and increased bowel movements.
The optimal dosage of bacopa is typically related to total bacoside content.
The optimal dose in extract form appears to be around 300mg, assuming it’s standardized to 55% bacosides. This is what is most often used in clinical studies.
Some supplements may also only have a 10 to 20% bacoside content. In this case, look for a serving size from 750 to 1,500mg.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) belongs to the Plantaginaceae family.
The bacopa plant produces flowers and fruit during the growing season. The leaves are oblong/oval and arranged oppositely on the stem. It is also identified by four to five flower petals, typically white to pale blue or purple in color.
Bacopa monnieri is just one of 70 to 100 species that belong to the genus Bacopa.
History & Traditional Use:
Bacopa has a rich history of use in traditional medicine systems, especially throughout India and Asia. Bacopa was heavily used in Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha medicine.
Traditionally, bacopa was used for a wide range of ailments, such as memory loss, skin diseases, fever, psychological disorders, constipation, and brain and nervous weaknesses.
The leaves in particular were mainly used for re-establishing strength, vigor, and brain/nervous system health.
Sometimes, boiled aerial parts and roots of the plant were used to treat bronchitis and coughs.
Additionally, fresh juice and/or paste from the leaves were used in various medicine systems to soothe inflammation and joint pain, reduce swelling, and decrease postnatal pain.
Bacopa has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine for a wide variety of ailments, especially relating to brain and nervous system disorders.
Modern research has shown that bacopa may be beneficial for cognition, mood, Alzheimer’s and neuroprotection, memory, ADHD, Parkinson’s, and cancer.
As such, one may consider implementing bacopa into the diet to experience possible health benefits.