Bacopa monnieri, sometimes called Brahmi or water hyssop, has been used as a medicinal tonic in the Ayurvedic medical tradition for centuries. Now, laboratory testing has revealed the underlying mechanisms behind many impressive bacopa benefits.
Bacopa can treat a wide range of health issues—we’re talking everything from chronic pain to sexual performance problems—but in this article, we’re focusing on the ways it can benefit your brain. Plus, we’ll cover possible bacopa side effects so you know what to expect if you decide to give this exciting herbal treatment a try.
5 Bacopa Benefits for Your Brain
Bacopa has traditionally been used in Ayurveda to sharpen your memory, quell anxiety, improve concentration, and increase learning capacity, among other things. Many of the studies done to date have used animal subjects, though a few smaller studies with human participants have also been published.
Here are five of the most exciting ways research shows bacopa can benefit your brain.
1. Enhances Memory
Studies indicate that bacosides, chemical compounds found in bacopa, promote kinase functioning in our brains. This can improve memory retention, proving especially beneficial to individuals who struggle with short-term forgetfulness.
The results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial showed that taking a bacopa supplement could lead to significant improvements in memory, verbal learning abilities, and speed of information processing.
2. Relieves Depression and Anxiety
One study compared the effects of bacopa extract to lorazepam (brand name: Ativan), a benzodiazepine used to treat panic attacks and other acute anxiety symptoms. The authors found that bacopa extract had a comparable effect with no unwanted side effects. They also noted that a clear advantage bacopa has over benzodiazepines and many other conventional anxiety treatments is that it promotes cognitive function rather than causing the fuzziness that often accompanies prescription anxiety drugs.
A separate study looked at the use of bacopa extract to relieve symptoms of depression compared to the standard antidepressant drug imipramine. This study also found that bacopa matched the effects of the pharmaceutical option and showed promise as a means of significantly reducing symptoms of depression.
3. Improves Your Stress Response
Stress, especially when it’s severe, long-lasting, or both, doesn’t just affect us mentally—it can actually change the physical state of our bodies. Bacopa is what’s known as an adaptogen, a class of herbs and roots that can help bring your body back into balance while you’re under stress.
Researchers have begun to probe the chemical mechanisms behind bacopa’s stress-relieving effects. One study found that bacopa can significantly decrease physical markers of stress, while another study identified clear changes in activity in different areas of the brain. Though both used rats as subjects, the results indicate that taking bacopa can help your body and mind stay calm in the midst of a stressful situation.
4. Protects Your Brain from Cognitive Decline
A 2017 study showed that bacopa has seriously impressive abilities when it comes to warding off cognitive damage. Oxidative stress contributes to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as numerous other adverse health conditions. Thanks to its antioxidant capacity, bacopa can reduce free radical generation, which lowers oxidative stress levels.
The study found that bacopa has comparable neuroprotective effects to three of the top drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s. Taking bacopa improved total memory scores and no concerning side effects have been observed.The authors concluded that it appears to be a promising way to prevent cognitive impairment.
5. Safely Treats ADHD Symptoms
Common symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) include restlessness, difficulty focusing, and hasty decision-making. It can be especially challenging to find effective ADHD treatments for children that aren’t accompanied by intolerable side effects. Plus, many conventional ADHD medications can be quite addictive.
A trial done with bacopa extract found that it could significantly reduce ADHD symptoms. Of the children enrolled in the trial, 93% had lower scores for restlessness at its conclusion, 89% had improved self-control, and 78% had fewer learning problems.
Are There Bacopa Side Effects?
Now that we’ve covered bacopa monnieri benefits, let’s talk about side effects. Research so far shows that the recommended therapeutic doses of bacopa monnieri—typically between 300 milligrams and 700 milligrams per day—are well-tolerated. No serious side effects have been reported.
It’s best to take bacopa with food, as it’s more likely to cause nausea, stomach cramps, bloating, and diarrhea when taken on an empty stomach. In some cases, it also causes dry mouth and fatigue. Exercise caution when combining it with other medications, supplements, or herbal remedies that can have a sedative effect, since that may be intensified. It can also interact with thyroid medications, so if your take those, be sure to consult your prescribing doctor before trying bacopa.