Cognitive Supplement Spotlight, Vol. 2: Bacopa Monniera
This is the second in a regular series on supplements which have been shown, through research and/or traditional use, to support cognitive function. These supplements, along with prescription medications and other substances, are called nootropics. As more and more Americans age and face challenges with memory and mental processing, we are looking for “magic pills” to build up our brainpower and help us keep sharp.
While no one pill can solve aging and reverse cognitive decline, many have been shown to help. I hope to provide commonsense, realistic recommendations for the products I will be reviewing.
Please note that none of these recommendations is meant to replace my basic recommendation of regular exercise (5 times a week, minimum of 30 minutes aerobic plus 15 minutes’ strength training three times a week) and a brain-friendly diet (Ketoflex 12/3 is ideal – contact the office for more info on this), in addition to the ultimate nootropic, sleep.
What is it?
Bacopa Monniera, known by its Sanskrit name Brahmi, is an herb which is gaining increasing attention as a natural means of improving cognitive function. The herb grows in south Asia and in tropical and subtropical areas, including in the US. Bacopa grows in moist soil, in marshes, streams and wells. It is increasingly being cultivated and grown for commercial use. All parts of the plant are used for medicine.
Traditionally, Bacopa has been used as a brain tonic to improve memory development, learning, and concentration, and to provide relief to patients with anxiety or seizure disorders. Its name, Brahmi, means “expands consciousness” in Sanskrit. The plant has also been used in India and Pakistan as a cardiac tonic, digestive aid, and to improve breathing in cases of asthma or bronchitis. Recent research has focused primarily on Bacopa’s cognitive-enhancing effects, specifically memory, learning, and concentration, and results support the traditional Ayurvedic claims.
How Does Bacopa Work?
As with all botanicals, Bacopa contains many active constituents. For cognitive support Bacosides A and B have been shown to be the active constituents of the herb and the subjects of research.
Bacopa has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the brain, preventing damage to neurons. By scavenging free radicals, Bacopa inhibits the damaging effects of beta amyloid and, potentially, tau.
Bacopa is not fat soluble so, unlike Magnesium Threonate, it does not work directly on the cells of the brain. Bacopa increases circulation to the brain, and, by doing so, supports the brain’s activity, specifically with synaptic transmission.
What is the evidence for Bacopa?
Most of the recent clinical studies on Bacopa have looked into how it may help with thinking (cognition), memory, anxiety, and/or depression in healthy volunteers (either elderly or of unspecified age) or in Alzheimer’s patients.
In a 2011 study, 39 Alzheimer’s patients (60-65 years) were given 300 mg of a standardized extract twice daily for 6 months. The subjects improved significantly in various areas, including attention, orientation of person, place, and time, and in reading, writing, and comprehension.
A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study in 2010 took 98 healthy subjects over 55 and measured improvement in memory performance. The study participants were assigned to two groups: one received 300 mg/day of an extract containing 40-50% Bacosides, the other placebo. Treatment lasted 12 weeks. The Bacopa group showed significantly improved memory acquisition and retention. An additional study on the safety of this supplement showed no major adverse effects.
Another study with a placebo group also lasted 12 weeks, and included 48 healthy people 65 years old or older. The extract used was 300 mg and contained 50% Bacosides. Cognitive function and safety were studied. Over the course of the study, the Bacopa group had improved delayed recall memory and task reaction times, while the placebo group showed no change. The Bacopa group also experienced decreased depression and anxiety while the placebo group increased in both.
In another 2008 placebo-controlled study, 62 healthy volunteers were given either 300 mg of a 55% Bacosides extract or placebo daily for 90 days. Participants had cognitive testing at the beginning and end of the study. The Bacopa group experienced significantly improved performance in spatial working memory accuracy (identifying items that had been moved).
What are the side-effects and dosage?
Bacopa has a pretty spotless safety record, having been used in Ayurvedic medicine for at least hundreds of years. As with all medicine, take Bacopa as indicated – more is NOT better. WebMD reports “increased bowel movements, nausea, stomach cramps, fatigue and dry mouth” as common side-effects, so consider reducing your dose or stopping if you experience these.
The recommended dosage for adults is 200-250 mg of capsules containing 20% Bacosides twice a day.
How long before I notice any benefit?
Wait at least a month. I would give it 8-12 weeks.
Does Dr. Goodman have a preferred brand or form that he offers?
I generally use the Pure Encapsulations Bacopa, standardized to 20% Bacosides, 200 mg per capsule. I recommend one capsule twice a day. Other products can have higher Bacosides content and some people may do better with them. If you try one product and see no improvement, you can certainly try another. Feel free to shop my online dispensary to purchase Bacopa or other products.