What if I told you there was a plant used to treat memory and brain-related disorders for thousands of years — a plant thought to be so beneficial to the mind that it’s been a staple of traditional Ayurvedic medicine in India since seemingly forever? You’d be excited about its possible application, right? Then you’re in luck, because bacopa checks off both these boxes (and then some).
Also known as brahmi, bacopa is used to treat a broad range of mind-related health concerns, including Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, anxiety, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, epilepsy and as a general tonic to fight stress. Best of all, it has far fewer severe side effects than the dangerous psychotropic drugs often prescribed today.
This visually appealing plant is commonly seen as a decorative and flourishing piece of live real estate in aquariums, but make no mistake — bacopa is not just another pretty face. The history and research confirm its dynamic abilities as a medicinal herb, and bacopa has even been shown to help regulate dopamine production in animal research on psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia.
What Is Bacopa?
Bacopa is a genus of 70–100 aquatic plants belonging to the family Plantaginaceae.
It’s native to India, where it grows in marshy regions. In the West, it’s a water plant often found in aquariums.
Bacopa species are found in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, particularly the Americas. Most parts of the plant have been used traditionally, but modern preparations include extracts of the stem and leaves.
The types traditionally used in herbal medicines are Bacopa monniera or Bacopa monnieri. It’s also commonly called brahmi and water hyssop as well.
The leaves contain saponins, including bacosides, that are believed to be responsible for the therapeutic properties of the herb. Studies have shown that both purified bacosides and extracts of bacopa standardized for bacosides have been found to enhance several aspects of mental function and learning ability.
Since at least the sixth century A.D., bacopa has been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a diuretic and tonic for the nervous system as well as the heart. In Indian and Ayurvedic medicines, it’s typically known as “Brahmi” after Brahmā, the creator god of the Hindu pantheon.
In Ayurveda, pitta energy is considered the regulator of heat, energy, excitement and passion. A pitta imbalance is believed to be reflected in an inflamed, overheated, over-agitated condition of mind and/or body. Brahmi is known as a soother of pitta imbalances.
In India, where bacopa has been revered for centuries, newborn babies are consecrated with it in the hope that it will open up the pathway to the intellect.
In 1998, the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was given jointly to Robert F. Furchgott, Louis J. Ignarro and Ferid Murad for their discoveries of nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. It’s been said that the Nobel Prize winners used bacopa in their award-winning experiments.
1. Adaptogenic Stress Reducer
It’s been estimated that up to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints — 90 percent! Crazy, I know, but not hard to believe.
Stress, especially chronic stress, does terrible things to our minds and bodies, and general stress reduction should always be a top priority for anyone trying to live a healthy lifestyle.
Bacopa extract has actually been shown to work as a natural stress reliever by helping our bodies better handle or adapt to our daily stressors. An animal study conducted at the Central Drug Research Institute in India showed that a standardized extract of Bacopa monniera successfully guarded against acute and chronic stress.
That’s why it’s sometimes described as a “calming cognitive enhancer.”
2. Anti-Anxiety and Antidepressant
It’s probably not too surprising that just as it reduces stress, this beneficial plant also potentially can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.
Animal research published by the University of Michigan Health System showed the positive brain effects of bacopa, including reduction of both depression and anxiety. These very positive effects on the nervous system have biochemically been attributed to an enhancement of the effects of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and, possibly, serotonin or GABA.
3. Memory Improvement
A small, double-blind, 12-week study conducted at the Neuropsychology Laboratory at the School of Biophysical Science and Electrical Engineering in Australia had volunteers take 300 milligrams of bacopa daily while other volunteers received a placebo. Prior to the study commencing, researchers tested all volunteers on visual information processing, memory and speed of information processing.
The tests were repeated five and 12 weeks after the study began. A significant improvement among the volunteers in the bacopa group was found compared to those in the placebo group, leading researchers to conclude that it “may improve higher order cognitive processes that are critically dependent on the input of information from our environment such as learning and memory.”
More recent research has backed this up as well.
4. Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Treatment
According to the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, it might hold promise for preventing the dementia (decline in mental ability severe enough to affect daily life) associated with Alzheimer’s.
No high-quality human studies have been conducted, but the animal research affords great results so far. For example, several animal studies have found that bacopa improves cognition, reduces oxidative stress and may protect the brain from Alzheimer’s- and dementia-related symptoms.
While the bacosides that provide neuroprotective properties are thought to help with these cognitive diseases, experts caution that more reliable, better-conducted studies are needed to confirm the efficacy.
5. Epilepsy Treatment
Seizures occur in the body when your brain cells, which communicate through electrical signals, send out the wrong signals. Generally, several seizures are needed before there is a diagnosis of epilepsy.
While little human research has been done, there is a plethora of research in animals that suggests bacopa may be a natural epilepsy treatment. These research studies find that treatment with bacopa regulates gene expression, helps correct faulty reception of brain cells and helps increase GABA responses.
All of these results are a good sign that the cognitive impairment and seizure activity caused by epilepsy could potentially be relieved with bacopa.
6. Chronic Pain Minimizer
A review published in Current Medicinal Chemistry showed that Bacopa monnieri not only has strong antidepressant effects, but it has pain-reducing capabilities comparable to morphine. The study also indicated that this herbal treatment offers protective benefits for organs commonly affected by opiate toxicity, like the brain, kidneys and heart.
Researchers concluded, “Bacopa is may be a safe and well-tolerated herbal therapy for pain management in multiple clinical trials including various age groups.”
7. Blood Pressure Regulator
Animal studies have shown that bacopa might increase the body’s utilization of nitric oxide and encourage vascular muscle function, two benefits that positively influence normal blood pressure. The Journal of Ethnopharmacology study concludes that, according to research studies, some Bacopa monnieri ingredients could be effective at naturally lowering blood pressure.
8. ADHD Treatment
The bacosides in Bacopa monnieri are said to sharpen cognitive function by improving transmission of nerve impulses, which makes it promising for the treatment of ADHD. ADHD often begins in childhood and is a chronic condition that involves attention difficulty, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
In a 12-week, double-blind, randomized clinical trial, children with ADHD who took 50 milligrams twice a day showed significant improvement over children receiving a placebo in tests of mental control, logical memory and paired associated learning. Evaluation of study subjects did not occur until four weeks after stopping bacopa usage, indicating that the supplementation had a lasting effect.
Another study published in 2022 conducted on boys aged 6–14 who exhibited inattention and hyperactivity revealed that “may have cognitive, mood and sleep benefits in children aged 6 to 14 years” though cautioned that “further study is required to support the findings presented here.”
Overall, it makes sense why it would be helpful for the symptoms of ADHD. Bacopa creates a sense of calm and peace, which is very helpful for the hyperactive and impulsive tendencies of those with ADHD. It also has a unique ability to invigorate mental processes while reducing the effects of stress and nervous anxiety, which is a perfect combination for an ADHD sufferer’s attention difficulties.
9. Potential Schizophrenia Treatment
Bacopa is one supplement in a long list of hopeful treatments to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, although no human research has yet been completed. Animal studies show it may be able to protect against the cognitive impairments frequently seen in schizophrenia.
Risks, Side Effects and Interactions
Bacopa extract is well-tolerated when taken in recommend dosages by mouth for short durations of up to 12 weeks. Therapeutic doses are not associated with any serious side effects, but less serious side effects can include nausea, cramping, bloated stomach, diarrhea, dry mouth and/or fatigue, especially when taken on an empty stomach.
Bacopa can have a slight sedative effect so use caution when combining it with other known sedatives. It may also intensify the activity of thyroid-stimulating drugs or inhibit the effectiveness of thyroid-suppressant drugs.
Check with your doctor before taking bacopa if you have any medical conditions.
As a plant, bacopa is known to accumulate toxic metals like mercury so, depending on where the plant is grown, the levels of mercury or other toxins in its extract might be high. This is why it’s important to purchase bacopa that’s of high quality from a reputable company.
How to Use (Dosage)
Bacopa is available in several forms, including powder, capsule, tea and syrup. According to the Alternative Medicine Review, recommended daily dosages are:
- 5–10 grams of non-standardized powder
- 8–16 milliliters of infusion
- 30 milliliters of syrup (brahmi)
- 5–12 milliliters per day for adults and 2.5–6 milliliters per day for children ages 6–
12 of a 1:2 fluid extract
- 200–400 milligrams in divided doses for adults and 100–200 milligrams daily in divided doses for children of extracts standardized to 20 percent bacosides A and B
Stick with bacopa products that are organic or wild-crafted to reduce the likelihood of contamination and GMOs.
Homemade Bacopa Tea
One great way to get all these tremendous benefits is to try some bacopa tea. You won’t get the jitters of traditional caffeine beverages, but you’ll likely get an uplifting and relaxing effect from this tea.
To make tea from the plant, you can add a few fresh leaves or a good pinch of dried bacopa to one cup of boiled water and allow to steep up to 10 minutes. If you use fresh leaves, you can tear and bruise the leaves so the aromatic oils are released into the water. Strain off the infused water so the leaves don’t get in the way of drinking.
It has a warming, woody and slightly bitter taste that can be made more palatable with the addition of some honey. If you opt to use fresh bacopa, at least one study indicates that the use of the fresh plant material maximizes the concentration of its active saponins.
Bacopa vs. Adderall
Adderall is a form of amphetamine legally used in a limited number of countries, primarily the U.S. and Canada, for the treatment of ADHD, narcolepsy and depression. It’s a common drug to treat ADHD, but it comes with some unhealthy side effects that are much more dangerous and common than those of bacopa.
Here’s how the two stack up:
- Not addictive
- Improves memory and cognitive function
- Shown to improve anxiety and depression
- Shown to support focus, attention, learning and memory
- Shown to enhance brain communication
- Positively regulates dopamine and serotonin
- Can cause upset stomach if taken without food
- For cognitive benefits it can take time to work — studies show improvements are much better at eight to 12 weeks than they are at four to six weeks
- Its powder form has a very bitter taste
- When used short term, Adderall can have the positive effect of counteracting symptoms of ADHD by increasing availability of certain neurotransmitters, like norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, which boosts alertness, attention and energy levels
- Increases the heart rate and flow of blood to the muscles, making the user feel more energized
- Can cause feelings of energy and invigoration
- Can also create rewarding feelings of euphoria, but this has led to it becoming popular as a recreational drug
- Adderall can be highly addictive and dangerous to those who abuse it
- Even when taken as prescribed, Adderall can have several negative effects in the short term, including:
- Appetite suppression and unhealthy weight loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Feelings of restlessness
- Potentially dangerous cardiac issues
- Bacopa has been a star of traditional Ayurvedic healing for centuries. Modern-day research continues to confirm bacopa’s abilities to improve and positively change not just mental abilities like memory and learning, but also mental health like depression and anxiety.
- ADHD is on the rise globally and so is the use of conventional treatment like the drug Adderral, but bacopa extract is a natural substance that has the potential to significantly help ADHD without all of the scary side effects of conventional treatment. If you think that you or someone you know could benefit from bacopa, it’s worth considering this water plant for its incredible medicinal abilities.
- Don’t forget, in addition to treating ADHD, bacopa is an adaptogenic stress reducer, anti-anxiety and antidepressant agent, memory enhancer, potential Alzheimer’s disease and dementia treatment, epilepsy treatment, chronic pain minimizer, and blood pressure regulator — making it a safe, healthy alternative to potentially remedy and/or prevent a host of health issues.
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