Can Bacopa Monnieri Elevate Your Brain and Eliminate Stress?

Written by Andy Mobbs
featured image for article on bacopa monnieri

Bacopa Monnieri is a plant commonly used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. This herbal nootropic has been used as a memory enhancer and for its anti-anxiety properties.

What is Bacopa Monnieri used for?

Bacopa has been used by humans for its medicinal properties for thousands of years and is probably best known as an adaptogen. An adaptogen is something that helps us deal with stress.

For example, if we are under a lot of stress, adaptogens can help to reduce cortisol levels as well as increase GABA signaling (GABA is the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of relaxation and peace).

Also, if we’re not producing enough cortisol, which will lead to a lack of energy and focus, adaptogens can help increase it. So they help ease our perception of stress when we’re stressed, or help increase our energy when we are feeling low.

Bacopa has also been used as a memory enhancer and for its anti-anxiety properties (like most nootropics). Bacopa contains saponin compounds that are called Bacosides, and these appear to be the active compounds in Bacopa that allow it to have positive health benefits. Supplements containing Bacopa will be standardized to contain a certain percentage of Bacosides, with a higher percentage indicating a more active and higher quality supplement.

Bacopa Monnieri Nootropic Highlights

  • It can increase brain levels of the ‘smart neurotransmitter’ Acetylcholine.
  • Bacopa helps to keep brain function at optimum levels when you’re under stress.
  • It stimulates antioxidant defense in the central nervous system and can improve blood flow to the brain.
bacopa monnieri in full bloom

Bacopa Monnieri benefits: An overview of Bacopa studies

As you would expect from something that has been used successfully for so long there’s been a lot of research done into Bacopa.

1) Bacopa as a nootropic

There have been a number of double-blind placebo controlled studies (which are the gold standard for studies) into Bacopa and its nootropic effects. Each of the studies lasted for 12 weeks and used doses from 300mg – 450 mg per day of Bacopa per day.

The studies found a number of nootropic benefits including improved attention, improved focus and memory, increased visual processing speed and learning rate as well as reduced anxiety levels (1-6). This led to a further review paper by Matthew et al to suggest that Bacopa could potentially be ‘clinically prescribed as a memory enhancer‘ (7).

A further double-blind placebo study by Peth-Nui et al, tested Bacopa at doses of 300mg and 600mg. They found that Bacopa at both doses improved four aspects of working memory, these being:

  • Power of attention
  • Continuity of attention
  • Quality of memory
  • Speed of memory

The study also found that Bacopa reduced the activity of the enzymes that break down Acetylcholine (Acetylcholinesterase) and Dopamine, Noradrenaline and Serotonin (Monoamine oxidase). Reducing these enzymes increases the amount of time before these neurotransmitters are broken down, allowing their levels to increase.

Acetylcholine is often called the smart neurotransmitter, for its role in transmitting signals associated with learning, processing, and memory. However, Dopamine, Noradrenaline, and Serotonin are also needed for proper brain functioning, and play a key role in focus and making us feel good as well!

Interestingly, the study actually found there were greater improvements in memory at a dose of 300mg a day rather than 600mg (8).

Related article: What are nootropics?

2) Bacopa Monnieri for stress reduction and mood improvement

As well as improving neurotransmitter levels known to play a key role in mood, such as serotonin, dopamine and Noradrenaline, a study in Australia at the Swinburne University of Technology found that Bacopa improved mood, and reduced cortisol levels which led to improved scores in stress reactivity tests (9).

Also, three further studies that were conducted on rats found that Bacopa supplementation actually increased the number of GABA receptors in the Striatum, Hippocampal and cerebral cortex areas of the brain. GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and is associated with relaxation. Although these studies were conducted on rats, to allow the researchers to look for GABA receptors the brains needed to be dissected, so unfortunately these types of studies won’t ever be done on humans (10 – 12).

futuristic depiction of human on nootropics

3) Anti-aging, antioxidant protection and neuronal growth effects

There have been a number of studies that have looked at the effects of Bacopa supplementation and its effects on aging as well neuronal growth and the formation of new connections between neurons (i.e. synapse). Again as we saw with the GABA studies, unfortunately, these studies have to be carried out on rats and mice as the brains needed to be dissected after the supplementation periods had finished. However, they do provide some great results!

The first study was conducted at Bharathidasan University in India. They used a concentrated sugar solution, D-galactose, and injected it into rats continuously for 8 weeks to induce aging. D-galactose is one of the main choices used by scientists in anti-aging studies to simulate accelerated aging.

After injecting the D-galactose, they then treated some of the rats with Bacopa and found that the Bacopa-treated rats had increased expression of the antioxidant enzymes Glutathione Peroxidase and Super Oxide Dismutase, as well as less advanced glycated end product in the blood. The advanced glycated end product is the name given to proteins that are damaged by sugars when the sugar attaches itself to the protein and changes its structure. As well as having increased anti-oxidant defense, overall the Bacopa-treated rats also showed less brain aging than the control rats (13).

Another study published in the journal Neurochemical Research gave rats a standard diet but also treated some with Bacopa. On testing, they found a significant reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are immune system signaling molecules that cause decreased immune activity and inflammation in the Bacopa-treated rats.

They also found reduced iNOS, which can lead to the production of peroxynitrite, a very damaging and inflammatory molecule, especially in the central nervous system. There was also a reduction of nitrates and lipofuscin, both markers of increased aging (14).

4) Bacopa nootropic for neuronal growth and new synaptic connections

neuron anatomy

A study published in Anatomical Science International fed rats with a Bacopa supplement for 2, 4, or 6 weeks. Researchers found that the rats treated with Bacopa for 4 and 6 weeks had a significant increase in the length of the dendrites in their neurons and the number of connections these dendrites were making in the amygdala area of their brains compared to controls.

Growth and more connections mean the brain is working more efficiently to pass on information. The amygdala is an area associated with emotional processing and anxiety. However, more anxiety is associated with fewer neurons and connections in the amygdala, so these results are great news for humans! (15)

5) Bacopa was able to protect rats against heavy metal and poison damage

2 studies on heavy metals, one on Mercury and the other on Aluminum, found Bacopa was able to protect rat brains against damage from these toxic metals (16, 17).

A third study injected Paraquat into the brains of rats (Paraquat is a toxic herbicide), the exposure to which has been linked to Parkinson’s development. They then treated some of the rats with Bacopa and found fewer markers of oxidation including less reactive oxygen species, less malondialdehyde (which is found in cell membranes when phospholipids are oxidized), and hydrogen peroxide in the rats’ given Bacopa.

They also found that Bacopa led to the reversal of mitochondrial dysfunction that was caused by Paraquat exposure. The main role of our Mitochondria is to produce energy, and mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to a huge range of diseases and increased aging (18).

A final study chronically exposed rats to cigarette smoke and they found the Bacopa treated rats had increases in the antioxidants glutathione peroxidase, catalase and superoxide dismutase. The researchers also found that cigarette smoke depleted zinc and selenium levels in the brain, which is a problem because zinc is a superoxide dismutase co-factor and selenium is a glutathione peroxidase co-factor (a co-factor means that it is required for the enzyme to work). However, administration of bacopa restored zinc and selenium levels to normal (19).

6) Bacopa can simulate cerebral blood flow

Kamkaew et al (20, 21), found that Bacopa was able to simulate cerebral blood flow, and the more blood flow to the brain the better it can work. They also found it increased blood flow to a similar level as Ginko Biloba( although it was a slightly lower level), and worked by increasing the production of Nitric Oxide in the endothelium (i.e in the blood vessels), which allows the blood vessels to vasodilate or relax.

What’s the recommended Bacopa Monnieri dosage?

Studies on humans have ranged in dosing between 300mg and 450mg a day and normally show better results as the studies progress (with studies normally running over a 12 week period). This suggests a gradual increasing response over a number of weeks.

In fact, one study that looked at the short-term effects of Bacopa found no improvement (22), so we suggest continuing with Bacopa for at least 3 months, although you should start to see results within 4 – 6 weeks. The percentage concentration of bacosides in each supplement can also vary quite significantly from 10% up to 50%. The higher the percentage the greater the active compounds so we recommend looking for 50%.

At Intelligent Labs, we include Bacopa in our Seneca Nootropic, which includes a dose of 300mg of Bacopa standardized to 50% bacosides, along with 17 other great nootropic ingredients.

References

(1) Barbhaiya HC, Desai RP, Saxena VS, et al. Efficacy and tolerability of BacoMind on memory improvement in elderly participants: A double blind placebo controlled study. J Pharmacol Toxicol 2008;3:425–434. (2) Calabrese C, Gregory WL, Leo M, et al. Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med 2008;14:707–713. (3) Morgan A, Stevens J. Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. J Altern Complement Med 2010;16:753–759. (4) Roodenrys S, Booth D, Bulzomi S, et al. Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory. Neuropsychopharmacology 2002;27:279–281. (5) 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. Psychopharmacology 2001;156:481–484. (6) Stough C, Downey LA, Lloyd J, et al. Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Phytother Res 2008;22:1629–1634. (7) Matthew P. Pase, BSc, BA(Hons), James Kean, BSc(Hons), Jerome Sarris, MHSc, PhD, Chris Neale, BSc, MSc, Andrew B. Scholey, PhD, and Con Stough, PhD, The Cognitive-Enhancing Effects of Bacopa monnieri: A Systematic Review of Randomized, Controlled Human Clinical Trials, THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE, Volume 18, Number 7, 2012, pp. 647–652 (8) Tatimah Peth-Nui, Jintanaporn Wattanathorn, Supaporn MuchimapuraTerdthai Tong-Un , Nawanant Piyavhatkul, Poonsri Rangseekajee, Kornkanok Ingkaninan, and Sakchai Vittaya-areekul, 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. (9) Sarah Benson, Luke A Downey, Con Stough, Mark Wetherell, Andrea Zangara, Andrew Scholey, 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 Apr;28(4):551-9. (10) Jobin Mathew , Gireesh Gangadharan, Korah P Kuruvilla, C S Paulose, Behavioral deficit and decreased GABA receptor functional regulation in the hippocampus of epileptic rats: effect of Bacopa monnieri, Neurochem Res. 2011 Jan;36(1):7-16. doi: 10.1007/s11064-010-0253-9. Epub 2010 Sep 7. (11) Jobin Mathew , Smijin Soman, Jayanarayanan Sadanandan, Cheramadathikudyil Skaria Paulose, Decreased GABA receptor in the striatum and spatial recognition memory deficit in epileptic rats: effect of Bacopa monnieri and bacoside-A, J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Jul 20;130(2):255-61. (12) Jobin Mathew , Savitha Balakrishnan, Sherin Antony, Pretty Mary Abraham, C S Paulose, Decreased GABA receptor in the cerebral cortex of epileptic rats: effect of Bacopa monnieri and Bacoside-A, J Biomed Sci. 2012 Feb 24;19(1):25. (13) Prisila Dulcy C, Singh HK, Preethi J, Rajan KE, Standardized extract of Bacopa monniera (BESEB CDRI-08) attenuates contextual associative learning deficits in the aging rat’s brain induced by D-galactose, Journal of Neuroscience Research, 20 Jun 2012, 90(10):2053-2064. (14) Manisha Rastogi, Rudra P Ojha, B Parimala Devi, Aabha Aggarwal, Aruna Agrawal, G P Dubey, Amelioration of age associated neuroinflammation on long term bacosides treatment, Neurochem Res. 2012 Apr;37(4):869-74. (15) Vollala VR, Upadhya S, Nayak S, Enhanced dendritic arborization of amygdala neurons during growth spurt periods in rats orally intubated with Bacopa monniera extract, Anatomical Science International, 17 Mar 2011, 86(4):179-188 (16) Sumathi T, Shobana C, Christinal J, Anusha C, Protective effect of Bacopa monniera on methyl mercury-induced oxidative stress in cerebellum of rats. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, 26 Feb 2012, 32(6):979-987 (17) Amar Jyoti , Deepak Sharma, Neuroprotective role of Bacopa monniera extract against aluminium-induced oxidative stress in the hippocampus of rat brain, Neurotoxicology. 2006 Jul;27(4):451-7. (18) Ravikumar Hosamani, Gokul Krishna, Muralidhara, Standardized Bacopa monnieri extract ameliorates acute paraquat-induced oxidative stress, and neurotoxicity in prepubertal mice brain, Nutr Neurosci. 2016 Dec;19(10):434-446. (19) K.Anbarasia, G.Kathirvelb, G.Vania, G.Jayaramanb, C.S.Shyamala Devia , Cigarette smoking induces heat shock protein 70 kDa expression and apoptosis in rat brain: Modulation by bacoside A, Neuroscience, Volume 138, Issue 4, 2006, Pages 1127-1135 (20) Kamkaew N. Scholfield N. Ingkaninan K. Taepavarapruk N. Chootip K. Bacopa monnieri increases cerebral blood flow in rat independent of blood pressure. Phytother Res. 2013;27:135–138. (21) Kamkaew N. Scholfield CN. Ingkaninan K. Maneesai P. Parkington HC. Tare M. Chootip K. Bacopa monnieri and its constituents is hypotensive in anaesthetized rats and vasodilator in various artery types. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011;137:790–795. (22) Nathan PJ, Clarke J, Lloyd J, et al. The acute effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy normal subjects. Hum Psychopharmacol 2001;16:345–351