Bacopa monnieri is a perennial herb with nootropic and other benefits — and very few side effects or interactions.
Bacopa is called Brahmi in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine, where it has been used to improve mental clarity and treat ulcers, indigestion, tumors, and mental problems.
Today, Bacopa monnieri is drawing the attention of researchers as a potent nootropic herb that may improve cognitive function and support the health of brain cells.
Studies show Bacopa can enhance memory and cognition, reduce stress and anxiety, balance neurotransmitters, protect neurons, and work as an antidepressant. People also use Bacopa for
ADHD, dyslexia, Alzheimer’s dementia, and to reduce inflammation.
Read on for more about the health benefits of Bacopa and how it might help with brain function and stress.
Bacopa monnieri is a perennial, creeping, non-aromatic herb that is native to wetlands in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and North and South America.
Bacopa’s leaves are succulent, oblong, and about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Its flowers are small and white, with four to five petals. It is also grown commercially as a medicinal and nootropic herb. You might see it by other names like water hyssop, thyme-leaved gratiola, herb of grace, or Indian pennywort.
An aquatic plant, Bacopa monnieri mainly grows in swamps, and can even grow in brackish water. Bacopa can be grown hydroponically, as an aquarium plant, or in bog gardens or ponds. Growers often propagate Bacopa plants through cuttings[*].
The earliest recorded mention of Bacopa monnieri occurs in Indian 6th-century holy texts including the Atharva-Veda. Ancient Vedic scholars purportedly used Bacopa to help them memorize lengthy hymns and scriptures.
Bacopa has been used in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, for at least 1400 years. In Ayurvedic medicine, Bacopa is called “Brahmi” after Brahma, the Hindu creator god[*].
Another medicinal herb, Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica), is also called Brahmi, but is unrelated to Bacopa monnieri.
According to Ayurveda, Bacopa is heating, pungent, bitter, emetic, and has laxative effects.
Ayurvedic practitioners consider it useful for ulcers, tumors, enlarged spleen, indigestion, inflammation, leprosy, anemia, and biliousness. For problems of the spirit or psyche, Bacopa is incorporated into ghee (clarified butter), to improve absorption.
Indian practitioners also blend Bacopa with other plants, in a preparation called Bramhi-Ghrita, to support speech disorders, mental tiredness, epilepsy and convulsions, for skincare, reducing blood sugar, digestive issues, and cancer prevention[*].
The herb has also been used in the Unani Perso-Arabic system of traditional medicine, which is based on the teachings of the Greek physician-philosophers Hippocrates and Galen.
In Unani, Bacopa monnieri is known as Jal Brahmi. Unani considers Bacopa bitter, with aphrodisiac properties. It was used to treat scabies, syphilis, diarrhea, fevers, and as a blood purifier.
In traditional systems of medicine, every part of the Bacopa plant has medicinal properties. In India, people also use Bacopa in cooking for flavor and added health benefits.
Traditional systems of medicine use whole Bacopa monnieri or a ghee-based emulsion, but people also take Bacopa in capsules, supplement blends, or extracts. Bacopa extracts come in water-based, alcohol-based, and oil-based varieties.[*]
The herb contains an array of active compounds that can affect your body and brain. Each compound exerts unique effects, as well as synergistic effects when taken together in a Bacopa capsule or extract.
Bacopa monnieri works by changing the levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and acetylcholine in your brain. It also balances stress hormone levels like noradrenaline and corticosterone in animal studies[*].
Not only can it modulate neurotransmitter levels, it may also increase cerebral blood flow and change the translation and expression of specific receptors in your nervous system. This is how Bacopa may improve learning, memory, sleep, relaxation, and mood[*].
According to studies, Bacopa also affects the levels and action of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)[*].
BDNF is associated with increased neuroplasticity (the ability of your brain to change and learn new things) and lower levels of depression. BDNF is also neuroprotective, meaning it protects against injury or damage to your brain and nervous system.
Another way Bacopa monnieri exerts neuroprotective effects is through antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting mechanisms. Bacopa can enhance the function of your body’s natural antioxidant defense system, reducing oxidative damage[*].
Studies show that Bacopa reduces hydrogen peroxide levels, lipid peroxidation, and other measures of oxidative stress that are associated with cell damage and inflammation[*].
#1: Enhancement of Memory and Cognition
Numerous studies support that Bacopa monnieri has a nootropic effect in adults and children, enhancing memory and cognition.
Doses of 320 milligrams or 640 milligrams of Bacopa extract improve multitasking performance and reduce anxiety during demanding cognitive tasks[*].
A meta-analysis of 437 subjects showed that Bacopa improved cognition and decreased choice reaction time[*].
In a 90-day trial, 62 participants given 300 milligrams of Bacopa extract per day experienced improvements in spatial memory, working memory, and rapid visual processing[*].
A review of five studies found Bacopa monnieri improves language skills in children including vocabulary, spelling, processing sounds, and understanding words[*]. It also increases the number of items children can recall during a test[*].
In a study of 300 children, Bacopa improved spatial working memory and strategy[*].
#2: Stress and Anxiety Reduction
Bacopa reduces the perception of stress and anxiety in healthy people as well as people suffering from anxiety. In a double-blind trial, the herb decreased cortisol levels and perceptions of stress during demanding tasks[*].
In people with anxiety and neuroses, long-term Bacopa supplementation enhanced memory and learning[*].
Bacopa monnieri also reduces stress-induced damage to the hippocampus, the primary area of your brain involved in memory formation[*].
#3: Balancing Neurotransmitters and Antidepressant Effects
#4: ADHD and Dyslexia Benefits
In a study of 120 children newly diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), researchers found that an herbal preparation containing Bacopa monnieri improved attention, cognition, and impulse control[*].
Another similar study, of children aged 6-12 who were diagnosed with ADHD before the age of 7, found that Bacopa reduced symptoms of ADHD and that the children tolerated it well[*].
While the benefits of Bacopa for dyslexia have not been studied in clinical trials, preliminary evidence suggests it may be helpful[*].
A review of studies of Bacopa’s effects on children found that it improved their language domain performance[*].
#5: Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Actions
Bacopa monnieri can have a wide range of anti-inflammatory actions in your body and brain, most of which are caused by its antioxidant effects.
An extract of Bacopa promotes scavenging of free radicals and protects brain cells against cytotoxicity (cell toxicity) and DNA damage that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease[*].
Bacopa also has a dose-dependent capacity for scavenging free radicals and preventing DNA damage in prostate glands of aging mice, which may translate to human prostate issues[*].
Early in vitro evidence suggests Bacopa monnieri may reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis[*].
#6: Anti-Aging and Neuroprotective Effects
Inflammation and cell damage appear to be major causes of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and degenerative aging-related brain disease.
Researchers speculate Bacopa could reduce the likelihood or delay the onset of neurodegenerative and other aging-related diseases by reducing chronic inflammation and other effects related to aging[*].
According to a review of six different studies, Bacopa improved memory recall in people with dementia or significant cognitive impairments[*].
Several studies have also found that Bacopa improves cognitive performance in healthy older people. In a study of 136 healthy older people, 300 milligrams of Bacopa monnieri extract caused significant improvements in memory retention and recall[*].
In a study of 35 people over the age of 55, an extract of Bacopa monnieri improved their total memory scores, particularly logical memory and pair associations[*].
#7: Lowering Blood Pressure and Preventing Heart Disease
No large randomized controlled trials have yet demonstrated that Bacopa monnieri is effective in reducing blood pressure and preventing heart disease. However, there is limited human data, as well as animal and in vitro evidence, that supports the possibility.
In postmenopausal women, a Bacopa monnieri extract reduced vLDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure[*].
Bacopa also appears to protect against biochemical changes and heart valve issues in rats with high cholesterol[*].
#8: Asthma and Allergy Benefits
Mast cells produce and release histamine, which is involved in your body’s allergic response. Bacopa acts as a mast cell stabilizer, reducing the production of histamine[*].
In Ayurveda, Bacopa monnieri is used to help with asthma[*]. Rat studies have found that Bacopa induced bronchodilation and reduced exhalation pressure, validating its traditional role in supporting asthma relief[*][*].
#9: Improving Immune Function
#10: Anti-Cancer Effects
Studies of healthy cells and cancerous cells predict that Bacopa monnieri and Bacopa extracts may help prevent cancer by preventing replication of cancer cell lines This can cause cell death of cancer cells and increase antioxidant levels[*][*][*][*].
#11: Antimicrobial Actions
Bacopa monnieri has antimicrobial actions including inhibition of Staphylococcus aureus (staph) Vibro cholera, H. pylori, Salmonella, and E. coli, as well as antifungal activity against Candida and black mold[*][*][*][*][*][*][*].
#12: Gut Health Improvements
A trial with 169 participants demonstrated a possible benefit of Bacopa monnieri in alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)[*].
#13: Liver Protection
Rat studies show that Bacopa protects against acetaminophen- (Tylenol) induced liver damage by increasing antioxidant levels[*].
#14: Effects on Menstrual Cycles and Post-Menopausal Issues
In India, fresh whole Bacopa monnieri plant is crushed and consumed with cows milk to help with irregular menstrual cycles[*].
In postmenopausal women, an extract of Bacopa reduced insomnia, lowered blood pressure, and improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels[*].
Bacopa monnieri is available for purchase in various forms. Dried Bacopa plant is sold as a powder, in capsules, in oils, and in mixed herbal formulations. Bacopa extracts are sold in powdered form in capsules and as a liquid extract.
If you want to try nonstandardized whole leaf Bacopa, try 5 to 10 grams per day (about 1 to 2 heaping teaspoons of dried herb).
With Bacopa extracts, most people start at 300 milligrams per day of 55% bacoside standardized extract.
Children and other sensitive people should start with lower doses.
As always, please consult your doctor before starting any new herb or supplement.
Take Bacopa supplements one to two times per day, before a meal, with a full glass of water. Because Bacopa is fat soluble, it absorbs better if you consume some healthy fats along with it.
In one rat study, researchers found the upper limit was equivalent to a human dosage of 25 grams of whole Bacopa leaf per day[*].
There’s very little evidence that extracts of Bacopa have caused any serious clinical, neurological, or hematological complications, or damage to organs[*].
A study in mice found that Bacopa lowered sperm count but did not otherwise affect fertility or libido, and the effect was reversible[*]. If you are a man who has a low sperm count, or want to get pregnant, you may want to avoid Bacopa.
Interactions and Warnings
Herbs may seem harmless, but they are powerful medicine.
Because it can increase serotonin levels, you should ask your healthcare provider for medical advice if you take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other antidepressants before taking Bacopa[*].
High levels of serotonin can result in a dangerous condition called serotonin syndrome[*].
Bacopa inhibits liver enzymes called cytochrome enzymes that are involved in the metabolism of certain drugs, so ask your doctor for guidance before trying Bacopa monnieri if you are taking prescription drugs[*].
A study of Bacopa with amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant, showed that Bacopa could increase levels of the drug[*].
Takeaway: Should You Try Bacopa Monnieri?
Bacopa monnieri has a long history of medicinal use and a long list of benefits, but if you are a man with a low sperm count, or have pregnancy in mind, you should probably avoid Bacopa since it may temporarily (but reversibly) reduce fertility.
Because Bacopa is unlikely to cause serious side effects, it’s worth a try if you want to enhance your mental acuity, reduce stress levels, or if you suffer from anxiety or depression.
If you are at risk for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, Bacopa may improve your brain function and health by reducing inflammation.
Have you tried Bacopa? What were your thoughts? Share them in the comments below.