Intrigued by alternative medicine? People are drawn in by the idea that you can improve health simply by using natural ingredients from the world around you. From turmeric and ginger to apple cider vinegar, the natural health industry has seen a dramatic increase as more people try natural products for health purposes. And now researchers are studying possible bacopa benefits.
This natural product, bacopa, is an herb that plays an integral role in Ayurveda and brain health. Does it work? Here, we’ll show you what bacopa is and go over potential benefits backed by scientific research. We’ll also highlight some potential side effects and give you tips on how to live healthier.
What Is Bacopa?
Bacopa is a nootropic herb commonly used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine, mainly to support cognitive function. Bacopa is also known as Brahmi, thyme-leaved gratiola, Indian pennywort, herb of grace, water hyssop, and by its botanical name Bacopa monnieri or Bacopa monniera.
The plant grows in the wetlands of India, Europe, Australia, Africa and the Americas. The herpestis monniera plant thrives in wet environments, including swamps and hydroponic gardens or aquariums. It’s characterized by succulent leaves and small white flowers that have four or five petals.
Historically, the use of bacopa dates back to early 6th century India. The plant is mentioned in holy texts and was mainly used to help with memory. It’s used for its adaptogenic qualities, which help reduce stress. Bacopa has also played a prominent role in Ayurveda for the last 2,000 years.
In this traditional medicine practice, the medicinal plant is known as Brahmi — reflecting the linguistic connection to the Hindu god Brahma. It’s known as a Medhya Rasayana, an herb that benefits the brain and intellect. Today, practitioners of traditional medicine use all parts of the plant from the roots to the leaves and flower petals. The herb is often combined with other plants or added to foods like ghee and curries.
As interest in alternative health increases, bacopa has become more popular in the United States. The herb can be grown in some home gardens and is found on the shelves of grocery stores and health clubs in the form of fresh or dried plants, as well as bacopa plant extracts. Read on to find out more about the potential benefits of bacopa and what to watch out for when it comes to side effects.
Uses and Potential Bacopa Benefits
Medical research has shown numerous potential bacopa benefits, particularly when it comes to brain health and brain function. Bacopa extract may also offer some benefits for heart health and overall health. Here, we’ll go over some of the main benefits of bacopa and highlight the recent science behind the claims.
One of the main uses of bacopa is to improve cognition and memory recall. Proponents argue that the herb offers nootropic and adaptogenic benefits that may help improve the speed of recall, reduce stress and increase the ability to multitask. Several studies have shown promise when it comes to these memory-boosting benefits.
A study published in Phytotherapy Research examined the neuropharmacological effects of 320 mg and 640 mg doses of Bacopa monnieri on brain function. The study consisted of 17 healthy adults who received a series of cognitive tests to examine multitasking abilities as well as stress and mood. Participants who took bacopa demonstrated improvement on memory tests and displayed lower levels of stress compared to a placebo.
A meta-analysis of nine different studies comprising 518 healthy human subjects was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Researchers found that bacopa was particularly effective in improving the speed of attention. Across the studies, scientists found that patients who took bacopa demonstrated improved recognition and were able to respond faster than those who took a placebo.
Additional research shows bacopa is effective in improving spatial memory and working memory. Another clinical trial conducted by Steven Roodenrys, titled Chronic Effects of Brahmi, found that bacopa use significantly improved memory retention for new information.
Laboratory studies and animal studies show that bacopa may help to reduce stress and limit the effects of anxiety. Human trials are ongoing and have shown conflicting results, so more research is needed to confirm these benefits in adults.
One animal study investigated the anti-anxiety effects of Bacopa monnieri extract in rats. The study focused on the effects of bacosides A and B, the most prevalent saponins in the plant. The researchers found that a 5 mg/kg dose of Bacopa monniera extract displayed similar anxiety-reducing results as lorazepam — a common anti-anxiety medication. When doses were increased to 10 mg/kg and 20 mg/kg, the bacopa was more effective than lorazepam.
A human study published in Psychopharmacology found that extracts of bacopa improved learning rate and memory recall, and decreased stress compared to a placebo. On the flip side, another human double-blind trial found that learning rate and anxiety levels did not improve, but that bacopa use led to significant improvement in the retention of new information.
Researchers are still working out the details of how bacopa affects the human mind. But while more research is needed, there is significant evidence for its effect on the nervous system, alleviating stress and improving memory recall.
ADHD Treatment Potential
ADHD, known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a neurological condition that causes difficulty paying attention and controlling impulse reactions. It’s commonly seen in children and can cause a host of learning issues. Some research shows that bacopa may help reduce these symptoms by improving attention span.
A small open-label study examined the benefits of bacopa on ADHD severity in 31 children between the ages of six and 12. In an open-label study, participants know what treatment is being given. This is different from a double-blind study, which is designed to prevent bias by not telling the participants the details of the treatment. The study was conducted in India, beginning in 2008 and ending in 2010.
In the study, researchers gave the children 225 milligrams of bacopa extract every day for six months. At the conclusion of the study, researchers found 93% of participants had a decrease in restlessness, and self-control improved in 83% of the group. Additionally, learning problems and impulsivity declined dramatically in the study group.
A larger study found that lower doses of bacopa — 125 milligrams — also showed benefits for ADHD sufferers. The study consisted of 120 children with ADHD, 80 of whom took bacopa and 40 of whom took a placebo. Researchers found that participants who took the bacopa showed dramatic improvements in attention and cognitive performance.
Inflammation is a natural body healing response. When you get a scrape or bump your shin on the coffee table, your body responds with acute inflammation to heal the wound. Acute inflammation is a sign of normal healing and generally isn’t a cause for concern. However, chronic inflammation can be a sign of an underlying issue or health conditions including cancer and heart problems.
Research shows that bacopa may help decrease inflammation and cytokine responses that cause the immune system to overreact. Compounds in bacopa work to inhibit enzymes that can trigger chronic inflammation. Most of the research on these benefits has been conducted in the lab and clinical trials are needed to show effectiveness in the human population.
Bacopa contains high levels of antioxidants that can help prevent some signs of aging. These protective benefits may boost memory recall, which may aid in the fight against brain disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, that affect older adults. These antioxidants work to fight against free radicals — highly reactive molecules that attach to healthy cells and cause a breakdown, known as oxidative stress, that impedes normal cellular processes.
Studies of bacopa show that the herb may help by offering neuroprotective effects against memory impairment. The active ingredients in bacopa help prevent the damage free radicals cause in fat molecules. Animal studies have also shown that bacopa helps reduce dementia in rats, though these results haven’t been replicated in human trials.
Heart Health Benefits
Heart disease is one of the leading killers in America. Millions of Americans have high blood pressure, a condition that can increase the risk of heart attack and blood clots. Animal studies show that bacopa may help lower blood pressure levels, reducing the risk of heart disease. Bacopa contains triterpenoid saponins and glycosides as well as bacosine, which may have insulin-like effects — including increasing glycogen in the liver and improving glucose utilization — and may reduce blood pressure levels.
One animal study investigated the effects of bacopa on rats with hypertension. Researchers injected the rats with bacopa using an intravenous solution. They found that rats given bacopa showed significantly lower blood pressure levels. Scientists believe the bacopa releases nitric oxide from smooth muscle, helping to lower the pressure on the veins and heart.
Side Effects of Bacopa Monnieri
Before taking any new medications or supplements, it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider. A healthcare professional can help you get a better understanding of your health including potential benefits, side effects, and complications that may occur when adding an herb or extract to your routine. While most research shows that short-term use of bacopa comes with few side effects, there are still a few things to watch out for.
Bacopa may cause mild stomach upset, nausea, dry mouth and increased bowel movements. Talk to a doctor for the proper dosing for your specific health needs. Taking only as much as you need can help reduce these side effects.
Pregnant women should avoid taking an extract of bacopa monnieri as research is limited on how it affects the mother and the fetus. Bacopa may also cause medication interactions so make sure to consult with your physician before taking bacopa, especially if you are on other medications.
Bacopa may offer beneficial cognitive effects when it comes to human memory performance and stress reduction. Studies show that bacopa may help improve short-term memory recall and offer cognitive enhancement when it comes to retaining new information. In addition to bacopa, there are several other natural nootropics including ginseng, green tea and ginkgo biloba that can help to support intelligence.
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