Updated: May 6, 2020
Bacopa Monnieri is an Ayurvedic herb that relaxes and mentally-stimulates you all at once. It’s commonly known for its mood-enhancing and anti-inflammatory benefits, but this is just scratching the surface of its medicinal potential. Read on to discover the amazing benefits of bacopa, along with the possible side effects.
What is Bacopa Monnieri?
Bacopa Monnieri is an herb native to the wetlands of southern India and Australia, often growing as a weed in rice fields. The entire plant is used medicinally in the Indian traditional medicine system of Ayurveda.
Use in Ayurveda
In India, bacopa is locally known as Brahmi after “Brahma,” the mythical creator of the Hindu pantheon. Ayurvedic practitioners classify it as a Medhya Rasayana–an herb taken to sharpen the intellect and improve mental deficits. In other words, bacopa is probably one of the oldest-known nootropics in the world.
Allegedly, ancient Vedic scholars used Bacopa Monnieri to better memorize lengthy sacred hymns and scriptures. They often combined it with other intellect-sharpening herbs like Gotu Kola. Preparations with bacopa are also commonly prescribed for cognitive dysfunction in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda doesn’t separate herbs that enhance cognition in healthy people from those that lessen existing cognitive problems. That’s why bacopa is equally popular among young professionals and students as it is among older people.
I think bacopa’s true power lies in offsetting cognitive decline with aging. We’re on a quest to increase lifespan, but we should really be seeking to increase Health Span–life lived in good health. To achieve this, we should maintain mental sharpness, brain health, and work capacity into old age.
Just in the US, over 3.4 million people suffer from dementia and most of them are over 65 years of age. Many more cases of subtle (sub-clinical) cognitive dysfunction go undiagnosed, as is the case with brain fog. Bacopa is a revitalizing, relaxing, and mentally-stimulating herb – one I believe can support our health span extension quest.
Several recent studies have looked into Bacopa’s therapeutic potential. The herb contains a mix of synergistic compounds that protect the brain, scavenge free radicals, and increase acetylcholine–the most important neurotransmitter for memory and learning. And unlike synthetic smart drugs, bacopa causes minimal side effects.
Bacopa Monnieri contains a mixture of active compounds. Some are unique to it, like Brahmine, the first alkaloid isolated from the herb. It also contains apigenin, a relaxing alkaloid found in many plants such as chamomile.
However, its most important active compounds are its bacosides, so-called steroidal saponins. These plant compounds are responsible for improving learning and memory. Over 12 unique bacosides have been discovered in bacopa so far.
Benefits of Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa increases levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which enhances cognition and intellectual capacities. Your body uses acetylcholine for cholinergic activity, which counteracts the fight-or-flight response. It gets your body into a state of “resting and digesting.” Rest also enables a higher state of consciousness: selective attention, perception, and memory.
Specifically, Bacopa has dual boosting action: it inhibits acetylcholinesterase–the enzyme that breaks acetylcholine down, and it activates choline acetyltransferase–the enzyme that produces acetylcholine.
Bacopa can also increase serotonin and GABA in the hippocampus. Serotonin improves mood, GABA increases feelings of calmness, and the hippocampus is the brain’s hub for memory and emotions.
One group of scientists discovered that bacopa can help neurons branch out. It increases dendritic branching – dendrites being the parts of neurons that send out information by connecting with other neurons. Better-branched neurons enhance learning and memory.
Additionally, bacosides in the plant are anti-inflammatory. They reduce inflammatory cytokines and iNOS production in the brain, according to studies in rats.
Bacopa also activates anti-cancer pathways; it activates protein phosphatase 2A, activating caspase-3 and decreasing Bcl-2 gene production
1) Increases Antioxidant Defence
Bacopa Monnieri boosts key antioxidant enzymes: superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione. This way, it counters oxidative stress, which is especially important for brain health.
Being the most metabolically active organ, the brain needs to regularly deal with oxidative stress. Plus, it carefully filters the compounds it lets in via the blood-brain barrier. If its internal antioxidant defences fall, damage is likely. Based on rat studies, bacopa’s active compounds can easily cross into the brain and offer protection .
In rodent studies, bacopa increased natural defences against reactive oxygen species and protected against aluminium-related brain damage [8, 9].
Bacopa can bind toxins like heavy metals. And in human cells, it protected against DNA damage from hydrogen peroxide.
Importantly, it prevents free radicals from destroying lipids in the brain. The brain is rich lipids, which make it functional and well-connected. Since these lipids are sensitive to damage, bacopa’s action goes a long way to protect the brain’s crucial components .
Bacopa is a potent antioxidant and has a protective effect on cells. It scavenges free radicals and prevents DNA damage.
2) May Increase Longevity
Antioxidant defences usually drop with aging, while oxidative stress increases. In mice, Bacopa prevents the formation of malondialdehyde and lipofuscin, which are key indicators of aging. It also restores antioxidant balance in aged mice.
What’s more, bacopa increased the lifespan of C. elegans, a worm species famous for its use in longevity studies. In C.elegans worms under stress, Bacopa enhances stress tolerance, turns on stress-fighting genes (specific heat shock proteins like hsp-16.2), and scavenges free radicals. With more research, Bacopa may turn out to be a great longevity herb for people under high stress.
3) Reduces Inflammation
Bacopa reduces inflammation throughout the body. In rats, it lowered age-related chronic brain inflammation. It may also reduce chronic whole-body and brain inflammation driven by an overactive immune system, according to a cell study.
In a cell-based study, alcoholic extracts of bacopa blocked proteins that contribute to arthritis. Its effect was almost as strong as that of diclofenac (Voltaren), a widely used anti-inflammatory drug.
In both blood cells and animals, Bacopa’s betulinic acid reduced the production of interleukin-6 (IL-6), an inflammatory cytokine.
Cell studies revealed that Bacopa inhibits the main inflammatory messengers (including cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX) and tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α).
4) Combats Stress & Depression
Bacopa Monnieri reduces stress and depression in humans. It also lowers the stress hormone cortisol.
In a rat study, Bacopa reduced memory loss caused by both acute and chronic stress. It also prevented symptoms of anxiety and depression in mice.
Stress produces changes in blood and brain chemistry: in the blood, cortisol levels rise; in the brain, noradrenaline levels rise, and serotonin and dopamine levels fall. In one rat study, bacopa normalized all these changes.
Bacopa can reduce stress and depression by normalizing neurotransmitter levels and preventing oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain.
5) Enhances Cognitive Function & Memory
Bacopa enhances cognitive function, attention, and reaction time, according to a review of 9 studies and over 500 people.
Additionally, Bacopa improves language skills and symptoms of hyperactivity and attention-deficit in children and adolescents, according to another review.
Bacopa improved cognitive function and lessened anxiety and depression in 54 people over 65 years of age. In another trial of 98 people over 55 years of age, 300 mg/d of Bacopa extract enhanced learning and memory.
The same is true for middle-aged people. Bacopa improved memory in a trial of 76 people aged 40 to 65 years. After supplementing, the participants were significantly better at remembering new information.
Bacopa leaf extracts significantly enhanced learning and memory in rats. It also maintained good memory in mice given drugs that trigger brain damage and amnesia. One of the tested drugs it protected against was diazepam (Valium), and anti-anxiety medication known for producing brain fog-like side effects in the long run.
One mouse study suggested Bacopa sharpens memory by activating the GABA pathway – aside from its main acetylcholine-boosting action.
Bacopa enhances cognitive function, attention, learning, and memory–especially in middle-aged or elderly people.
6) May Improve Cognition in Schizophrenia
People with schizophrenia often experience cognitive problems, and conventional drugs can do little to treat them. Some antipsychotics even worsen cognitive issues. Interestingly, Bacopa reduced cognitive impairment in a rat model of schizophrenia by increasing the function of glutamate. It might be a good option with more clinical research.
7) Protects the Brain
In rats, Bacopa increased blood flow and reduced inflammation in the brain. It also stimulated the growth of neurons and reduced oxidative damage from aluminium and mercury. Since it improves brain health, Bacopa may also protect against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
8) May Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease involving excessive deposits of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain, leading to cell death and memory loss. In rodents, Bacopa reduced beta-amyloid deposits in the brain and improved cognitive function.
Furthermore, Bacopa reduced oxidative stress and cell death due to beta-amyloid deposits in cell studies.
9) May Protect Against Parkinson’s Disease
In worms, bacopa prevented the loss of dopamine neurons that is typically seen in Parkinson’s disease.
Oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction are strongly linked to Parkinson’s. Environmental factors such as herbicides and other neurotoxic agents may be involved in the development of the disease. In one cell study, Bacopa reduced mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress caused by herbicides.
10) Reduces Symptoms of ADHD
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is estimated to affect around 5% of the children of the world. The standard treatment is stimulants, but these come with side effects and long-term risks. For these reasons, we’re in high need of natural options for treating ADHD in children.
As part of an herbal mixture, Bacopa improved attention, cognitive function and impulse control in a trial of 120 children with ADHD. What’s more, an extract of Bacopa alone improved restlessness, self-control, and attention-deficit in 31 children with ADHD. The extract was well-tolerated.
11) Supports the Heart
In rats, Bacopa reduced blood pressure and protected the heart against damage from lack of oxygen. The extract also reduced cholesterol and protected the aorta from the effects of high cholesterol in rats.
In combination with other herbs, bacopa protected both the heart and kidneys against damage in rats.
Bacopa triggers the release of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and reduces blood pressure. The extract dissolved blood clots in a cell study, which might help reduce excessive blood clotting that can clog the arteries.
12) May Reduce Bronchitis, Allergies & Asthma
The alcohol extract of Bacopa is a mast cell stabilizer, similar in potency to Cromolyn. As such, it may improve histamine intolerance and allergies.
Traditionally, Bacopa is used to treat asthma and cough, and a hot poultice of the herb is applied for bronchitis and chest ailments in children.
What’s more, Bacopa prevented lung constriction in rats. It expanded the bronchi and airways.
13) May Boost the Immune Response
The immune system often weakens with aging, and our white blood cells become sluggish. In a study of aged rats, bacopa reversed the age-related decline in white blood cell activity and function.
In a cell study, Bacopa protected human white blood cells against DNA damage. It also enhanced immune function by increasing immunoglobulin production in rats.
14) May Improve Diabetes
Bacosine, a component of Bacopa, might have insulin-like activity, according to a study on diabetic rats. Besides lowering blood sugar, Bacosine also reversed weight loss, reduced glycogen stores in the liver, and improved sugar control in the rats.
15) Fights Bacterial and Yeast Infections
Traditionally, Bacopa was used to treat tuberculosis, syphilis, and gonorrhoea.
The alcoholic extract of Bacopa is antibacterial and can kill or inhibit all the following bacteria:
These bacteria cause a range of problems, from food poisoning to skin infections to ulcers and lung diseases.
The alcoholic extract of bacopa also has antifungal activity against the yeast Candida albicans and Aspergillus Niger (black mould), according to a cell study .
16) May Help Prevent Cancer
In mice studies, extracts of Bacopa and its active compound Stigmasterol inhibited tumour growth.
In a rat study, an extract of Bacopa inhibited colon cancer. It worked by blocking the enzymes of gut bacteria associated with colon cancer risk. Also, in rats, Bacoside A from Bacopa prevented liver cancer.
In cellular studies, Bacopa was active against different types of cancers, including human breast cancer.
The anticancer activity of Bacopa may be tied to its antioxidant properties. In rats with tumours, Bacopa extract improved antioxidant status to lower markers of tumour growth.
In animal and cell studies, Bacopa inhibited cancer and tumour growth, possibly through boosting antioxidant status. Human studies are still lacking.
17) Protects the Gut & Stomach
In a trial of 169 patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Bacopa in combination with Indian Bael, reduced symptoms in 65% of the patients. People who suffered from the diarrhoea form of IBS experienced the greatest improvement.
Bacopa also relaxes the smooth muscles of the intestine, reducing spasms which are common in IBS.
Bacopa may also help control and heal stomach ulcers. In rat studies, Bacopa extract healed stomach ulcers, likely by strengthening the mucous membrane lining of the stomach.
Bacopa may improve gut health, reduce symptoms of IBS, and heal stomach ulcers.
18) Lowers Fatigue
Bacopa prevented fatigue in rats that were forced to swim. It also reduced the drop in antioxidants that normally happens with exhaustion.
In mice, Bacopa prolonged the time the animals could exercise before becoming exhausted. It also boosted antioxidant levels, and reduced markers of inflammation – including interleukin-1 (IL-1) and interleukin-6 (IL-6).
19) May Protect the Liver
Ayurvedic practitioners have long known about the rejuvenating effects of bacopa, but they were oblivious to the herb’s ability to protect the liver. Recent studies suggest bacopa may do just that, mainly by enhancing antioxidant defence.
Tylenol is known to cause liver damage, and people with any kind of liver issue know to avoid it in high doses. Bacopa protected the liver against damage from Tylenol in rats. It reduced alkaline phosphatase and bilirubin – markers of liver damage. Plus, Bacopa increased the activity of key liver antioxidants, catalase and glutathione.
In other rat studies, Bacopa extract protected the liver from injury caused by toxic drugs (including morphine and nitrobenzene).
20) May Increase Muscles & Strength
Bacopa contains Ecdysterone, a plant steroid that promotes muscle growth in animals. The great news is that this compound lacks the adverse side effects of synthetic muscle building steroids.
Its use has been described in Russian scientific literature. In strength training athletes, Ecdysteroids increased muscle mass, strength and endurance, and reduced body fat levels. Pretty impressive for one of Bacopa’s “minor” active compounds.
Athletes might especially benefit from this herb because it also lowers physical and mental fatigue and inflammation – all of which are key for top performance. Bacopa has a dark side, though. It may lower fertility in men in the long run (see “Side Effects”), so using Ecdysteroids from other plants might be a better option.
21) May Lower Opioid Dependence & Withdrawal Symptoms
Bacosides may help people overcome opioid dependence and difficult withdrawal symptoms. More research is needed, but the animal studies so far are promising.
In mice, Bacopa extract prevented depression symptoms associated with morphine withdrawal. A tissue study confirmed that Bacopa reduces the unwanted effects of the opioid blocker naloxone, so it might help make withdrawal less drastic.
In another rat study, the extract prevented kidney and liver damage from opioids. In mice, it prevented opioid-triggered surges in neurotransmitters such as dopamine. In healthy people, dopamine increased motivation. But in people who struggle with addiction, it reinforces craving.
Preventing these surges may help to reduce dependence.
Clinical studies are lacking, but Bacopa holds promise for reducing opioid dependence and lessening withdrawal symptoms.
22) Promotes Hair Growth
In animal studies, herbal oil formulas with Bacopa increased the size of hair follicles and the length of time that hair spends growing. Many Ayurvedic hair care products contain Bacopa, hair oil being especially popular.
23) Boosts Skin Health & Wound Healing
Like its benefits for hair health, Bacopa may improve the appearance of your skin when applied as a cream or oil. It is traditionally used to treat eczema, and ringworm (a skin infection caused by a fungus) – which is not surprising given its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial action.
Bacopa also enhances wound healing in rats. It increases the cross-linking of collagen, which strengthens and firms the skin barrier. It also kills skin pathogens and boosts skin antioxidants. In fact, Bacopa sped up wound healing better than standard treatment with the antifungal drug nitrofurazone .
24) May Increase Thyroid Hormones
In mice, Bacopa leaf extract increased the thyroid hormone T4. It also boosted antioxidants inside the cells, including superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase. In turn, Bacopa might be useful in people with mild hypothyroidism, but clinical studies have yet to confirm it.
25) May Help with Menopause & Irregular Cycles
In traditional medicine, special Bacopa preparations are used by women to rebalance hormones. The fresh whole bacopa plant is crushed and squeezed, and women take the juice with cow’s milk as a remedy for irregular menstrual cycles.
Bacopa extracts may help manage the symptoms of menopause. In a trial of 25 postmenopausal women, the extract prevented insomnia, reduced cholesterol and triglycerides, and lowered blood pressure. In turn, it might also reduce the risk of heart disease.
Let’s not forget that Bacosides, which likely carry this effect, have a strong brain-protective effect that menopausal women need. In female rats, these compounds lessened cognitive decline with aging by protecting the hippocampus. Drops in oestrogen after menopause seem to gradually shrink the hippocampus and cause cognitive decline.
Bacopa may be a good option for menopausal women, since it prevents insomnia, lowers blood lipids, and supports healthy brain aging.
26) May Prevent Seizures
Bacopa seems to calm excessive activity in the brain, which might explain its anti-seizure benefits.
In a trial of 50 children, an herbal remedy containing bacopa prevented mild seizures during episodes of fever.
Bacopa also prevented or reduce epileptic seizures in rats. It might work by lowering glutamate and increasing GABA levels in the brain. Its extract also protected rats from depression linked with epilepsy.
Phenytoin, a drug used to treat seizures, may also impair cognition. In mice, Bacopa protected against cognitive impairment caused by phenytoin. It may be a useful add-on to medications for epilepsy, with proper medical supervision.
27) May Prevent Damage from Cigarette Smoke
Exposure to cigarette smoke is an aging accelerator and risk factor for developing heart disease – and many other chronic diseases. Even if you don’t smoke, you can still be exposed to cigarette smoke passively .
Cigarette smoke causes oxidative damage to the mitochondria – your cells’ powerhouses – and brain cells. In rat studies, bacopa protected against damage from cigarette smoke by boosting antioxidant defence.
Bacopa Monnieri Side Effects & Safety
Bacopa is likely safe when used at the recommended doses. Possible side effects are mild and include mild nausea and stomach upset.
In rats, no adverse effects were found at a mega dose of 500 mg/kg body weight.
However, Bacopa reduced fertility and suppressed sperm production in male mice. These effects were reversible and produced no lasting toxicity.
Bacopa may increase the effects of the antidepressant amitriptyline. Talk to your doctor before using bacopa if you are on this drug.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid Bacopa due to the lack of safety data.
Bacopa Monnieri Dosage
The most common dosage across studies was 300-450 mg extract/day.
Check the supplement label to make sure you are getting a product with Bacopa Monnieri. Other Ayurvedic plants are sometimes also called Brahmi, so you should make sure the botanical name is specified.
About the Author Jimmy Julajak MS (Psychology)
Jimmy got his MSc from the University of Copenhagen.
Jimmy is a psychologist and researcher. He is particularly interested in the workings of the brain and strategies for improving brain health. He believes that people shouldn't hand over the responsibility for their health only to their doctors. His aim is to empower each person with easy-to-understand, science-based health knowledge.