How does Bacopa Monnieri Work?
Bacopa monnieri, also known as brahmi, water hyssop or moneywort, has been used for centuries in Ayurveda traditional medicine and has long been thought of as a “wonder herb.” Bacopa contains contains anthraquinones, phytosterol, and terpenoids, as well as numerous biologically active compounds, such as alkaloids (brahmine and herpestine), bacopasaponins, flavonoids (glucuronyl-7-apigenin, glucuronyl-7-luteolin, luteolin-7-glucoside, and luteolin), and saponins (bacogenins, bacosides, and bacopasides). These powerful compounds are responsible for the herb’s many pharmacological and therapeutic benefits.
Bacopa is commonly known as a “nootropic”, and for good reason. It has been shown to help repair neurons that have become damaged, improve brain function, improve neuron communication, and protect brain cells from harmful chemicals that are responsible for neurological diseases linked to cognition and memory, such as Alzheimer's disease. Bacopa has also shown the ability to help regulate the body's response to both acute and chronic stress and may act as a potent adaptogen.
Bacopa Monnieri and Mental Health
Bacopa may increase the effects of key neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, acetylcholine, noradrenaline, and dopamine, which can help you achieve a sense of calm and maintain mood equilibrium. An imbalance (often too little) of these key neurotransmitters is believed to play a significant role in many mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Bacopa can make an excellent, natural anti-depressant and mood booster that lacks the horrible side effects of some pharmaceutical drugs.
In research, bacopa has shown significant results with respect to anxiety and depression. One study concluded that bacopa displayed results that are comparable to that of lorazepam (a commonly prescribed pharmaceutical tranquilizer) in all the test areas. Furthermore, it was shown that bacopa was a better choice, in comparison to the widely used benzodiazepine anxiolytics because it also promoted cognition - which those types of drugs are not associated with. Bacopa also did not produce any significant motor deficit, which suggests that it is unlikely to cause sedation, the way in which lorazepam and other tranquilizers do. In another study, participants over the age of 65 who used bacopa demonstrated a decrease in both anxiety and depression.
The Effects of Bacopa Monnieri on Memory (Young and Older)
The research on bacopa as it pertains to memory has led many to refer to bacopa as a clinical “memory enhancer.” Although most of the scientific research looks at bacopa’s effects on brain-related conditions in older adults (primarily cognition and memory), some research has shown it to be effective in treating children for brain-related conditions as well. Numerous studies have shown that bacopa appears to have a more significant impact on memory in comparison to other areas of brain study. It has been shown to improve memory during cognitive decline and help prevent damage to cortical neurons (the cells in your brain’s largest region—the cerebral cortex’s two hemispheres.)
A controlled study found that a syrup containing an extract of dried bacopa herb given to children (participants) improved several measures of their mental performance. A double-blind trial found that a daily dosage of 300 mg of bacopa improved memory acquisition and retention in healthy elderly people. Similar results were found in another double-blind study of elderly participants who did not have any evidence of dementia.
In a 2013 scientific review of the neuropharmacological findings on Bacopa monnieri, it was concluded that bacopa “demonstrates immense potential in the amelioration of cognitive disorders, as well as prophylactic reduction of oxidative damage, NT modulation, and cognitive enhancement in healthy people.”
Antioxidant Power for the Brain
In addition to its impact on mental health and memory, bacopa appears to offer several antioxidant and neuroprotective benefits in the brain. This may help support mental functioning in a variety of ways, including enhanced memory and cognition. Several studies report that bacopa can be neuroprotective, while preventing oxidative stress (an antioxidant benefit), lipid peroxidation, and cell death. In addition, neuroprotective effects against neurotoxins such as aluminum, cigarette smoke, and morphine have also been observed.
Preclinical research studies have identified some biological mechanisms of bacopa, showing it might help protect the brain from aging and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, it might eventually be found to be effective in treating general dementia and cognitive decline. More scientific studies are needed in order to unlock the full potential of this magical nootropic herb. Who knows where the research will lead to?