Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.
Bacopa is a water-loving perennial with a long history of use as an Ayurvedic herbal medicine and ample modern scientific support to back it up. Commonly prepared as a capsule or tincture, this plant offers robust support to the brain and nervous system.
Bacopa is a creeping, succulent-like perennial with fleshy leaves and white to light purple flowers. This treasured Ayurvedic herb prefers a warm and wet environment and can be found growing in the borders of irrigated fields, streams, water channels, and wells. Although bacopa is native to India and Australia, it also grows in East Asia and the United States.
The Sanskrit name brahmi means “expands consciousness” and is a well-deserved nod to bacopa’s ability to enhance and support cognitive function. The whole plant has been used for thousands of years to manage and support a variety of conditions such as memory loss, inflammation, epilepsy, fever, asthma, and more. Today, it is mostly studied for its profound effects on the brain and nervous system.
Note: Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is another herb that is sometimes called brahmi as well. While gotu kola is a wonderful herb with some similar uses to bacopa, the two should not be confused and are not the same plant.
Impaired memory is commonly seen in aging brains and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Bacopa has long been used to enhance memory, a usage that has been confirmed by in vitro, in vivo, and human clinical trials.
Bacopa’s memory supportive effect is a culmination of various mechanisms, including its antioxidant activity and its ability to increase the availability of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the brain and other systems of the body.1,2,3
In a 2012 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers administered 300 mg and 600 mg of bacopa standardized extract to 60 healthy older adults in two experimental groups for 12 weeks. Compared to the control group, who received a placebo, the study demonstrated that the those older adults in the groups that received bacopa had enhanced attention and memory processing and increased working memory. While the study confirmed bacopa’s usefulness for improving cognitive function, it was not able to determine if taking 600 mg compared to 300 mg of bacopa was more effective.1
The brain has a high demand for energy and thus leans heavily on its energy-producing mitochondria to fuel it. Free radicals are a byproduct of this process and are typically kept in check by our body’s natural antioxidant defense system. When this antioxidant system becomes overwhelmed, an accumulation of free radicals can lead to oxidative stress, paving the way for cell and DNA damage.
When brain cells and DNA are damaged by oxidative stress, brain health suffers and the risk for cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders rises. Fortunately, modern research is confirming the antioxidant and neuroprotective activity of brain-supportive herbs like bacopa.2
Bacosides, biologically active phytochemicals found in bacopa, are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions.3,4 In vitro and animal studies have shown bacopa extract to decrease free radical accumulation in the brain.3
Excessive free radicals and diminished antioxidant levels in the brain have also been linked to environmental factors like chronic exposure to cigarette smoke. An animal study found bacosides to have a neuroprotective effect against cigarette smoke-induced oxidative stress. In a related study, bacopa increased brain levels of neuroprotective antioxidants like glutathione, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin A in rats exposed to cigarette smoke.2
Beyond its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, in vitro studies show that bacopa extract can inhibit beta-amyloid, a protein involved in Alzheimer’s disease.3,5 It’s unclear whether beta-amyloid is more of a byproduct or a cause of Alzheimer’s, but in either case, excessive buildup of beta-amyloid can impair neuron function.
Many clinical trials have demonstrated bacopa’s ability to improve cognitive function in areas such as focus and information processing. Like so many of its other benefits, this is attributed to its antioxidant activity, effect on beta-amyloid, and modulation of neurotransmitters.2,5
In another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers gave healthy adults a bacopa extract daily for 12 weeks. Researchers found significant improvement in information processing and learning rate.6
A six-month, open-label human trial, newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients showed improvement in some cognitive functions after consuming bacopa. When 300 mg of a standardized bacopa extract was taken twice daily, these patients had statistically significant improvement in the orientation of time, place and person, attention, and language ability by the end of the trial.7 While a double-blind clinical trial is merited for further confirmation of these findings, it does show promise that bacopa may be a supportive measure for certain aspects of this challenging condition and is worth paying attention to in the future.
Recent studies have shown neuroinflammation to play a role in anxiety and depression. Although more research is needed, in vitro studies suggest bacopa’s anti-inflammatory effects on the nervous system may help support certain psychiatric disorders.4 In animal studies, antidepressant and anxiolytic effects have been reported, further supporting this hypothesis.3,8
In Ayurveda, a traditional medicine system of India, bacopa has been used for thousands of years to support the brain and cognitive function. This herbal medicine was referenced and utilized in ancient times, having first been described around the 6th century C.E. in Ayurvedic texts. It is said that ancient Vedic scholars used bacopa to boost their ability to memorize lengthy hymns and scriptures often passed down only by word-of-mouth.2
Ayurveda considers bacopa to be a rasayana herb, meaning it promotes all-around vitality and longevity. It is an important ingredient in several Ayurvedic formulations for memory, concentration, and anxiety.8 It is also traditionally used for fevers, epilepsy, asthma, and inflammatory conditions like arthritis, which is not surprising given what we now know about its effects on inflammation and the nervous system.4
In Siddha medicine, a traditional medicine system originating in South India, bacopa has again been used for memory and nervous system issues, in addition to relieving constipation, painful urination, and edema.9
Throughout South Asia, various cultures have found ways to use the herb externally. In Nepal, the bright green, fresh juice is used to soothe burns, while in India, the boiled leaves are applied locally for coughs, pain, and inflammation.9
Bacopa is primarily consumed as a capsule or tincture; the tea can be bitter in taste. Traditionally, all parts of the plant are used medicinally, while many modern bacopa products contain just the leaf.
The dosage for bacopa powdered extract capsules is generally 300 mg per day. If choosing an extract, look for a product standardized to at least 20% bacosides.10 Bacosides are one group of phytochemicals found in bacopa that have been shown to be neuroprotective and are typically considered a good indicator of product potency.
1.5 mL of bacopa tincture is often taken 3-5 times daily.
There are no known interactions.
Always check with your healthcare practitioner before use if you are taking medications. For more general education on potential interactions between herbs and medications, check out Dr. Bill Rawls’ article: Is it Safe to Take Herbs with My Medications?
Bacopa has been well-tolerated in human clinical trials. Some individuals with an overactive “fight or flight” nervous system may notice very mild sedation from using bacopa.
Minimal adverse effects have been observed, the most common being mild gastrointestinal upset.2,11
This information is intended only as general education and should not be substituted for professional health advice. Any mentioned general dosage option, safety notices, or possible interactions with prescription drugs are for educational purposes only and must be considered in the context of each individual’s health situation. Use this information only as a reference in conjunction with the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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1. Peth-Nui T, Wattanathorn J, Muchimapura S, et al. Effects of 12-Week Bacopa monnieri Consumption on Attention, Cognitive Processing, Working Memory, and Functions of Both Cholinergic and Monoaminergic Systems in Healthy Elderly Volunteers. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:606424. doi:10.1155/2012/606424
2. Aguiar S, Borowski T. Neuropharmacological review of the nootropic herb Bacopa monnieri. Rejuvenation Res. 2013;16(4):313-326. doi:10.1089/rej.2013.1431
3. Simpson T, Pase M, Stough C. Bacopa monnieri as an Antioxidant Therapy to Reduce Oxidative Stress in the Aging Brain. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:615384. doi:10.1155/2015/615384
4. Nemetchek MD, Stierle AA, Stierle DB, Lurie DI. The Ayurvedic plant Bacopa monnieri inhibits inflammatory pathways in the brain. J Ethnopharmacol. 2017;197:92-100. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2016.07.073
5. Abdul Manap AS, Vijayabalan S, Madhavan P, et al. Bacopa monnieri, a Neuroprotective Lead in Alzheimer Disease: A Review on Its Properties, Mechanisms of Action, and Preclinical and Clinical Studies. Drug Target Insights. 2019;13:1177392819866412. Published 2019 Jul 31. doi:10.1177/1177392819866412
6. Stough C, Lloyd J, Clarke J, et al. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects [published correction appears in Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 Jul;232(13):2427. Dosage error in article text]. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001;156(4):481-484. doi:10.1007/s002130100815
7. Goswami S, Saoji A, Kumar N, Thawani V, Tiwari M, Thawani M. Effect of Bacopa monnieri on Cognitive functions in Alzheimer’s disease patients. International Journal of Collaborative Research on Internal Medicine & Public Health. 2011; 3(4):285-293.
8. Shen Y, Zhou Y, Zhang C et al. Antidepressant effects of methanol extract and fractions of Bacopa monnieri. Pharm Biol. 2009;47(4):340-343. doi:10.1080/13880200902752694
9. Engels G, Brinckmann J. Bacopa. American Botanical Council. https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/91/table-of-contents/herbalgram-91-herb-profile-bacopa/. Published 2011.
10. Roe AL, Venkataraman A. The Safety and Efficacy of Botanicals with Nootropic Effects. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2021;19(9):1442-1467. doi:10.2174/1570159X19666210726150432
11. Muszyńska B, Łojewski M, Rojowski J, Opoka W, Sułkowska-Ziaja K. Natural products of relevance in the prevention and supportive treatment of depression. Psychiatr Pol. 2015;49(3):435-453. doi:10.12740/PP/29367
13. Noel Groves M. Body Into Balance. Storey Publishing; 2016:177.
14. Calabrese C, Gregory W, Leo M, Kraemer D, Bone K, Oken B. 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. 2008;14(6):707-713. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0018
15. Salim S. Oxidative Stress and the Central Nervous System. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2017;360(1):201-205. doi:10.1124/jpet.116.237503
16. Anbarasi K, Vani G, Balakrishna K, Devi CS. Effect of bacoside A on brain antioxidant status in cigarette smoke exposed rats. Life Sci. 2006;78(12):1378-1384. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2005.07.030