Bacopa monnieri, popularly known as Brahmi, is an aquatic herb with numerous health benefits. The name Brahmi is derived from the Brahma, the Supreme Creator, according to Hindu Mythology. This denotes just how powerful ancient sages considered this little herb to be. Bacopa monnieri is used in Ayurvedic medicine for a variety of treatments including improving memory, reducing anxiety, and treating epilepsy. Bacopa is fast gaining fame as both a nootropic and an adaptogen.
Unlike modern-day medications that tend to suppress stress, adaptogens are herbs that help prevent stress by balancing, restoring and protecting the body. Since ancient times, Indian and Chinese healers have been using various herbs for their adaptogenic and nootropic capabilities. The nootropic effects of Brahmi is recorded in ancient Ayurvedic texts that date back centuries. Ayurveda recommends the use of Brahmi for enhancing cognition and for memorizing long passages of text.
Bacopa Monnieri Plant Origin & Nutrition Facts
Bacopa monnieri belongs to the family Plantaginaceae. Bacopa grows best in wet, and sunny locations such as the marshy regions in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is native to the wetlands of India, Southeastern Asian countries, Australia, Europe, Africa, and South America.
This perennial creeper is also known by many other names such as water hyssop, herb of grace, Indian pennywort and thyme-leafed gratiola. Because of its ability to thrive under water, Bacopa is also popular as an aquatic plant for decorating aquariums.
Traditional medicinal preparations utilize most parts of the Bacopa plant while modern preparations use only the extracts of the Bacopa stem and leaves. Bacopa leaves contain saponins such as bacosides which provide the plant with therapeutic capabilities. Saponins are beneficial phytochemicals found in plants and they offer tremendous health benefits. Saponins have been found to support overall wellness, improve cholesterol levels and support the immune system. Studies have noted that purified bacosides enhance mental function and learning ability.
7 Proven Health Benefits of Bacopa Monnieri
1. Bacopa Enhances Intellect and Memory
Bacopa monnieri is considered to be a “medhya rasayana” in Ayurveda, the traditional system of medicine in India, Medhya Rasayanas are a group of medicinal plants with numerous benefits, especially for improving memory and intellect. Medha literally means ‘intellect’ in the Sanskrit language and Rasayana indicates a ‘therapeutic procedure’.
Regular use of medhya rasayanas is believed to boost health, intellect, memory, immunity and longevity. Bacopa is a common ingredient in various Ayurvedic herbal formulations used for treating mental issues such as memory loss, anxiety, concentration loss and poor cognition
A study conducted by the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Adilabad, India, revealed that rats treated with Bacopa monniera extract showed a significant improvement in spatial learning performance and enhanced memory retention. The researchers concluded that :
“The constituents present in Bacopa monnieri extract have neuronal dendritic growth-stimulating properties.”
Dendrites or dendrons are branched extensions of nerve cells in the brain. They conduct electrical messages to the neuron cell body and play a major role in learning and memory formation.
Researchers from the School of Biophysical Science and Electrical Engineering, Victoria, Australia studied the chronic effects of Bacopa monnieri on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. The test participants were administered 300 mg of Bacopa for a period of 12 weeks. They found that
“ The Bacopa extract improved higher order cognitive processes that are critically dependent on the input of information from our environments such as learning and memory.”
Compared to the placebo group, the subjects who took the bacopa supplement daily displayed significant improvement in their speed of processing visual information, learning rate, and memory.
A 2012 study from Thailand supplemented 60 healthy elderly subjects, 23 males and 37 females, with standardized extracts of Bacopa monnieri (300 and 600 mg) or placebo once daily for a period of 12 weeks. Assessments were conducted before beginning treatment, and at every four weeks during the study period, and once again at four weeks after the supplementation was stopped. Compared to the placebo treatment, the Bacopa treated group displayed improved working memory. The study concluded that:
“Bacopa monnieri can improve attention, cognitive processing, and working memory partly via the suppression of AChE activity.”
2. Bacopa Has Powerful Antioxidant Properties
Bacopa monnieri is a great health supplement for the health conscious as it has powerful antioxidant properties. All living organisms need oxygen for their survival. But when oxygen is utilized by our cells, reactive oxygen species (ROS) and free radicals are formed. Free radicals have a beneficial role in certain physiological functions, but in excessive quantities, free radicals cause oxidative damage to fundamental building blocks in our bodies such as proteins, lipids and even our DNA.
Such oxidative damage can arrest growth, accelerate aging and increases the risk of several pathological conditions in the human body. Scavenging these ROS and free radicals can help alleviate such diseases completely. Several herbal extracts have been found to have antioxidant properties and one of the most prominent among these is Brahmi or Bacopa monnieri. Ayurvedic healers use Bacopa monnieri for treating various ailments such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.
The primary active component in Bacopa monnieri, the bacosides, have been noted for their ability to neutralize free radicals. Bacosides are able to prevent fat molecules from reacting with free radicals. Researchers from the Department of Biotechnology, Bharathiar University, India recorded that Bacopa monnieri has the therapeutic potential for managing diseases caused by oxidative stress and ROS by acting as a free radical scavenger.
Oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction cause neuronal cell death and this, in turn, leads to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline. A 2015 study conducted by the Department of Neurology, Boston University School of Medicine and Framingham Heart Study, USA, with animal and in vitro studies, observed that Bacopa monnieri is a dietary antioxidant, with several modes of action that may protect the brain against oxidative damage. Several studies using the CDRI08 extract (a special extract of Bacopa monnieri) have shown that this herb has the potential to improve cognitive function in humans.
Free radicals can react with fat molecules resulting in lipid peroxidation, and this is linked to several neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. A 2012 study conducted by the Department of Biochemistry, Panjab University, India, recorded that supplementation with Bacopa monnieri reversed the memory impairment observed in colchicine-induced cognitive impairment in rats.
3. Bacopa Increases Resistance to Stress
As an adaptogenic herb, Bacopa monnieri can help prevent anxiety and stress, by increasing the body’s resistance to stress. A study conducted by the Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, India investigated the adaptogenic property of Bacopa Monniera extract against acute and chronic stress models in rats. And they discovered that Bacopa monnieri extracts have potent adaptogenic activity.
A 2014 study by the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia, used 17 healthy volunteers, to study the adaptogenic and nootropic effects of Bacopa monnieri. The researchers observed positive mood effects in their test subjects, as the Bacopa intake led to a reduction in cortisol levels. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in our body.
A study from the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India, investigated the anxiolytic activity of a standardized extract of Bacopa monnieri and the results were compared with those elicited by lorazepam, a prescription medication used to treat anxiety. The researchers concluded that:
“Bacopa produced a dose-related anxiolytic activity, qualitatively comparable to that of lorazepam, in all the test parameters. As was evidenced by using the rota-rod test, Bacopa did not produce any significant motor deficit, at the doses used.”
Though widely used, benzodiazepine anxiolytics have an amnesic action while Bacopa has a major advantage in the fact that it promotes cognition. Researchers from the Helfgott Research Institute, National College of Natural Medicine, Portland, USA, conducted a study to evaluate effects of Bacopa monnieri whole plant standardized dry extract on cognitive function, its safety and tolerability in healthy elderly study participants. The study used 48 test subjects, who were divided into two groups. One group was given the placebo while the other group was given 300 mg/day Bacopa monnieri extract.
The researchers concluded that Bacopa has the potential for safely enhancing cognitive performance in the aging. The Bacopa patients exhibited improved memory and concentration powers, lowered depression and anxiety and their heart rate decreased over time when compared to the placebo group.
4. Bacopa Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Inflammation is a part of our body’s immune system response, to fight off infections and heal the body. But long term or chronic inflammation leads to many other medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, etc. In Ayurveda, Bacopa monnieri is used in the treatment of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Several modern biomedical studies using animal models have noted that Bacopa monnieri inhibits the release of the pro-inflammatory cytokines TNF-α and IL-6.
A 2014 study conducted by the University of Montana, USA, examined Bacopa’s ability to inhibit the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from microglial cells, the immune cells of the brain that participate in inflammation in the Central Nervous System (CNS). The researchers also studied the effect of Bacopa on signaling enzymes associated with CNS inflammatory pathways. They prepared and used various extracts of Bacopa such as tea, infusion, alkaloid extracts of bacopa and bacosides. The test result was concluded as :
“Bacopa inhibits the release of inflammatory cytokines from microglial cells and inhibits enzymes associated with inflammation in the brain. Thus, Bacopa can limit inflammation in the CNS, and offers a promising source of novel therapeutics for the treatment of many CNS disorders”
Another 2014 Australian study acknowledged that the Ayurvedic herb Brahmi or Bacopa monnieri is effective in relieving acute pain and inflammation, by selective inhibition of cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme and consequent reduction in COX-2-mediated prostanoid mediators. Their study provided supportive evidence that
“Bacopa monnieri can help manage diseases involving chronic systemic and brain inflammation driven by the innate immune system.”
There have been many other studies, test tube and animal studies, that proved Bacopa monnieri has the ability to inhibit enzymes which play key roles in inflammation and pain, such as cyclooxygenases, caspases, and lipoxygenases. An Indian study using Ayurvedic preparations of Bacopa monnieri revealed that Bacopa may partially mediate its anti-inflammatory activity by interfering with the action of prostaglandins and by stabilization of the lysosomal membranes. The researchers found Bacopa’s anti-inflammatory activity comparable to that of indomethacin.
Another Indian study investigated the anti-inflammatory activity of methanolic extract of Bacopa monnieri (BME). For some tests, the researchers used bacoside fractions prepared from the BME. They concluded that:
“Bacopa monnieri possesses anti-inflammatory activity through inhibition of COX and LOX and downregulation of TNF-alpha.”
5. Bacopa Relieves ADHD Symptoms
Bacopa monnieri supplementation can significantly reduce Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) symptoms. ADHD is not a disease, it is a neurodevelopmental disorder, characterized mostly by symptoms such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattentiveness. These symptoms represent a final common behavioral pathway for a range of emotional, psychological, and/or learning problems.
A 2014 study conducted at the Center for Research in Mental Retardation (CREMERE) in Mumbai, India, investigated the effectiveness of standardized Bacopa monnieri extract in relieving the severity of the symptoms of ADHD in children. The open-label study was for 2 years, from 2008 to 2010. 31 children, 6 to 12 years of age, with an age of onset of ADHD before 7 years of age participated in the trial.
The children were given daily doses of 225 mg of Bacopa extract for a period of 6 months. Except for social problems, there was a significant reduction in all other ADHD symptoms. The symptom scores for restlessness, self-control, learning problems, impulsivity, and psychiatric problems were all reduced considerably by the intake of Bacopa monnieri.
Another 2014 study conducted by the ADHD and Adaptation Clinic, Sheba Medical Center, Israel evaluated the efficacy of a compound herbal preparation in improving attention, cognition, and impulse control in children with ADHD. 120 children, aged 6 to 12 years, were included in this study. A dose of 3 ml of the herbal blend or placebo was given to the participants three times daily, before meals.
The herbal blend, which contained 125 mg of Bacopa monnieri, was found to improve attention, cognition, and impulse control in the intervention group.
6. Bacopa Inhibits Cancer Cell Growth
Bacopa monnieri is receiving a lot of attention these days for its potential in cancer treatments. Various studies, test tube and animal models, have noted that Bacopa may have anticancer properties.
Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a highly aggressive type of brain tumor. Researchers from the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, India found that the extracts of Bacopa monnieri and its bioactive component Bacoside A induces tumor cell death in human glioblastoma cell lines through catastrophic macropinocytosis.
The ethanolic extract of Bacopa monnieri contains bacoside A and B, brahmin, cucurbitacins, and betulinic acid. Cucurbitacins have strong anti-tumorigenic and anti-proliferative activity and they induce cell cycle arrest at the G2/M phase and formation of multiplied cells. The presence of cucurbitacins and betulinic acid display the anticancer potential of Bacopa.
A 2013 study from the University of Mysore, India, found that Bacopa was useful in treating breast cancer. Aquaporins are membrane proteins. Also called water channels, aquaporins facilitate the transport of water between cells. A 2018 Australian study investigated the anti-tumor potential of bacopaside II in colon cancer cells. Bacopaside II is an extract from Bacopa monnieri and it blocks the Aquaporin-1 water channel and impairs migration of cells that express Aquaporin. The researchers concluded that
“Bacopaside II inhibits colon cancer cell growth by inducing cell cycle arrest and apoptosis.”
In short, the bacosides in Bacopa monnieri have the ability to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells, colon cancer cells, and even kill aggressive brain tumor cells.
7. Bacopa Lowers High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure or hypertension is a medical condition in which pressure in the blood vessels is higher than it should be. The amount
of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries determine your blood pressure. When the heart pumps more blood or your arteries become narrow, your blood pressure becomes high. This puts a strain on the heart, weakening it and increasing your risk of heart disease. High blood pressure can lead to serious health problems such as heart attack and stroke.
Many studies have observed that Bacopa monnieri can help maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Research suggests that Bacopa monnieri may help keep blood pressure within a healthy range. In a 2011 study conducted by the Naresuan University, Thailand, the researchers investigated the cardiovascular actions of Bacopa monnieri. To provide insights to its clinical applications, they assessed the effects of Bacopa on blood pressure and on isolated arteries. They concluded that:
“Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) reduces blood pressure partly via releasing nitric oxide from the endothelium, with additional actions on vascular smooth muscle Ca(2+) homeostasis. Some Brahmi ingredients could be efficacious antihypertensives and the vasodilation could account for some medicinal actions.”
In other words, intake of Bacopa helps lower blood pressure as Bacopa releases nitric oxide which in turn dilates the blood vessels. This helps improve the blood flow and lowers both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Another study from Thailand, using rats, found that:
Bacopa significantly lowered the blood pressure in hypertensive rats, though it showed no effect on rats with normal blood pressure levels.
Side Effects of Bacopa monnieri
- Bacopa monnieri is generally considered safe for consumption and most people do not experience any side effects. There have been reports of nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea in certain people who are more sensitive to medications.
- Since no studies have been conducted on the safety of Bacopa usage during pregnancy, pregnant women are advised to avoid taking bacopa supplements.
- Bacopa may interact with other medications such as amitriptyline, a medication used for pain relief. So if you are taking any medicines, it’s advisable to discuss such interaction possibilities with your physician, before starting on Bacopa monnieri supplements
Dosages: How to Use Bacopa monnieri
The recommended dosages for Bacopa monnieri range from 300 to 450 mg per day. Start at a lower dose and increase the dosage slowly, over a period of time, to give your body the time to adapt. This helps avoid unpleasant side effects such as nausea or diarrhea.
Bacopa is available in the market in many forms – as powder, oil, liquid extracts and as capsules. You can purchase Bacopa monnieri online or from a reputed health store. Bacopa can be used as an ingredient in meals. Grind it and use it as part of a tasty dip or you can infuse the Brahmi leaves to make an excellent rejuvenating tea.
Tea can also be prepared easily by mixing Brahmi powder. It can also be mixed with ghee, before adding adequate warm water, to make a herbal drink. Another tasty option is to make your favorite fruit smoothie and add in the bacopa powder while blending it.
Bacopa monnieri is a much safer option as a nootropic and adaptogen, in comparison to many of the modern day nootropics. Bacopa or Brahmi has been used widely and safely for centuries by the Indian and Chinese traditional healers. Ayurveda promotes the use of Brahmi as an ancient herbal remedy for all brain related disorders and requirements such as boosting cognition, improved memory and concentration.
Human and animal studies conducted by various institutions have all come to the conclusion that Bacopa monnieri can indeed boost brain functions, prevent stress and treat ADHD symptoms. Bacopa even has anti-inflammatory properties, and the potential to help lower high blood pressure and arrest the growth of cancer cells. More and more research is being conducted to confirm these seemingly magical properties of this humble herb and the results are most promising.
Anju Mobin is a certified nutritionist who writes health and wellness articles online. The holder of two graduate degrees, she combines her passion for advertising with her knowledge of the health industry to create custom content for healthcare products. She is the founder and editor of the health website fitnesshacks.org. Find out more about her from her LinkedIn profile or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.