What is Bacopa?
Bacopa, at its root, is a plant with powerful medicinal properties. It is a nootropic, meaning it improves cognitive function — particularly executive functions, memory, creativity or motivation in healthy individuals. Bacopa has been used for medicinal purposes dating back to ancient Indian medicine. While it mainly benefits memory and brain function, it also has a wide variety of other helpful traits (x).
History of the Bacopa Monnieri Plant
Bacopa extract comes from the Bacopa monnieri plant. Bacopa monnieri, commonly referred to as water hyssop or brahmi, is a plant native to India. Found in wet marshlands, the plant has light purple and white flowers with small leaves (x, x, x).
Bacopa was first used by Ayurvedic physicians, who practiced the traditional system of medicine of India. It was documented in ancient Ayurvedic text from thousands of years ago, including the Charaka Samhita from 2500 B.C. and the Sushrata Samhita in 2300 B.C. Even in these ancient texts, there was clear documentation of bacopa’s influence on the central nervous system (x).
The whole plant — root, stem and leaves — are used in medicinal preparations. The root and stem provide laxative and diuretic benefits, while the leaves contain the cognitive-effecting chemicals.
Bacopa Extract Benefits
Bacopa has many documented benefits since its ancient use in Ayurveda. It is a therapeutic herb most commonly used as a memory enhancer. Bacopa can affect the three aspects of memory — long-term memory, short-term memory and retention capacity (x).
Effects on Memory, Anxiety & Depression
With continued use, bacopa extract can improve cognitive functions. And it can do this in a variety of ways.
The leaves of the bacopa plant contain various bacosides and certain chemicals called saponins. The bacosides in the plant’s leaves enhance several aspects of mental function and learning ability (x, x).
Bacopa extract interacts with the dopamine and serotonergic systems, but mainly improves cognitive functions by increasing neuron communication. Neurons communicate with one another by sending and receiving signals. Bacopa extract increases the growth of nerve endings on the receiving end of neurological signals and increases the rate at which the nervous system can communicate, thus improving mental cognition (x).
The bacosides present in the bacopa leaves also bolster levels of antioxidants in the brain. Antioxidants help combat excessive oxidative stress on our cells, which can cause cell degeneration, contributing to aging and disease. By increasing antioxidant levels, the bacosides in the bacopa plant help protect neurons from toxic levels of oxidative stress, adding longevity to our brain function.
Lastly, bacopa monnieri affects several neuromodulators, or chemical messengers that neurons release to signal groups of other neurons. Most importantly, though, it is capable of activating a specific enzyme that increases brain levels of acetylcholine, a chemical that plays an important role in attention and memory.
In addition to improving mental cognition, bacopa extract reduces anxiety and relieves depression. It increases brain synthesis of serotonin while also improving serotonin transport. Many know serotonin as the “happy chemical,” as it plays an important role in mood regulation. People with depression tend to show low levels of serotonin. By increasing serotonin levels, bacopa extract helps reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression (x).
Effects on Inflammation
Bacopa extract also improves brain function by reducing inflammation on the central nervous system. It inhibits the production of certain enzymes that can cause inflammation in the brain, thus proving a promising treatment for various central nervous system disorders (x).
Effects on Alzheimer’s
Though additional research is still necessary, bacopa may be able to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is caused by plaque that engulfs the brain, and this useful herb has been shown to inhibit the formation and aggregation of the main constituent of plaques that contribute to the disease (x).
While it’s main functions are related to improving memory retention and brain function, the bacopa plant also has smaller effects on the skin. It has proven to reduce skin problems like ulcers, eczema and psoriasis and can also reduce wrinkles and serve as an antiseptic treatment for burns.
Bacopa has a whole world of potential benefits, including:
- Preventing heart disease
- Easing the symptoms of other neurodegenerative conditions
- Preventing against cognitive decline in schizophrenia
- Reducing the symptoms of bronchitis/asthma
- Balancing the immune system
- Treating diabetes
- Treating microbial illnesses
- Preventing certain cancers
- Protecting gut health
- Warding against fatigue
- Protecting the liver
- Promoting hair growth
- Aiding against histamine intolerance, respiratory problems and allergies
- Protecting against cigarette smoke damage
It’s important to note that these potential benefits have not been thoroughly researched or documented with consistency. You may experience some of these additional benefits of the bacopa herb, or you may experience none of them (x).
Bacopa Extract Side Effects
Bacopa is a uniquely beneficial supplemental treatment for many ailments, as it causes very few side effects. It has the potential to cause nausea, fatigue and gastrointestinal discomfort. Take bacopa extract with food — specifically something containing fat. This will increase absorption and relieve gastrointestinal issues (x).
Who Should Take Bacopa Extract?
Bacopa is a great supplement to add to your daily vitamin regimen, even if you aren’t looking for specific results. Bacopa needs time to build up in the body to work, and taking it as part of your daily routine can help improve your brain function over time. Older people can also take these supplements as a way to improve their memory.
If you’re looking for a natural remedy to more mild anxiety or depression, consider taking Bacopa, but consult your doctor beforehand. While it does have anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects, your doctor may also prescribe additional medications to treat your symptoms.
Bacopa extract has the ability to slow heart rate, so consult your doctor if you have a heart condition. Women who are pregnant should also talk to their doctor before consuming this supplement in any form (x).
Consumption of Bacopa Monnieri
The bacopa plant can be consumed in a multitude of ways for a variety of effects. It can be consumed whole as a plant or in supplemental form.
Bacopa leaves can be included raw in salads or cooked as you would other green vegetables. Aside from eating the leaves as food, you can boil the plant to produce a poultice, which can treat bronchitis, or you can make a juice from the plant to treat burns (x).
As a dietary supplement, bacopa comes in tablet or powder form.
The standard dosage for bacopa extract is at least 330 mg. In leaf or powder form, the dose should increase to 750-1000 mg (x). Of course, it is key to follow the dosage recommended by a health professional.
The Bottom Line
Bacopa extract is unique in the world of modern-day supplements. Where most vitamins are made with artificial enhancers, bacopa is a natural substance with powerful medicinal properties.
The chemical properties of the bacopa plant make it a forceful nootropic that helps improve cognition, memory and brain function while offering users a host of other potential benefits.
Bacopa extract is most beneficial to the elderly to improve memory and brain cognition, but it is also a useful substance for those with anxiety and depression. And for those of us without symptoms of memory loss, anxiety or depression, it is still a powerful substance that wards against memory loss and other aging effects. All in all, it is a brain-boosting herb with benefits for everyone.