Bacopa monniera,also known as water hyssop, or “Brahmi,” in India, is a herb very commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. Bacopa is also being used more and more by Western herbalists and holistic practitioners to enhance memory development, learning, and increase focus; in conditions such as ADHD, and Alzheimer’s Disease. It is also being used to help alleviate anxiety and depression. Bacopa contains compounds which actually help enhance the transmission of nerve impulses. Part of the way this happens is through repairing damaged neurons, and neuronal regeneration.
Bacopa has been studied in adults and children, and long term benefits have been noted in concentration, and memory. Taking the herb, when administered to children in one Indian study was shown to strengthen exploratory drive, improve perceptual pattern recognition and organization, as well as enhance reasoning ability.1 The studied effects seem to occur after prolonged administration. One study found that significant benefits over placebo occurred only after 12 weeks, suggesting that the positive effects are coming from functional changes, and not a direct biochemical response.2 These changes are likely due to certain compounds acting in the brain as anti-oxidants, as well as enhancing vascular integrity through anti-inflammatory mechanisms.
Bacopa has been traditionally used in India as a remedy for anxiety and depression. It has been studied to comparable effects as Lorazepam, a benzodiazepine drug.3 The possible mechanism behind these effects is enhanced neural functioning, and awareness, similar to its cognitive effects.
Alzheimer’s Disease is marked by a loss of cholinergic activity in the hippocampus. Bacopa has been shown to serve as a potent antioxidant in the hippocampus, frontal cortex and striatum, potentially protecting the brain from degenerative changes and damage.4,5 Some of this protection may also come from its anti-inflammatory and relaxant effect on blood vessels and arteries.
- Negi KS, Singh YD, Kushwaha KP, et al. Clinical evaluation of memory enhancing properties of Memory Plus in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Ind J Psychiatry 2000;42:Supplement.
- Stough C, Lloyd J, Clarke J, et al. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology 2001;156:481-484.
- Bhattacharya SK, Ghosal S. Anxiolytic activity of a standardized extract of Bacopa monniera in an experimental study. Phytomedicine 1998;5:77-82.
- Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Kumar A, Ghosal S. Antioxidant activity of Bacopa monnierain rat frontal cortex, striatum, and hippocampus. Phytother Res2000;14:174-179.
- Chowdhuri DK, Parmar D, Kakkar P, et al. Antistress effects of bacosides of Bacopa monnieri: modulation of Hsp70 expression, superoxide dismutase and cytochrome P450 activity in rat brain. Phytother Res2002;16:639-645.
Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend campout where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.