What is Bacopa Monnieri: Benefits, Risks, How to use [2023 Nutritionist Reviewed]
Claire is a Registered Naturopathic Nutritionist. Her areas of expertise include children's and women's health. She gives 1-1 consultations and also delivers webinars, presentations and training on Children's optimal nutrition, for several companies.
Table of contents
|The ingredient is also known as
Brahmi (Named after the supreme god Brahma).
Herb of grace
|Available Bacopa Monnieri forms
|Capsules, powder and tablets
|Poor bioavailability due to poor aqueous solubility, however solubility enhancement is possible
|Water-soluble or fat-soluble
|Fat soluble. So should be taken with a healthy fat source like organic, cold-pressed virgin olive oil or coconut oil, for maximum absorption
|Health benefits associated with Bacopa Monnieri
Antioxidant, enhances focus and cognitive function, boosts memory, anxiety and stress relief, lower blood pressure, anti-depressant, reduce stress.
As B.M. is an adaptogenic herb, it helps prevent the chemical and physical effects of stress. Instead of just supressing them.
Undoes the damage to the brain caused by chronic stress and helps to keep it healthy.Works with the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), a powerful antioxidant, to protect the brain from free radicals.
|Year ingredient discovered
|Around the 6th century A.D. Originally from the wetlands of India and other countries in southeast Asia
|Bacopa Monnieri mostly used in
|Supplements - particularly nootropics. As well as its common use in Ayurvedic medicine and culture.
Of Bacopa Monnieri containing 45% bacosides (bioactive component)
Of Bacopa Monnieri containing 20% bacosides (bioactive component)
200 – 450 mg per day
If taking high doses, it is recommended to split doses evenly in AM and early PM.
|Daily reference intake
|Does the human body produce this ingredient
|The half-life of Bacopa Monnieri
|12-15 hours. Effects are felt for some people in as little as 2 weeks and several studies have been carried out, measuring the effects after 12 weeks of use
|Signs of Bacopa Monnieri deficiency
|Side effects of Bacopa Monnieri
Rare when taken as directed but can sometime cause stomach upset. If side effects occur, reduce dosage or stop supplement. Ensure taken with food.
1. What is Bacopa Monnieri?
Bacopa Monnieri, pronounced ba·co·pa mo·nier·ee, can also be found under the names of brahmi, water hyssop, herb of grace, thyme-leaved gratiola and Indian pennywort. You may also hear of this herb being referred to as Bacopa Monniera Linn. It is a perennial, creeping, aquatic herb that is native to the wetlands and marshes of India, other south Asian countries, Australia, Africa and many other locations across the world1. Its alternative name of ‘Brahmi’ derives from Brahma (one of the major gods of Hinduism) known to be the creator of the universe and all beings within it2. It has been used since ancient times, primarily known to enhance cognitive function. Ayurvedic medicine has utilised Brahmi for thousands of years, only recently being more well recognised for its adaptogenic effects and benefits as a nootropic.
Brahmi interacts with the serotonin and dopamine systems within the body, but it also promotes neuron communication3.
A similar herb called gotu kola can also come under the name of Brahmi, so the two are not to be confused with one another. However, gotu kola also serves certain mind supportive qualities so may be used as a substitute where Bacopa is not available, or it can be found combined with Bacopa (as seen in Feels Moodtropics4).
2. What forms of Bacopa Monnieri are there?
Bacopa is most commonly found in capsules but is also available in powdered form. Traditionally it was used as a powder, created from the whole bacopa plant being ground down and then ingested orally, but in some cases it was applied topically as a paste. However, in recent years (especially in the western world) Bacopa supplements and powders are typically made from the leaves and stems rather than the entirety of the plant as seen in the past.
Bacopa helps other nootropics work optimally by clearing the way of oxidative stress and inflammation. Bacopa has several different preparations in Ayurvedic medicine which can be found below:
- Brahmi Ghrita - Bacopa in clarified butter used for mental illnesses
- Sarasvatarishta is a decoction containing a multitude of herbs which is used as a brain tonic
- Brahmi Taila is an Ayurvedic oil which is massaged into the scalp to relieve stress and in turn improves cognitive function
- Brahmi Sharbat - a sweet drink that reduces mental fatigue and therefore enhances concentration
3. The benefits of Bacopa Monnieri according to Ayurveda
Ayurveda is an ancient holistic medical system originating in India around 5000 years ago. It is derived from two terms; Ayur - meaning life, and Veda - knowledge. Together this brings about the meaning of the word Ayurveda - the science/knowledge of life, which had a great impact upon other long standing systems of medicine, such as those in China and ancient Greece. It allows us to focus on the root cause of disease and live life according to our individual blueprints (or constitutions as known in Ayurveda).
The use of Bacopa in the history of Ayurvedic medicine doesn’t have a specific date, but it has been noted to have been in use for medicinal purposes since the 6th century5. It is a Rasayana herb which is comprised of two words - ‘rasa’ meaning intrinsic body fluid, and ‘ayana’ translating to path. Rasayana herbs are said to strengthen immunity, protecting the body from infection6. In fact, bacopa monnieri is also part of the coveted Medhya Rasayana group, along with Ashwagandha. “Medha’ means mind, so being used for those needing a mental boost.
In Ayurveda we can learn about doshas and Bacopa is balancing to all three of the doshas due to its bitter, sweet and cooling properties. The three dosha types are Vata, Pitta and Kapha, with Brahmi being particularly beneficial to the Pitta and Kapha types with its ability to help in memory retention and focus. There are many free online tests that you can access if you are interested in delving deeper into your dominant dosha type.
Brahmi is a cooling herb for the nervous system that is supportive for nervous depletion (manifesting as mental or physical fatigue). Nervous depletion can occur when there is mental attachment to a behavioural pattern which isn’t beneficial to ones health, or due to any form of excessive emotional stress. An example of this could be binge eating or addiction to alcohol.
Brahmi supports those with mental or emotional imbalances which can be brought on by the smallest life events all the way to big traumas that can be experienced by many. If you are facing emotional imbalance then you may be feeling an internal struggle or experiencing symptoms such as tense muscles and irritability, however this is nothing to worry about. It is always best when you notice these signs early on as it is still easily achievable to overcome this state of imbalance within the physical body by taking herbs like Brahmi for example.
Bacopa has also shown benefits in its use in treating Autism, Alzheimer’s disease and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)7. There is a pilot study providing results for the success of Bacopas use for ADHD due to a blend of its cognitive enhancing and sedative effects. Study shows that total ADHD scores decreased by 66% thanks to the inclusion of Brahmi8.
4. What is Bacopa Monnieri used for and what are the benefits?
The benefits and mechanisms of action of Bacopa include but are not limited to:
- Reduction in oxidative stress
- Cognitive enhancement
- Use as a natural antidepressant
- Anxiolytic effects
- Assistance with high blood pressure
Oxidative stress: Bacopa is an antioxidant. Antioxidants donate an electron to free radicals which are uncharged and highly reactive molecules that are missing an electron in their outer shell. This is how it is beneficial in reducing oxidative stress as Bacopa monnieri extract supplementation has been said to support antioxidant defence pathways. Animal studies have shown that the antioxidant activity of Bacopa may explain this herb’s neuroprotective antioxidant effects, as well as the fact that it may increase antioxidant activity by protecting the central and peripheral nervous systems9.
Cognitive enhancement: Brahmi has been shown to improve circulation to the brain which positively impacts cognitive functions by improving movement between nerve cells in the brain. If you are leading up to exams, a project at work, or something which requires extra brain power, then Brahmi is a great choice for boosting brain performance and improving your abilities to learn and memorise. In 2001 a double-blind study took place providing findings that learning rates increased after supplementation of Bacopa monnieri10.
Brahmi balances the response of stress hormones so can act as a form of natural stress relief. If the activity of certain enzymes involved in the stress response can be altered, then brain function may be improved. This means that bacopa may help when under stress. Scientific evidence suggests that the use of extract of bacopa in healthy adults engaging in multiple tasks, has positive cognitive effects and mood effects as well as a reduction in cortisol levels11.
Older adults may begin to face cognitive decline and memory impairment with age, but clinical trials on older individuals have provided results showing that cognitive function can be improved. If an individual is facing age-related decline of the brain, it is still possible to increase both serotonin and dopamine levels, optimising both brain health and brain function. Bacopa monnieri can help with this as the neurotransmitters and growth factors in the brain respond to supplementation of this wonder herb12. Both neuroscience and behavioural studies suggest this.
Blood pressure: There are limited studies indicating the benefits of Bacopa on blood pressure, however, findings have shown that it can decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure13.
5. How does Bacopa work?
There are active constituent compounds found within Bacopa Monnieri known as Bacosides. Bacoside A contains a mixture of 4 saponins, which is mainly what this herbs memory enhancing effects are attributed to14.
Bacopa helps with stress due to its adaptogenic properties. This means that it helps us adapt to stressful situations by normalising our physiological response to stress. Many herbs that are in use in Ayurveda have beneficial adaptogenic properties including ashwaganda, ginseng, and astragalus. You may have heard of the term adaptogen or adaptogenic more frequently within the past year as we are all seeking ways to lower our stress levels. This is due to the known impact of stress upon our health and the awareness that we are in a world full of overstimulation which our bodies are yet to adapt to.
Bacopa has cleansing properties which means that it has the ability to clear aluminium and calcium from the brain. This brings us back to the notion of Bacopa helping with Alzheimer’s as a link has been found between neurodegenerative diseases and aluminium. You can also support your body in order to avoid excess aluminium and possible metal toxicity in the system by consuming less food in aluminium tins and not cooking in or covering your food with aluminium foil. Bacopa may also help with Alzheimer’s disease as it can protect brain cells from chemicals involved in the disease.
Monnieri works in the body by suppressing acetylcholinesterase activity. Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme that is mainly found at postsynaptic neuromuscular junctions, breaking down acetylcholine (a naturally occurring neurotransmitter) into acetic acid and choline. As a result, cholinergic (‘relating to nerve cells in which acetylcholine acts as a neurotransmitter’) function is enhanced, which in turn improves attention and memory processing, giving rise to the increased working memory15.
6. Is Bacopa Monnieri effective?
Lorazepam (Ativan) is a drug commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, but Phytomedicine (a peer reviewed medical journal) showed that the calming effects of Bacopa are equal to the drug Lorazepam. Yet with Bacopa, you have the added benefit of not facing the side effects that Ativan may bring. So it’s lower risk and more of a win win.
A study provides findings that acute stress can be reduced with the use of bacopa.
A placebo controlled trial carried out to evaluate the effects of Bacopa monnieri on cognitive function and its safety and tolerability in healthy elderly people, provided results indicating that it is beneficial for enhancing cognitive performance. Every year, more research is published on this amazing adaptogen and its multitude of benefits.
7. What is a good Bacopa Monnieri supplement and where can I find it?
Feel has created two products containing Bacopa. One is called Feel Moodtropics and the other, Feel Focus. Feel Moodtropics is a plant derived nootropic supplement designed to support cognition, mental clarity and calmness, whereas Feel Focus is an amalgamation of ingredients created to assist brain health and a range of cognitive abilities16. Both of these products can be purchased directly through Feels’ website.
If you don’t get on well with swallowing capsules then you’re in luck, as Feel Moodtropics and Feel Focus capsules can simply be opened and sprinkled onto food or into shakes or smoothies. By consuming the contents of the capsule as a powder, it is likely that you’re increasing the absorption rate of the product too, just don’t forget to include some fat in your meal or snack.
8. How do I take Bacopa Monnieri?
As Bacopa Monnieri is fat-soluble, it is best that you take it alongside food for optimal absorption. This is why in Ayurvedic medicine one preparation of the herb is with ghee - a clarified butter commonly used in South Asian cooking.
If you are taking Bacopa primarily to enhance memory and concentration for work/study purposes, then aim to take it for at least a week before your project or exam starts to allow it to have time to work within your system.
It is to be taken orally as a capsule and will have enhanced benefits if taken in combination with other nootropic herbs in a single capsule.
If you are taking it as a powder then dissolve in water and drink, whether that is in isolation or mixed in with a smoothie or juice. Avoid mixing with anything warm as this can damage the herb, which will lead to lessened effects within the body.
9. How long does it take for Bacopa Monnieri to work?
Consistency is always key with any supplement or healthy habit that you are introducing into your life, so it is essential to take daily to feel and notice benefits. You may feel changes within 1-2 weeks depending on the dosage, otherwise it can take up to 3 months in order to fully optimise the healing powers of this herb.
10. How much Bacopa Monnieri do I need to take to feel the benefits and how long does it take for your body to absorb it?
There isn’t a set dosage for Brahmi consumption, however the typical recommended dosage if you are taking bacopa containing 45% bacosides is 200 – 450 mg per day. The lower the percentage of bacosides, then the higher the mg value will be, as you need to take more of a supplement that is of a lower strength.
11. What are the side effects of Bacopa Monnieri?
Bacopa is a safe herb to take but as always, we must be aware of possible side effects that could occur. These include:
- Diarrhoea/increased bowel movements
If you experience any of these side effects, we recommend to reduce dosage or stop the supplement altogether. Please seek medical advice if any of these symptoms begin to worsen or continue after ceasing supplementation.
12. What are the signs of Bacopa Monnieri deficiency?
Bacopa Monnieri isn’t an essential vitamin or mineral, so you can’t be deficient in it and there are no signs of deficiency. However, it does consist of highly beneficial properties for many people and this means that it’s a herb you can lean to when feeling anxious or facing depression. Symptoms of this may include a loss of appetite, sleeping difficulties and lowered sex drive amongst others. Please contact your GP if you are worried about symptoms of anxiety and depression.
13. What are the risks and warnings associated with taking Bacopa Monnieri?
There is a clinical trial by Singh and Dhawan using single-dose bacosides A and B in 31 healthy males. It provides results that there were no adverse effects, as well as a multiple dosage trial reporting no abnormalities.
Having said this, supplements must always be taken with caution and it is recommended to do your own research first. It is advised not to take Bacopa whilst pregnant, if you’re a nursing mother, or to be given to children.
14. Interactions and contraindications when taking Bacopa Monnieri?
Medications that act on neurotransmitters may interact with bacopa so it is always best to check with your healthcare provider before taking a new supplement. There isn’t any direct evidence to show interactions, however thyroid hormones and drugs that inhibit acetylcholine may react with Brahmi.
15. How and where to find out more information about Bacopa Monnieri?
If you are keen to learn more about this wonderfully diverse herb then you can read the product information on Feels website as well as watching the product information video for Feel Moodtropics. Many ancient Ayurvedic texts and books contain in-depth information surrounding the benefits of Brahmi and the history of this herb, whilst scientific and more modern day studies can be found online as well. Search for Kumar, Singh for more detailed studies.
- A Pukka Life: Finding Your Path to Perfect Health by Sebastian Pole)