Ayurveda, which means “life sciences” in Sanskrit, is a holistic system of Indian medicine that evolved between 3000 and 5000 years ago. It is becoming more and more popular in the U.S., and is still used by the majority of people in India to treat a variety of health problems, because not only is it time-tested for its safety and effectiveness, it is accessible and inexpensive.
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Bacopa monniera-named Brahmi in the Ayurvedic texts, probably for Lord Brahma, the Hindu creator of the world and originator of Ayurveda-is recognized as a powerful brain enhancer.1 It is still considered to be the greatest herb in Ayurveda for treating age-related mental decline, as well as for improving cognitive processes, including comprehension, memory and recall. It also enhances the crucial coordination of these three aspects of mental functioning, and helps increase one’s ability to solve problems.
Who can benefit from Bacopa?
Anyone who wants to improve his or her memory, the ability to concentrate, learn new information, and minimize the negative effects of stress.
In India, adults and students take Bacopato improve for better mental function, and Brahmi tea is even given to infants to encourage optimal mental development. The herb is popular among students for improving mental clarity, confidence, intelligence, concentration, and memory recall. It is also especially helpful to students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
In a double-blind, randomized trial conducted at the Department of Pediatrics, BRD Medical College, Gorakhpur, India, 19 ADHD children, aged 8-10 years old, were given 50 mg. of Bacopa twice daily. 17 ADHD children received a placebo. After 12 weeks of treatment, the children took a battery of specialized tests. The data revealed a significant improvement in the areas of sentence repetition, logical memory, and pair-associative learning (matching things that go together; e.g., “test” and “grade”) in all 19 children who took Bacopa. Evaluation did not occur until four weeks after stopping Bacopa usage, indicating that it had a lasting effect. According to Dr. O. P. Asthana, head of the pediatric department, there were no side effects and the herb was very well tolerated.5
Now, thanks to this study and other numerous studies conducted by the Central Drug Institute (CDRI) in Lucknow, India, it is being introduced to the rest of the world and tested by scientists outside of India, who have found that Bacopa:
- Increases mental agility and alertness
- Improves memory
- Increases ability to learn new information and skills
- Calms the mind, while promoting relaxation
- Improves academic performance
- Helps concentration and focus
Increases intelligence in healthy adults, while reducing anxiety
In an Australian double-blind study, researchers gave 46 healthy adults either 300mg. of Bacopa or a placebo. After 12 weeks, the group that took Bacopa had a 13 percent improvement in learning and memory rates. But the most striking result was the significant reduction in anxiety in those who received Bacopa.6
How it works
According to scientists at the CDRI, a number of compounds have been identified in Bacopa, including bacosides A and B, two chemicals that improve the transmission of impulses between nerve cells in the brain. These bacosides regenerate synapses and repair damaged neurons, making it easier to learn and remember new information. Bacopa also increases serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation.7
Additionally, a recent study at the University of Catania, Italy found that Bacopa’s antioxidants have a protective effect on human DNA fibroblasts (connective tissue cells), suggesting that this Ayurvedic herb may be useful in the treatment of diseases in which free radicals play a key role.8
Bacopa has been shown to improve short and long-term memory. A rodent study compared the effects of Bacopa and deprenyl, a Parkinson’s disease drug that has been shown to extend lifespan and enhance antioxidant enzymes in the brain. Amazingly, Bacopa increased antioxidant activity in all parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, (memory-storing region of the brain), unlike deprenyl, which increased activity in the frontal regions of the brain, but not the hippocampus.9 Because the ability of deprenyl to enhance our natural antioxidant enzymes is believed to be the reason deprenyl slows brain aging and extends lifespan, Bacopa may be a natural way to not only protect our brains, but also to extend our lifespan.
In another experiment, when rodents were trained to run a particular maze pattern and then given Bacopa, they were able to run the maze correctly more often than those receiving a placebo in both the long and short-term tests.10
For four weeks, 35 patients were treated for anxiety neurosis. After treatment they were assessed for clinical anxiety levels, maladjustment levels, mental fatigue rate, and immediate memory span. The patients who took Bacopa had a 20% reduction in anxiety levels. Their maladjustment and mental fatigue were significantly lower than before treatment, and their immediate memory-span scores were significantly increased. In other words, Bacopa improved memory and productivity by reducing anxiety and related problems.11
Bacopa’s potential in the treatment and prevention of neurological diseases
We all know that an optimal level of nitric oxide (NO) is important. This is because NO is a key mediator in many body functions, most notably cardiovascular health and circulation. However, like most good things, too much nitric oxide can be as dangerous as too little.
There is growing evidence that excessive concentrations of nitric oxide (NO), generated within overly activated brain cells, might be involved in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. A rodent study of brain cells exposed to toxic levels of nitric oxide showed that Bacopa inhibited the DNA damage that occurs in these diseases, suggesting that it may be significant in preventing/or treating them.12
In other words, Bacopa compensated for the oxidative effects that comes from too much nitric oxide.
Another rodent study demonstrated that Bacopa inhibits the enzyme cholinesterase—which in turn prevents the break down of acetylcholine—an important neurotransmitter that fails in Alzheimer’s patients often resulting in their dementia.13
Although Bacopa has been used for thousands of years in India, new scientific research confirms its traditional use, and indicates that it offers benefits for modern-day health problems resulting from DNA damage, stress and high concentrations of nitric oxide. Like Ginkgo biloba, which was used for thousands of years in China before modern science confirmed its usefulness, Bacopa will become a popular, natural dietary supplement for supporting optimal health and mental functioning.
Bacopa is safe and effective for people of all ages, without any known side effects. It does not contain addictive ingredients and can be used indefinitely.
While Bacopa and other nutrients including ginkgo biloba, alpha lipoic acid, acetyl-l-carnitine, and choline are proven supplements to improve mental functions, it’s also important to “feed” your brain with a supportive health regimen:
- Drink 6-8 glasses of purified water each day. (The brain is 85% water when fully hydrated. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission-which is heavily dependent on water-is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration, and impaired abstract thinking.)
- Use it or lose it! Engage in activities that utilize thinking skills to keep your mind sharp. Do crossword puzzles; play chess or bridge; learn to use the computer or video camera; play a musical instrument; square dance; play tennis; study a foreign language; write a poem. Your brain needs to be stimulated, challenged and exercised, just like the rest of your body!
- Sleep well. Health experts agree that 7-8 hours of sleep is best. Less than 6 1/2 hours is insufficient to completely restore the body and brain, and without adequate sleep you simply can’t concentrate.
- Keep your heart pumping. Just like your heart, your brain needs clean arteries to carry fresh blood and oxygen-so exercise and eat well!
- Eat a diet of organic, whole foods, including high-quality protein, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts and grains.
- Singh HK, Dhawan BN. Neuropsychopharmacological effects of the Ayurvedic nootropic Bacopa monniera Linn. (Brahmi). IndianJ Pharmacol 1997;29(5):S359-65.
- Channa S, Dar A, Yaqoob M, Anjum S, Sultani Z, Atta-ur-Rahman. Broncho-vasodilatory activity of fractions and pure constituents isolated from Bacopa monniera. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003 May; 86(1): 27-35.
- Goel RK, Sairam K, Babu MD, Tavares IA, Raman A. In vitro evaluation of Bacopa monniera on anti-Helicobacter pylori activity and accumulation of prostaglandins. Phytomedicine. 2003; 10(6-7): 523-7.
- Sairam K, Rao CV, Babu MD, Goel RK. Prophylactic and curative effects of Bacopa monniera in gastric ulcer models.Phytomedicine. 2001 Nov; 8(6): 423-30.
- Negi KS, Singh YD, Kushwaha KP, Rastogi CK, Rathi AK, Srivastava JS, Asthana OP, Gupta RC, Lucknow G. “Clinical evaluation of memory enhancing properties of Memory Plus in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 2000 Apr; 42(2) Supplement
- Stough C, Lloyd J, Clarke J, Downey LA, Hutchison CW, Rodgers T, Nathan PJ. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2001 Aug;156(4):481-4
- Rastogi S, Pal R, Kulshreshtha DK. Bacoside A3 – a triterpenoid saponin from Bacopa monniera. Phytochemistry 1994 May;36(1):133-7.
- Russo A, Izzo AA, Borrelli F, Renis M, Vanella A. Free radical scavenging capacity and protective effect of Bacopa monniera L. on DNA damage. Phytother Res. 2003 Sep; 17(8): 870-5.
- Singh HK, Dhawan BN. Effect of Bacopa monniera Linn. (brahmi) extract on avoidance responses in the rat. J Ethnopharmacol 1982;5:205-14.
- Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Kumar A, Ghosal S. Antioxidant activity of Bacopa monniera in rat frontal cortex, striatum and hippocampus. Phytother Res. 2000 May; 14(3): 174-9.
- Singh RH, Singh L. Studies on the anti-anxiety effect of the medyha rasayana drug, Brahmi (Bacopa monniera Wettst). Part 1.J Res Ayur Siddha 1980;1:133-48.
- Russo A, Borrelli F, Campisi A, Acquaviva R, Raciti G, Vanella A. Nitric oxide-related toxicity in cultured astrocytes: effect of Bacopa monniera. Life Sci. 2003 Aug 8; 73(12): 1517-26.
- Das A, Shanker G, Nath C, Pal R, Singh S, Singh H. A comparative study in rodents of standardized extracts of Bacopa monniera and Ginkgo biloba: anticholinesterase and cognitive enhancing activities. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2002 Nov; 73(4): 893-900.