Bacopa monnieri is a creeping herb native to the warm wetlands of South India and found throughout much of the world . Historically, it has been used extensively as a neurological tonic and cognitive enhancer in Ayurveda, or traditional Indian herbal medicine. There has been a growing body of peer-reviewed clinical trials and science around Bacopa (especially the isolations of its chemicals, called bacosides) for its neuroprotective and antioxidant properties as well as its enhancement of cognitive function.
While bacopa monnieri has various positive effects, the most prominent effect is enhancement of memory. There is also a growing body of evidence that there are positive long-term effects on attention, mental speed, and visual perception.
Is it safe? Are there side effects?
Bacopa monnieri is approved as a dietary supplement component under provisions of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.
A study of 98 people over the age of 55 reported increased gastrointestinal side effects compared to placebo.
Effects on Cognition
There have been various scientific studies of the effects of bacopa monnieri on healthy human subjects.
Most cognitive studies involving bacopa monnieri studied the effects on memory.
A study on 107 volunteers ages 18-60 found that bacopa monnieri enhanced working memory. Participants consumed either 150 mg of bacopa monnieri or a placebo pill twice daily for 90 days, and underwent a test battery before and after the treatment period. A significant improvement in spatial working memory was found for the experimental group. There were no significant effects on speed of memory, or secondary memory.
Improvements in memory acquisition were shown by an increased ability to recall words learned over time. Memory retention was improved as well, since recall of the words fared better even with interference. These effects were measured by the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (AVLT).
A meta-analysis of six studies found that consumption of 300-450 mg of bacopa monnieri daily over a 12-week period improved memory free recall in 9 or 17 tests. There were significant differences in performance on the auditory verbal learning test (AVLT) (measuring free recall memory), delayed recall task (measuring associative memory), digit span test (measuring memory span) and visual retention tasks (measuring visual memory). A study of healthy volunteers showed that consumption of 300 mg of bacopa daily over the span of 12 weeks led to improvements in learning rate and memory consolidation as measured by the AVLT. This result was supported by a study of 54 individuals 65 and over without dementia, which achieved a similar conclusion.
A study on 107 healthy volunteers did not find a significant effect of bacopa monnieri on accuracy or speed of attention, as measured by reaction times in the rapid visual information processing (RVIP) and digit vigilance tasks. A meta-analysis of healthy volunteers consuming 300-450 mg of bacopa daily for up to 12 weeks, showed that there were no effects on attention.
A meta-analysis of healthy volunteers consuming 300-450 mg of bacopa daily for up to 12 weeks, showed that visual perception was increased with bacopa, as measured by the rapid visual information processing task (RVIP). A study of healthy volunteers showed that consumption of 300 mg of bacopa daily over the span of 12 weeks, led to improvements in the RVIP.
A meta-analysis of healthy volunteers consuming 300-450 mg of bacopa daily for up to 12 weeks showed that visual perception was increased with bacopa, as measured by the inspection time task.
A study of healthy volunteers showed that consumption of 300 mg of bacopa daily over the span of 12 weeks, led to improvements in state anxiety compared to placebo, as measured by the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. The maximal effects were felt after 12 weeks. A study of 54 individuals 65 and older without dementia found that ingestion of 300 mg bacopa daily over 12 weeks led to decreased depression scores on the CESD-10 depression test, and decreased scores for combined state plus trait anxiety scores in the State Trait Anxiety Inventory.
Effects on Medical Conditions
There have been studies of the effects of bacopa monnieri on aspects of various medical conditions. Several studies have suggested that bacopa monnieri extracts may have protective effects against neurodegeneration
There is a growing body of evidence that bacopa monnieri has positive effects on Alzheimer’s patients and corresponding animal models.
In animal studies, bacopa has been shown to reduce beta-amyloid levels, as well as increase iron levels and inhibit lipid peroxidation.
Bacopa was found to improve spatial memory in a rat model for Alzheimer’s, as measured by escape latency time (p<.01) in the Morris water maze test. Furthermore, this study found mitigated degeneration of neurons and cholinergic neuron densities, both of which are progressively lost in human patients.
In human studies, there is evidence in support of bacopa for improving Alzheimer’s patients’ cognition. A study of 39 patients showed that taking 300 mg of bacopa monnieri over a period of 6 months resulted in improvement in cognitive functions as measured by the Mini Mental State Examination Scale (MMSE) – a common diagnostic procedure for dementia). In particular, there were improvements in attention, orientation of person, place, and time, and language (reading, writing and comprehension). There was not a significant effect on registration, recall and design.
Senile dementia of Alzheimer’s type
Senile dementia of Alzheimer’s type (SDAT) is a condition in older adults characterized by dementia due to physiological aging, namely atrophy of neural tissue and vascular problems such as strokes.
One study in adults with SDAT found that taking a dose of a polyherbal blend including bacopa monnieri, twice daily over 12 months, results in lower levels of inflammation and oxidative stress (measured by C-reactive protein, superoxide dismutase, and tumor-necrosis factor alpha). Furthermore, an improvement in performance on various tasks were exhibited by patients taking the polyherbal blend compared with placebo and the standard pharmacological treatment of donepezil. These tasks included: word recall task, mini mental status examination (MMSE), attention span, and DSS (a subtest of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised).
Structure & Synthesis
Bacopa monnieri is an herbal compound. Usually, bacosides (the main active ingredient in bacopa monnieri) are taken from the plant. There has been some evidence that they may be isolated from marine organisms.
The main active ingredient of bacopa monnieri is bacoside, a specific class of organic compound commonly found in plants. Bacosides are dammarane-type triterpenoid saponins, which are a type of compound characterized by the soap-like foam they produce when placed in water. From a nootropics perspective, these compounds are known as the “actives” extracted from largely non-active plant matter. Typically, 15%-20% of the bacopa monnieri plant is active.
Normally, substances that contain bacopa monnieri have a “rating” that reflects the quality of the bacopa in it. A higher bacosides rating denotes a more pure and potent bacopa ingredient. At Nootrobox, we only source the highest rated bacopa and use UV spectroscopy to guarantee the amount of actives within RISE.
Mechanisms of Action
Generally speaking, bacopa monnieri displays antioxidant and cell-protective effects by absorbing free radicals in cells. The exact mechanism of action of bacopa monnieri is not well understood. However, a growing body of knowledge suggests that bacopa monnieri can modulate the cholinergic system. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter associated with attention and increased firing of neurons.
Bacopa has been implicated in increasing cerebral blood flow, decreasing acetylcholine breakdown by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, and increasing acetylcholine synthesis by activating the enzyme choline acetyltransferase.
As for the antioxidant effects, it is suggested that bacopa monnieri can mediate metal chelation at the initiation level and also inhibit lipid peroxidation. Bacopa monnieri has been found to increase iron (Fe2+) concentrations, increase cell viability, and inhibit lipid peroxidation by up to 80% in rats.