Bacopa has been touted as a memory booster and heavily marketed recently by internet supplement vendors. Today we take a closer look.
Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is a plant which grows throughout Southern Asia, and has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine in India for insomnia, depression, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. Limited studies have shown cognitive improvement in those who take bacopa, which is also sometimes referred to brahmi.
Let’s take a look at some opinions regarding the effectiveness of bacopa on cognition.
On an episode of the Dr. Oz Show, bacopa was highlighted as a memory booster. He said that studies have shown that you can improve your memory by taking it for 12 weeks. A graphic appeared on the screen which highlighted bacopa in the following manner:
- Improves memory & cognitive function
- 300 mg per day
- $12, health food stores & online
Integrative Medicine guru Dr. Andrew Weil published his thoughts on bacopa back in 2006. He implied that bacopa may not be the best strategy for addressing memory problems:
Bacopa is now being widely promoted as a treatment for memory problems, but I would recommend more proven protective strategies. Keep your mind active by reading newspapers and books, doing crossword puzzles, playing musical instruments, participating in ongoing education, and learning a new language.
An Australian science study (Roodenrys, et al.) of 76 adults in 2001 found “a significant effect of the Brahmi on a test for the retention of new information. Follow-up tests showed that the rate of learning was unaffected, suggesting that Brahmi decreases the rate of forgetting of newly acquired information.”
A 12-week scientific study in 2008 (Calabrese, et al) found that those taking 300mg of bacopa a day displayed more advanced word recall memory as compared to those taking a placebo. The study concluded, “This study provides further evidence that B. monnieri has potential for safely enhancing cognitive performance in the aging.”
In its assessment of bacopa, WebMD suggests that bacopa may increase brain chemicals involved in learning, thinking, and memory. Its use for improving memory is listed as “possibly effective.” There are many other suggested uses for bacopa, but these are all listed as having “insufficient evidence” to support.
University of Michigan Health System
The University of Michigan Health System provides some information on how bacopa is thought to work. They report that bacopa may reduce anxiety and depression by enhancing the effects of acetylcholine, serotonin, and/or gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). In addition, they state that bacopa is a powerful antioxidant to the brain, and may also relax muscles which control circulation, digestion, and respiration.
In its rather lengthy summary of bacopa, Examine suggests that bacopa may work by reducing anxiety, which could indirectly help cognition. The editor’s personal note on bacopa states:
I love the de-stressing and anxiolytic effects of Bacopa Monnieri, and I do believe it also increased my cognition; never measured this though, and I could be suffering from ‘Rose colored glasses’. It is returning into my supplement repertoire; to stay this time.Tastes horrible though; try to get capsules rather than tablets or don’t let the tablet touch your tongue for too long. I’ve never seen a powdered supplement, but that would probably be a very bad idea taste-wise.
Bacopa Side Effects
WebMD lists side effects as increased bowel movements, stomach cramps, nausea, dry mouth, and fatigue. Additional precautions include avoidance of bacopa by pregnant or breastfeeding women (due to lack of scientific studies). In addition, those with a slow heart rate or blockages in their intestines should avoid taking bacopa, as it can slow heart rate and may contribute to further intestinal blockage. Patients with ulcers, lung conditions, thyroid disorder, or urinary tract obstruction are also advised to avoid bacopa because it may increase fluid secretions.
The 2008 study cited above only reported stomach upset in its testers.
Examine.com suggests that side effects are worsened if bacopa is taken on an empty stomach.
Bacopa is a trendy supplement made from a plant which has a history of traditional medicinal usage in India. Some science studies have linked bacopa to improved cognitive function and memory. A few minor side effects have been reported. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid taking bacopa. Individuals with slow heart rate, intestinal blockage, ulcers, lung conditions, thyroid disorder, and/or urinary tract obstructions should also avoid bacopa.
Your Bacopa Reviews
Have you used bacopa for memory, learning, or thinking? Tell us of your experience in the comments below.
Updated February 23, 2015
Originally published March 2014