How Bacopa Benefits Your Brain (detailed guide)

Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC | Written by Deane Alban

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Bacopa is an herbal supplement that balances levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, exerting a positive influence on mood, motivation, and memory.

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 functions of the body and brain 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. 

It can protect the brain from damage now, and from degenerative brain diseases later in life. 

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 herbal remedy ginseng and the popular smart drug modafinil — bacopa was found to be superior to both of them. 

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.

Its use as a nerve and brain tonic goes back at least 3,000 years.

It was given to children to boost their mental performance.

According to legend, it was used by long-ago scholars to memorize lengthy hymns and scriptures.

It was also used to treat anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, and disorders of the heart, lungs, and digestive system. 

But while the ancients understood the uses and benefits of bacopa, they didn’t know how it worked.

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12 Ways Bacopa Benefits Brain Health

We now know that bacopa contains a unique group of bioactive compounds called bacopasides.

Around a dozen bacopasides have been identified so far; the two main ones are bacopaside A and bacopaside B

The bacopasides seem to be responsible for most of bacopa’s major benefits and, consequently, the better bacopa supplements mention their bacopaside content on the label.

Here are some of the unique benefits and mechanisms of bacopa that make it an exceptional brain supplement.

1. Increases Resilience to Stress

Bacopa belongs to a small group of herbs known as adaptogens.

Adaptogens increase resilience to stress and promote overall health by bringing the body into a state of balance known as homeostasis.

Homeostasis is the body’s ability to actively maintain a stable internal environment, such as keeping body temperature relatively constant.

Like all adaptogenic herbs, bacopa helps balance the level of the potentially damaging stress hormone cortisol and helps support healthy adrenal function. 

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 mental 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. 

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2. Balances Neurotransmitter Levels

Another way bacopa brings the body into balance is by regulating neurotransmitters, biochemicals that brain cells use to communicate with each other.

Neurotransmitters regulate 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 regulator that dials neurotransmitter production up or down as needed.

In this way, bacopa brings the levels of major neurotransmitters — serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and acetylcholine — into balance

Serotonin is the main brain chemical associated with feelings of happiness.

Dopamine is essential for feeling productive and motivated.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) calms the mind and reduces brain activity when needed.

" When tested against two very different kinds of cognitive enhancers — the herbal remedy ginseng and the popular smart drug modafinil — bacopa was found to be superior to both of them. 

Acetylcholine is critical for memory and learning

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, the brain can’t turn short-term memories into long-term ones. 

Since Alzheimer’s patients typically have subpar acetylcholine levels, it’s suspected that this brain chemical plays a significant role in Alzheimer’s

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3. Increases Cerebral Blood Flow

Bacopa increases blood flow to the brain. 

This is important because blood transports oxygen, nutrients, hormones, neurotransmitters, and glucose, the brain’s primary energy source.

It also carries away substances that the brain doesn’t need, such as carbon dioxide, toxins, and metabolic waste.

4. Encourages New Nerve Cell Formation

Bacopa has been found to encourage the growth of new nerve endings called dendrites

Dendrites are found at the ends of neurons and are essential for communication between brain cells.

5. Bacopa Is a Potent Antioxidant

Bacopa is a powerful antioxidant that fights the effects of free radical damage to the brain. 

Free radicals are unattached oxygen molecules that damage and age all cells, especially brain cells since they use a disproportionate amount of oxygen.

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.

Bacopa helps calm chronic brain inflammation, a major contributing factor in a wide range of psychological and neurological disorders including depression, anxiety, memory loss, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer’s. 

7. Bacopa Acts as an Antidepressant

Several of bacopa’s bacopasides exhibit antidepressant properties.

In clinical trials, bacopa has been shown to reduce symptoms of both depression and anxiety. 

8. Protects the Brain From Aluminum Toxicity

Bacopa prevents excessive amounts of aluminum from accumulating in the brain

Aluminum is a common, but neurotoxic, metal that causes memory loss and is found in high concentrations in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients

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9. 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 most associated with memory and learning.

These drugs are surprisingly common and include many of those which start with “anti,” such as antihistamines, antidepressants, antipsychotics, antibiotics, antispasmodics, and antihypertensives.

10. Increases Brain Plasticity

Brain plasticity is the brain’s ability to keep changing, growing, and forming new neural pathways throughout a 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. 

11. May Help With Alzheimer’s Disease

An accumulation of beta amyloid plaque 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%. 

Additionally, bacopa corrects low levels of BDNF which has also been linked to Alzheimer’s.

12. Can Help Childhood ADHD and Dyslexia

Unlike most other brain supplements, bacopa has actually been studied in children — 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. 

Numerous studies have found bacopa to be helpful for both children and adults with dyslexia

Bacopa’s benefits for dyslexia patients include improvements in memory, attention span, concentration, perception, reaction and performance times, and retention of new information.

Choosing a Bacopa Supplement for Maximum Benefits

Bacopa is very popular in many multi-ingredient 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 that you are getting genuine bacopa, look for a supplement that specifically states Bacopa monnieri on the label.

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.

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How to Read a Bacopa Supplement Label

Reading a bacopa label can be confusing.

Let’s take a look at a typical bacopa label to see what it all means.

bacopa supplement label
A bacopa supplement label.

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.

According to this product’s label, this manufacturer seeks to deliver at least some of the benefits of both.

Why Your Bacopa Supplement Should Be Organic

A benefit of bacopa is that it can take up excess minerals in your brain, but be aware that it does the same thing when planted in the ground.

The bacopa plant is well known for its tendency to absorb and accumulate heavy metals, including mercury, lead, and arsenic

In fact, it’s been used for removing heavy metals from polluted soil and water

For this reason, buying organic bacopa supplements is strongly recommended.

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Look for These Patented Bacopa Brands

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.

Additionally, the companies behind these products have all conducted trials on human beings.

BacoMind is a patented full-spectrum extract that contains 9 bioactive compounds derived from bacopa, not just bacopasides.

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 that its form of bacopa enhances memory retention and recall, improves mental clarity and focus, and assists learning, concentration, and attention.

Bacopa Supplement Dosages

The typical daily dose for Bacopa monnieri is 300 mg if standardized to 55% bacopasides

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.

It’s generally recommended that you split your doses, taking one dose with each meal.

Note that bacopa is not a quick fix.

While its anti-anxiety effects are usually felt quickly, it can take two to three months to experience maximum cognitive-enhancing benefits.

Once you’ve bought a bottle of bacopa, keep it in a cool and dark location since bacopa supplements are not stable when exposed to heat.

Bacopa Side Effects and Interactions

Bacopa is considered very safe, safe enough to give to children.

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.

Historically, traditional practitioners understood this and administered bacopa cooked with ghee or added to milk.

Since bacopa is fat soluble, cooking it would also have 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. 

Bacopa can alter the effectiveness of these drugs or amplify their side effects.

If you drink caffeine for its performance-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.

Bacopa Benefits: Take the Next Step

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 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 a good choice if you have anxiety, depression, ADHD, memory loss accompanied by excessive stress, or are seeking to prevent or minimize age-related mental decline.

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