Bacopa Monnieri: The Complete Guide to This Nootropic

Bacopa Monnieri: The Complete Guide to This Nootropic

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers released by neurons that communicate with other neurons as well as other cells in the body (that contain the respective neurotransmitter receptors). They impact mood, focus, memory, motivation, relaxation, appetite, addictions, and even libido to a certain extent.

Now, you’ve probably heard of some of the brain’s neurotransmitters from time to time, but if not, here are four of the “heavy hitters”:
  • Acetylcholine -- the “learning” neurotransmitter that affects memory and learning, it’s also involved in establishing a robust “mind-muscle connection”
  • Dopamine -- the “reward” molecule that also enhances motivation and decision-making
  • Serotonin -- the “happy” chemical most often associated with mood, but it also impacts mood, memory, learning, and reward
  • GABA -- the primary inhibitory (“downer”) neurotransmitter that calms the mind and helps induce feelings of relaxation

Basically, these brain chemicals are what causes us to feel, interpret, act, and react to our interactions with our surroundings. Neurohackers, productivity experts, and even elite strength and conditioning coaches are constantly seeking ways to optimize and balance these neurotransmitters to create the ideal cognitive environment for next-level performance.

Oftentimes individuals seeking to enhance cognitive function will employ a variety of brain-boosting smart drugs, such as Alpha GPC, L-Tyrosine, or caffeine. But, instead of using a laundry list of compounds, what if you could use just one that impacted all of the major neurotransmitters to some degree and balanced them out to create the ultimate neurological environment for mental energy and clarity while simultaneously reducing anxiety and stress.

Today, we take a deep dive at one such compound. A compound that’s been around for thousands of years and has experienced a rebirth of sorts with nootropics enthusiasts around the world.

That ingredient is bacopa monnieri.

In this guide, we’ll discuss what bacopa monnieri is, what it does, how it improves cognitive health and brain function, and what does you should take should you want to test drive it for yourself.

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started.

What is Bacopa Monnieri?

Bacopa monnieri is one of oldest herbs of Ayurveda with a long history of use in the treatment of neurological and behavioral defects. In fact, some accounts note the herb’s use as far back as 800 B.C. [1]

And, as you might expect from a plant that’s been used far and wide for thousands of years, bacopa can be found under a number of different monikers, including: [2]

  • Brahmi
  • Coastal water-hyssop
  • Herb-of-grace
  • Indian-pennywort
  • Adha-birni
  • Farfakh,
  • Gundala
  • Indravalli
  • Litet tjockblad
  • Safed chamni

Bacopa derives its name from Brahma, the mythological “supreme ruler” and creator of the world as well as the science of Ayurveda. In addition to its cognitive-boosting qualities, the perennial herb was extensively used as an adaptogen as well as natural medicine in the treatment of all manner of disease ranging from depression to leprosy.

So, what is it about bacopa that makes it such a boon to those looking to elevate their minds?

Phytocompounds called bacosides.

Bacosides are triterpenoid saponins that cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and can modulate neurotransmitter levels in the brain [3], including the “heavy hitters” we discussed above in acetylcholine, dopamine, GABA and serotonin. [4][5]

Additionally, bacosides also stimulate antioxidant enzymes (such as Superoxide Dismutase), support synapse regeneration, and repair damaged neurons. [4]

These versatile compounds even help reduce “hippocampus devaluation” by removing aluminum from the cerebral cortex. [3] This is particularly important if you use mainstream antiperspirants (of which aluminum is the primary active ingredients).

Now, that you know the ins and outs of the bacopa plant, let’s see how the plant benefits you in day-to-day life.

Benefits of Bacopa Monnieri

Boosts Memory & Cognition

As you’re about to see, bacopa enhances neurological function and health in a myriad of ways, but perhaps the best-known benefit of bacopa (as well as the reason it’s a favorite of neurohackers far and wide) is for its ability to improve memory and cognition.

The main avenue by which bacopa accomplishes this is by improving synaptic communication. Bacopa promotes the growth and proliferation of dendrites, which strengthens neural signaling.

FYI, dendrites are branch-like nerve cell extensions that receive incoming signals. As you can imagine reinforcing the “connection” by which your nervous system communicates is going to enhance and accelerate the way your brain functions.

So, what is it about bacopa that triggers dendritic growth?

One of the powerful phytochemicals in bacopa (Bacoside-A) stimulates nerve cells, which makes the synapses more receptive to the incoming nerve impulses.

But that’s not all.

Bacopa has also been documented (multiple times) to boost memory and cognition through stimulation of hippocampal activity. It does this by increasing protein kinase activity in the body, which regulates cellular pathways. [3][6] 

Since the hippocampus is crucial to virtually all cognitive activity, researchers believe this is one of the main avenues through which bacopa dials up brain power.

Studies have shown that daily supplementation with bacopa (300-450mg/day) enhances working memory, spatial memory, memory free recall, learning rate, memory consolidation, delayed recall tasks, word recall, and visual memory. [1-9]

In other words, if memory is one of your biggest struggles, bacopa might be just what you need.

Balances Neurotransmitters

Getting a bit more “into the weeds” into the ways in which bacopa modulates the different neurotransmitters of the brain….

Research indicates that bacopa monnieri may activate choline acetyltransferase (an enzyme involved in the production of acetylcholine) and inhibit acetylcholinesterase (the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine). [3] The result of these two actions increases levels of acetylcholine in the brain which promotes increased attention, memory, and learning.

Now, with respect to dopamine, as is common with other neurotransmitters including acetylcholine and serotonin, levels of the motivation molecule begin to decline with age. This is in part due to a decrease in dopaminergic function as well as a “dying off” of dopaminergic neurons.

Bacopa monnieri helps preserve dopamine synthesis by keeping the dopamine-releasing cells alive. [3]

Here’s where things get really interesting.

Serotonin and dopamine have a delicate balance in the body. If you take supplements to increase serotonin production (such as 5-HTP), you will also want to take something (such as L-Dopa or L-Tyrosine) that increase dopamine levels.

The reason for this is that over supplementation of one precursor can leads to an imbalance of the other, resulting in decreased efficacy and depletion of the other neurotransmitter.

In other words, if you’re only supplementing with 5-HTP and not something to help balance dopamine (e.g. Tyrosine), you’re at risk for creating a massive dopamine deficiency. [18]

Fortunately, bacopa is able to “thread the needle” by balancing out these two neurotransmitters to provide a healthy level of motivation, mood, and focus.

Neuroprotection

Cognitive decline is an inevitability we all face with the passing of time. Whether it be difficulty remembering people, places, or things or trying to string together a cogent argument, we all face some bit of neuro “drop off” as the years go by.

But, there might be some hope in the form of bacopamonnieri.

Various studies show that the herb offers robust neuroprotective benefits.

Specifically, bacopa has been noted to:

  • combat neuroinflammation [12]
  • repairs damaged neurons [13]
  • confer potent antioxidant effects [14]

Research has also noted that bacopa protects cholinergic neurons (nerve cells that use Acetylcholine to send messages) and reduce anticholinesterase activity comparable to other cholinesterase inhibitors including galantamine, donepezil, and rivastigmine. [15]

Part of bacopa’s neuroprotective power is due to its ability to reduces hippocampal β-amyloid deposition and stress-induced hippocampal damage. In case you weren’t aware, β-amyloid is a “sticky” microscopic brain protein that accumulates in the brain to form plaque. The peptide is a key indicator Alzheimer’s. [16]

Supplementation with bacopa has been noted to prevent the buildup of β-amyloid and resulting neuroinflammation, which helps resist aging and the onset of dementia.

Researchers have also identified that bacopamonnieri extracts offer neuroprotection via to nitric oxide-mediated cerebral vasodilation. In layman’s terms, this means that bacopa supplementation can increase blood flow throughout the brain by way of an increase in nitric oxide production. [17]

Increased cerebral blood flow enhances oxygen and nutrient delivery (glucose, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc) to the brain improving cognitive function and cerebral health.

Reduces Stress & Anxiety

In addition to its memory and cognition-boosting benefits, bacopa has historically been used as a tonic for the nervous system to alleviate anxiety, worrying, and stress. In other words, bacopa serves as an adaptogen, similar to other well-known adaptogens in ashwagandha and rhodiolarosea, in that it enhances our bodies ability to encounter, interact, and respond to stressors (mental, physical, and emotional).

Bacopa exerts these adaptogenic traits partly due to its neuromodulation but also its impact on cortisol levels. Cortisol, as you probably know, is the body’s primary stress hormone.

Why is this important?

Well, quite simply stress is a killer... Literally.

Furthermore, chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels can damage your brain. In fact, neuroscientists have noted that chronic stress creates long-term change in brain structure and function, resulting in the overexpression of certain proteins that damage neurons. [19]

This also brings with it oxidative damage by free radicals that lay waste to neurons which has several negative consequences including decreased memory, neuronal cell death, impaired decision-making, and even brain mass shrinkage. [20]

Enter bacopa and its torrent of stress-obliterating, neuron-preserving benefits.

Human research denotes bacopa’s adaptogenic effects, including a reduction in cortisol. [21] Lower cortisol leads to less feelings of stress and a heightened sense of mood.

And, since bacopa modulates dopamine and serotonin production, it can attenuate stress-induced alterations in dopamine and serotonin in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, underscoring the herb’s function as an adaptogen. [22]

Furthermore, bacopa increases production of Tryptophan Hydroxylase (TPH2), an enzyme vital to numerous CNS activities, including serotonin synthesis. [23]

And to top it off, bacoside-A (one of the primary actives in bacops) has been documented to encourage GABA activity. [24] As we stated up top, GABA is a calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter, so anything that upregulates GABA activity and decreases glutamate activity (fyi, bacopa does both) [25]) helps reduce anxiety by decreasing activation of neurons that can get overstimulated. The end result is less stress, improved cognitive function, and more “feel good” vibes.

Safe & Effective for Children Too!

It’s also worth mentioning that adolescents, and even children, stand to benefit from Bacopa Monnieri supplementation too.

A 2016 systematic review of the literature analyzed five studies conducted in children, with ages across the studies ranging from 4 to 18 years. [10]

Table

Table 1: Summary of reviewed Bacopa monnieri intervention studies in child and adolescent clinical and non-clinical populations (N = 5, 1987–2014). [10]

Researchers noted that supplementation with bacopamonnieri consistently led to improvements in language behavior cognitive domain and memory. More specifically, children receiving bacopa demonstrated improvements in their spelling ability, vocabulary, ability to understand words, and sound processing. Furthermore, bacopa also enhanced memory recall of the children too.

And to top it off, researchers also documented that subjects taking the old world herb demonstrated reductions in hyperactivity and attention-deficit domains.

A follow-up systematic review, published in 2017, analyzed nine studies in children and adolescents. This time, the same group of researchers who conducted the 2016 systematic review analyzed bacopa’s brain-boosting effects in young persons, but instead of reviewing the effects of bacopa in isolation the team assessed the effects of bacopa-dominant herbal supplements.

Other ingredients included alongside bacopa in these multi-herb supplements included other staple ayurvedic herbs and nootropic compounds such as ashwagandha, mucuna pruriens, gotu kola (centellaasiatica), and celastruspaniculatus.

Similar to the previous review, researchers documented that the bacopa-forward formulas improved:

  • reasoning
  • language behaviour
  • number facility
  • mental speed
  • free recall memory
  • associative memory
  • auditory memory domains

Now, obviously ,it’s hard to know how much of these benefits are solely attributed to bacopa and how much is due to the synergistic combination of the compounds contained in each supplement. The researchers even account for this fact in their discussion portion of the review:

“The extent to which the additional herbal extracts may be working in synergism to aid these improvements is beyond the scope of this review.” [11]

Still, bacopa is the workhorse in all of the studied formulas, so whether it’s synergism or a stout dose of bacopa plus a bunch of pixie-dusted ingredients the fact remains that bacopa delivers the goods, especially when you consider the mountain of research demonstrating bacopa used in isolation is effective for improving cognitive function.

What is the Effective Dose for Bacopa Monnieri?

There’s no shortage of available bacopa monnieri extracts on the market, and finding a high quality isn’t all that difficult either. But, you do need to have a discerning eye when purchasing your preferred bacopa supplement.

Remember, it’s the bacosides that are doing the real work here, so you want to err on the side of choosing a bacopa extract that:

  • A. is standardized to bacosides
  • B. has a relatively high amount of said bacosides

Our preferred bacopa monnieri extract is Bacognize Bacopa monnieri which is standardized to 45% bacosides.

Bacognize is backed by multiple human trials documenting the herb’s benefits in regards to memory, attention, cognitive function, processing speed, and mood. [4][26][27][28]

Effective dose begins around 300mg per day up to 600mg per day.

Bacopa is generally regarded as an ingredient that needs to be taken consistently (i.e. daily) to realize the full effects. However, there is some evidence that it provides some acute benefits, namely with regards to improving performance in multi-tasking and reducing anxiety commonly experienced during cognitively intense work. [21]

Note: Historically, bacopa was typically consumed alongside ghee, the typical cooking fat of Indian cuisine. This is due to the fact that bacopa is fat-soluble and requires a lipid transporter to be properly absorbed and taken up into the brain.

As such, it’s recommended to take your daily serving(s) of bacopa with a meal, or at least with a source of fat (fish oil, MCT oil, etc.)

Side effects are rarely experienced with bacopa, but there is the chance for mild GI distress or fatigue.

The Bottom Line on Bacopa Monnieri

Bacopa Monnieri is a centuries-old herb that has stood the test of time and the scrutiny of research. It offers the prospect of better mental performance, increased longevity, neuroprotection, reduced stress, and heightened mood.

It’s safe in all populations from the very young to the very old, and should find its way into every person’s nootropic stack.

References

1) Stough C, Singh H, Zangara A. Mechanisms, Efficacy, and Safety of Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi) for Cognitive and Brain Enhancement. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2015;2015:717605. doi:10.1155/2015/717605.

2) Abdulrahman K. Al-Asmari, Abdulrahman M. Al-Elaiwi, Md Tanwir Athar, Mohammad Tariq, Ahmed Al Eid, and Saeed M. Al-Asmary, “A Review of Hepatoprotective Plants Used in Saudi Traditional Medicine,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2014, Article ID 890842, 22 pages, 2014.

3) Aguiar S, Borowski T. Neuropharmacological Review of the Nootropic Herb Bacopa monnieri. Rejuvenation Research. 2013;16(4):313-326. doi:10.1089/rej.2013.1431.

4) Kumar N, Abichandani LG, Thawani V, Gharpure KJ, Naidu MUR, Venkat Ramana G. Efficacy of Standardized Extract of Bacopa monnieri (Bacognize®) on Cognitive Functions of Medical Students: A Six-Week, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2016;2016:4103423. doi:10.1155/2016/4103423.

5) Stough, C., Lloyd, J., Clarke, J., Downey, L., Hutchison, C., Rodgers, T., & Nathan, P. (2001). The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology, 156(4), 481-484.

6) Pase, M. P., Kean, J., Sarris, J., Neale, C., Scholey, A. B., & Stough, C. (2012). The cognitive-enhancing effects of Bacopa monnieri: a systematic review of randomized, controlled human clinical trials. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 18(7), 647-652.

7) Stough, C., Downey, L. A., Lloyd, J., Silber, B., Redman, S., Hutchison, C., ... & Nathan, P. J. (2008). Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Phytotherapy Research, 22(12), 1629-1634.

8) Calabrese, C., Gregory, W. L., Leo, M., Kraemer, D., Bone, K., & Oken, B. (2008). Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 14(6), 707-713.

9) Neale, C., Camfield, D., Reay, J., Stough, C., & Scholey, A. (2013). Cognitive effects of two nutraceuticals Ginseng and bacopa benchmarked against modafinil: a review and comparison of effect sizes. Br J Clin Pharmacol, 75(3), 728-37.

10) Kean, J. D., Downey, L. A., & Stough, C. (2016). A systematic review of the Ayurvedic medicinal herb Bacopa monnieri in child and adolescent populations. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 29, 56–62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2016.09.002

11) Kean JD, Downey LA, Stough C. Systematic Overview of Bacopa monnieri (L.) Wettst. Dominant Poly-Herbal Formulas in Children and Adolescents. Medicines (Basel). 2017;4(4):86. Published 2017 Nov 22. doi:10.3390/medicines4040086

12) Tamara Simpson, Matthew Pase, and Con Stough, “Bacopa monnieri as an Antioxidant Therapy to Reduce Oxidative Stress in the Aging Brain,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2015, Article ID 615384, 9 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/615384.

13) Pandareesh MD, Anand T, Bhat PV. Cytoprotective propensity of Bacopa monniera against hydrogen peroxide induced oxidative damage in neuronal and lung epithelial cells. Cytotechnology. 2016;68(1):157-172. doi:10.1007/s10616-014-9767-3.

14) Neale, C., Camfield,D., Reay, J, Stough, C. & Scholey, A. Cognitive effects of two nutraceuticals Ginseng and Bacopa benchmarked against modafinil: a review and comparison of effect sizes. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 2013;

15) Chaudhari KS, Tiwari NR, Tiwari RR, Sharma RS. Neurocognitive Effect of Nootropic Drug Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) in Alzheimer's Disease. Ann Neurosci. 2017;24(2):111-122.

16) Murphy MP, LeVine H. Alzheimer's disease and the amyloid-beta peptide. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;19(1):311-23.

17) Kamkaew, Natakorn, et al. "Bacopa monnieri Increases Cerebral Blood Flow in Rat Independent of Blood Pressure." Phytotherapy Research, vol. 27, no. 1, 2012, pp. 135-138.

18) Hinz M, Stein A, Uncini T. 5-HTP efficacy and contraindications. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2012;8:323-328. doi:10.2147/NDT.S33259.

19) “New evidence that chronic stress predisposes brain to mental illness” University of California, Berkeley Feb. 11, 2014, Retrieved Mar. 24, 2016

20) Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057-1072. Published 2017 Jul 21. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480

21) Benson S, Downey LA, Stough C, Wetherell M, Zangara A, Scholey A. An acute, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over study of 320 mg and 640 mg doses of Bacopa monnieri (CDRI 08) on multitasking stress reactivity and mood. Phytother Res. 2014;28(4):551-559. doi:10.1002/ptr.5029.

22) Sheikh N, Ahmad A, Siripurapu KB, Kuchibhotla VK, Singh S, Palit G. Effect of Bacopa monniera on stress induced changes in plasma corticosterone and brain monoamines in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007;111(3):671-676. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2007.01.025.

23) Charles PD, Ambigapathy G, Geraldine P, Akbarsha MA, Rajan KE. Bacopa monniera leaf extract up-regulates tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH2) and serotonin transporter (SERT) expression: implications in memory formation. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011;134(1):55-61. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2010.11.045.

24) Mathew J, Balakrishnan S, Antony S, Abraham PM, Paulose C. Decreased GABA receptor in the cerebral cortex of epileptic rats: effect of Bacopa monnieri and Bacoside-A. Journal of Biomedical Science. 2012;19(1):25. doi:10.1186/1423-0127-19-25.

25) Papia Mondal and Surendra Kumar Trigun, “Bacopa monnieri Extract (CDRI-08) Modulates the NMDA Receptor Subunits and nNOS-Apoptosis Axis in Cerebellum of Hepatic Encephalopathy Rats,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2015, Article ID 535013, 8 pages, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/535013

26) Headapohl et al. Effects of Bacopa monnieri (Bacognize®) on memory and cognitive function in healthy older adults: A double-blind placebo-controlled study.

27) Hingorani L et al. Sustained cognitive effects and safety of HPLC-standardized Bacopa monnieri (Bacognize®) extract: A randomized, placebo controlled clinical trial. Planta Med. 2012. 78-PH22. DOI: 10.1055/s-0032-1320681

28) Goswami S et al. Effect of Bacopa monnieri (Bacognize®) on cognitive function in patients. Int J Collab Research Internal Med. 10 May 2011. 3(4): 285-293. ISSN: 1840-4529

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