Ayurvedic medicine has a long history of using Bacopa monnieri (also known as bacopa, Brahmi, or water hyssop). It is used as a nerve tonic to support cognition, memory, and brain function. Research on the potential mechanisms of bacopa has found promising cognitive effects, including neuroprotection, cognitive enhancement, memory enhancement, and protection against neurodegeneration.
Many of the studies point to some of the phytochemicals and active compounds found in bacopa, including triterpenoid saponins and their bacosides. These elements exhibit anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-apoptotic effects. Additionally, they may support increased cerebral blood flow and enhance nerve impulse transmission. Some studies have also found they may modulate neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine levels.
Bacosides in bacopa may also enhance protein kinase activity, neuronal synthesis, and restoration of synaptic activity to improve nerve impulse transmission and repair damaged neurons. These mechanisms work on different areas of the brain involved in cognition to both protect and potentially restore function.
In practice, clinical studies have demonstrated the potential for bacopa to increase and improve cognitive function, especially attention and memory. A systematic review of randomized, controlled clinical trials found that bacopa supplements improved memory, but the review found that other areas of cognition were not as well studied. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials also found potential cognitive benefits, especially on the speed of attention by reducing choice reaction time. They also found a large heterogeneity of the studies provided insight into memory for which there is potential for further investigation.
In addition to memory and learning, bacopa may also help with stress and mood. In one clinical trial, researchers looked at two different doses of bacopa on multitasking stress reactivity and mood. Participants took either 320 mg or 640 mg of bacopa after which they underwent a multitasking cognitive test. One to two hours after taking bacopa, the participants experienced positive effects on their performance and on the cognitive tasks, in addition to improvement in their cortisol levels and mood, demonstrating a potential acute nootropic effect.
There are many components involved in maintaining optimal cognitive function. A healthy diet, exercise, and sleep habits provide a foundation for supporting brain health and cognition. Traditional herbal remedies, such as bacopa, may provide additional support to cognitive function and antioxidant status to aid healthy cognition.
By Kendra Whitmire, MS, CNS