Grown in the warm, marshy wetlands of India, Pakistan and other Asian countries, this creeping herb has been prescribed by traditional Ayurvedic (Indian) health practitioners for thousands of years.
They believe it strengthens memory, bolsters cognition, improves concentration and even relieves anxiety.
Over the last four decades, scientists have confirmed all this is true. In fact, the weight of evidence is so strong, health agencies in the European Union are on the verge of giving it the okay for treatment of age-related memory decline.
The plant is called bacopa monnieri, also called brahmi, water hyssop, Indian pennywort and herb of grace. Here’s what it might do for you. . .
A Wide-Ranging Brain-Booster
The first reference to bacopa can be traced to an Ayurvedic text dating back to 2,500 BC. The ancient source describes it as a tonic for the central nervous system (CNS).
It contains a large number of chemical compounds with multiple effects on the CNS, but particular fractions called bacosides are believed to be responsible for its cognitive and memory enhancing abilities.
After research demonstrated that the herb reverses memory loss in rodents given various types of amnesia-inducing drugs, it was time to test bacopa in human trials.
The first occurred in 1980 where, over four weeks, bacopa was shown to reduce anxiety and enhance memory span and concentration in 35 adults.
In 2001 Australian scientists conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study over 12 weeks in healthy adults aged 18 to 60. The result was significant improvement in verbal learning, concentration, memory consolidation (the ability to turn short-term memories into long-term ones) as well as a reduction in anxiety.
Other studies on people aged 55 or over all showed they were better able to acquire, store and retain new information. One of these clinical trials included 465 participants between 60 and 75. They experienced notable improvements in memory function over the 12 months of the study.
Another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial included 60 healthy people with an average age of 62. After three months, the bacopa group showed improvement in attention, cognitive processing, and working memory compared to the people on placebo.
Out of the many human trials conducted so far on bacopa alone, not combined with other herbs or nutrients, only one failed to show a benefit, and that’s because subjects were tested only two hours after taking it. What’s clear from the research is that 12 weeks of supplementation is required to see its full potential.
Why Bacopa is So Effective
Lab studies show bacopa has the following effects on the brain:
- promotes mechanisms that lead to reduction of free radicals
- inhibits proteins and enzymes linked to brain inflammation
- protects cells in three critical areas from toxicity and DNA damage
- reduces Alzheimer’s-linked beta amyloid deposits in the hippocampus, a part of the brain vital to memory
- lowers stress-induced damage in the hippocampus
- promotes vasodilation (widening of blood vessels), increasing blood flow
- decreases the breakdown of the vital neurotransmitter acetylcholine and protects nerve cells that depend on it
With such an enormous range of brain benefits it’s not surprising that scientists from the University of Oklahoma concluded that lab and human research strongly indicate bacopa “as a promising agent in Alzheimer’s and other forms of cognitive impairment.”
Recently, biochemist and medical herbalist Dr Chris Etheridge from the UK was asked to comment on the herb after a standardized extract of bacopa called CDRI-08, tested in many of the clinical trials, became available across the Atlantic for the first time:
“Although there is now a huge body of evidence confirming the brain-boosting benefits of bacopa monnieri, we are really only scratching the surface.
“Given what we already know, I think the CDRI-08 extract has real potential as a therapy, not only for boosting concentration and memory levels but also for addressing cognitive health challenges and even possibly dementia.”
What to Buy
Many types of bacopa are available in supplement products.
The whole plant extract is the most potent. It can be standardized for specific bacoside content at various percentages — or remain unstandardized, in which case the concentration of bacosides cannot be guaranteed.
The leaf extract is much less potent and is unlikely to have any cognitive benefits.
Most of the human trials used 300 mg a day of the whole plant extract standardized to 55% bacosides.
If buying a product that labels the bacosides content at, say, 20%, then the dosage needed would have to rise to 825 mg to be the equivalent.