Bacopa is an herbal supplement that balances levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, exerting a positive influence on mood, motivation, and memory.
What you’ll learn about the benefits of bacopa in this article:
- Traditional bacopa benefits and uses
- How bacopa balances neurotransmitters and stress hormones
- The many ways bacopa is an all-around brain booster
- How to choose bacopa supplements to get maximum benefits
- Bacopa dosages, side effects, and interactions
Bacopa is a foundational herbal remedy in the ancient healing traditions of both China and India.
Bacopa is neither stimulating nor sedating, but works by bringing the body and mind into a state of balance.
It’s highly prized as a brain tonic for reducing stress and anxiety, boosting mental energy and clarity, and protecting the brain from aging.
Bacopa can improve attention, memory, and the ability to learn in seniors, children, and everyone in between. (1)
This versatility makes it a popular addition to both nootropic formulas and brain supplements that address age-related mental decline.
When tested against two very different kinds of cognitive enhancers — the ancient herbal remedy ginseng and the popular smart drug Modafinil — bacopa was found to be superior to both of them! (4)
Let’s take a closer look at this traditional herb to see why it deserves a place on any list of top brain supplements.
Traditional Uses and Benefits of Bacopa
Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is a creeping herb with white flowers and small fleshy leaves that grows in bogs and wetlands on every inhabited continent.
It’s of major importance in India’s traditional Ayurvedic system of healing.
It also goes by the name brahmi after Brahmā, the Hindu god of creation. (5)
Its use as a nerve and brain tonic goes back at least 3,000 years.
It was given to children to boost their brainpower.
According to legend, it was used by ancient scholars to memorize lengthy hymns and scriptures.
But while the ancients understood the uses and benefits of bacopa, they didn’t know how it worked.
12 Bacopa Benefits for Brain Health
Bacopa contains a unique group of bioactive compounds called bacopasides. (8)
Around a dozen bacopasides have been identified so far; the two main ones are bacopaside A and bacopaside B.
Together these two compounds make up a substantial 8% of bacopa’s dry weight.
The bacopasides seem to be responsible for most of bacopa’s major benefits and many bacopa supplements will mention their bacopaside content on the label.
Here are some of bacopa’s unique benefits and mechanisms that make it an exceptional brain supplement.
1. Bacopa increases resilience to stress.
Bacopa belongs to a small group of herbs known as adaptogens.
Adaptogens make you more resilient to stress and promote overall health by bringing the body into a state of balance called homeostasis.
Homeostasis is your body’s ability to actively maintain a stable internal environment, such as keeping your body temperature relatively constant.
Like all adaptogenic herbs, bacopa balances the level of the potentially damaging stress hormone cortisol and supports healthy adrenal function. (9)
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The adrenal glands are an important part of a properly functioning stress response system.
Adaptogens have the unique ability to simultaneously calm a stressed mind and increase energy without being either sedating or stimulating.
In many ways, adaptogens act like a thermostat that keeps you in an emotional “comfort zone.”
It’s this ability to restore balance that makes bacopa equally beneficial for both anxiety and depression. (10)
2. Bacopa balances neurotransmitter levels.
Another way bacopa brings you into balance is by regulating neurotransmitters, biochemicals that brain cells use to communicate with each other.
Neurotransmitters regulate your mood, appetite, energy, libido, motivation, propensity to addictions, and more.
They control your ability to focus, concentrate, learn, remember, and turn off your mind when you want to relax or go to sleep.
Bacopa is a master neurotransmitter regulator that dials their production up or down as needed.
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In this way, bacopa brings the levels of major neurotransmitters — serotonin, dopamine, and GABA — into balance. (11)
Serotonin is the main brain chemical of happiness.
Dopamine is essential for feeling productive and motivated.
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) calms the mind and puts the brakes on brain activity when needed.
Bacopa also increases the level of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter of memory and learning. (12)
Symptoms of low levels of acetylcholine are typical of what are considered “senior moments” — struggling to find the right word, constantly losing things, and not remembering what you’ve just read.
Without adequate acetylcholine, your brain can’t turn short-term memories into long-term ones. (13)
Since Alzheimer’s patients typically have extremely low acetylcholine levels — usually around 10% of normal — it’s suspected that this brain chemical plays a significant role in Alzheimer’s. (14)
Related article —
How Acetylcholine Deficiency Impacts Memory
3. Bacopa increases cerebral blood flow.
Bacopa increases blood flow to the brain.
4. Bacopa encourages new nerve cell formation.
Bacopa has been found to encourage the growth of new nerve endings called dendrites.
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5. Bacopa is a potent antioxidant.
Free radicals are unattached oxygen molecules that damage and age all cells, especially brain cells.
6. Bacopa is anti-inflammatory.
When the immune system becomes overactive, it results in chronic inflammation.
This can happen anywhere in the body, including in the brain.
7. Bacopa acts as an antidepressant.
Several of bacopa’s bacopasides exhibit antidepressant properties.
Bacopa has been shown in clinical trials to reduce symptoms of both depression and anxiety. (23)
8. Bacopa protects the brain from aluminum toxicity.
9. Bacopa protects against memory loss caused by medications.
Bacopa can offset the memory loss caused by medications that are anticholinergic.
Anticholinergic drugs cause memory loss by blocking the action of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter of memory and learning. (28)
These drugs are surprisingly common and include many of those which start with “anti” such as antihistamines, antidepressants, antipsychotics, antibiotics, antispasmodics, or antihypertensives.
10. Bacopa increases brain plasticity.
Brain plasticity is the brain’s ability to keep changing, growing, and forming new neural pathways throughout your lifetime.
Bacopa enhances brain plasticity by increasing the formation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that encourages the formation of new brain cells. (29)
11. Bacopa may help with Alzheimer’s disease.
Beta amyloid plaque buildup in the brain is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Bacopa has been shown to reduce these plaques in the brains of mice by 60%. (30)
Additionally, bacopa corrects low levels of BDNF which has also been linked to Alzheimer’s.
12. Bacopa can help childhood ADHD and dyslexia.
Unlike most other brain supplements, bacopa has actually been studied in children — clearly a testament to its safety!
While the mechanism is not yet understood, bacopa has been found to be a safe and effective natural remedy for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In one clinical trial, 85% of children who were given BacoMind, a patented form of bacopa, experienced a reduction in ADHD symptoms, including restlessness, impulsiveness, self control, and learning problems. (31)
Numerous studies have found bacopa to be helpful for both children and adults with dyslexia. (32)
Bacopa’s benefits for dyslexia patients include improvements in memory, attention span, concentration, perception, reaction and performance times, and retention of new information.
How to Choose a Bacopa Supplement for Maximum Benefits
Bacopa is a very popular ingredient found in many brain supplements.
It’s also available as a single-ingredient supplement.
Bacopa supplements are almost always sold in the form of capsules and only occasionally as a liquid extract or powder since it doesn’t taste very good.
To be sure you are getting genuine bacopa, look for a supplement that specifically states Bacopa monnieri on the label.
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Bacopa can easily be confused with gotu kola (Centella asiatica), another Ayurvedic remedy that shares the common name brahmi.
You’ll find that bacopa supplements are offered as either standardized extracts or whole herbs, or sometimes as both as seen in the label below.
Reading a bacopa label can be confusing.
Let’s take a look at what this one means.
This product contains two forms, both a standardized extract and whole plant powder.
Bacopa saponins is a general term for the bacopasides, bacopa’s main active ingredients.
This extract is standardized to 24% bacopa saponins.
The whole plant powder contains only 2% bacopa saponins.
There are arguments for the relative benefits of both standardized extracts and whole plants.
Virtually all research on bacopa is done using standardized extracts which contain significantly more bacopasides than whole plant powder.
But traditional herbalists generally prefer using the whole plant, or plant parts such as leaves, flowers, or roots.
Their rationale is that by using the whole plant, you benefit from any potential synergistic effects of all naturally occurring compounds, including any compounds not yet discovered.
This product seeks to deliver at least some of the benefits of both.
But note that since the ideal extract is standardized at 55%, this means that you must take twice as much to get a similar amount of bacopasides.
Why Buying Organic Bacopa Matters
A benefit of bacopa is that it can suck up excess minerals from your brain, but it does the same thing when planted in the ground.
For this reason, buying organic bacopa supplements is strongly recommended.
Another way to assure quality is to look for a supplement that contains one of the patented brands of bacopa — Bacognize, KeenMind, Synapsa, and BacoMind.
With these patented products, you’ll get what’s on the label and be assured of product purity.
BacoMind is unique in that it’s a patented full-spectrum extract that contains 9 bioactive compounds derived from bacopa, not just bacopasides.
Additionally, the companies behind these products have conducted clinical trials.
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Studies on healthy adults using Synapsa showed significant improvements in visual processing, working memory, information retention, and mental performance in mentally demanding environments.
Research on Bacognize has shown it to be beneficial for focus, attention, short-term memory, processing speed, and mood, as well as being neuroprotective.
The manufacturer of KeenMind has been conducting research for 40 years and has found it enhances memory retention and recall, improves mental clarity and focus, and assists learning, concentration and attention.
Some companies go the extra mile and publish a heavy metal analysis on their site like this one.
Another way to find high-quality bacopa supplements is to check out Labdoor.com‘s analysis of bacopa supplements.
This company does much of your due diligence for you.
They buy popular brand supplements off the shelf, then send them to an FDA-registered laboratory to have them tested for label accuracy, product purity, and more.
One last tip to get the most from your bacopa: once you’ve brought your bottle of bacopa supplements home, keep it in a cool and dark location (bacopa is not heat stable).
Bacopa Supplement Dosages
The standard daily dose for Bacopa monnieri is 300 mg if standardized to 55% bacopasides. (38)
To achieve an equivalent bacopaside content, you’d need to take a daily dose of 750 to 1,500 mg of bacopa leaf or whole bacopa powder.
The University of Maryland’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide recommends splitting your doses into 100 mg of bacopa taken three times per day, one dose with each meal. (39)
Note that bacopa is not a quick fix.
While its anti-anxiety effects are usually evident immediately, it can take two to three months to experience maximum cognitive-enhancing benefits.
Bacopa Side Effects and Interactions
Bacopa is considered very safe, safe enough to give to children. (40)
And unlike many drugs and supplements, bacopa mixes well with others.
In fact, it’s been found to work synergistically to enhance the benefits of curcumin, green tea polyphenols, ashwagandha and milk thistle.
The rare side effects of bacopa such as dry mouth, nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea can largely be avoided by taking it along with meals. (41)
Historically, traditional practitioners understood this and administered bacopa cooked with ghee or added to milk.
Since bacopa is fat soluble, cooking it would have also increased its bioavailability.
Taking bacopa along with a meal that includes some fat will almost certainly help it work better for you too.
Do not take bacopa along with antihistamines, antidepressants, glaucoma medications, drugs taken for Alzheimer’s, or thyroid hormones without talking to your doctor. (42)
Bacopa can alter the effectiveness of these drugs or amplify their side effects.
If you drink caffeine for its brain-boosting effects, know that bacopa may nullify them.
Bacopa has been found to lower sperm count in animals, but does not seem to affect testosterone or libido in humans.
Since there’s little information on taking bacopa during pregnancy, it’s best to avoid it while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Bacopa should be avoided if you have bradycardia, ulcers, asthma, emphysema, or thyroid disorders. (43)
Bacopa Benefits: The Bottom Line
Bacopa is an herbal brain tonic with a long history of use that is widely used as a cognitive enhancer today.
It’s well regarded as an adaptogen and as a versatile nootropic.
It balances levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones.
Bacopa protects the brain from the damaging effects of stress, free radicals, inflammation, and environmental toxins.
And it’s safe enough to be used by more vulnerable age groups such as children and seniors.
Supplementing with bacopa is an excellent choice if you have anxiety, depression, ADHD, memory loss accompanied by burdensome stress, or are seeking to prevent or minimize age-related mental decline.