Don’t Forget Bacopa monnieri: An Ancient Herb Turned Modern Nootropic
Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs,” are a diverse group of substances whose action improves brain function, learning, and memory. Nootropics include macronutrients like omega‑3 fatty acids, caffeine, nicotine (although smoking is still not recommended), as well as herbs like Bacopa monnieri, also known as brahmi.
Bacopa monnieri (hereafter referred to as bacopa) is a perennial plant, widely used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine as a neural tonic to improve mental capacity and memory. Modern research has begun to confirm the traditional uses of this herb by uncovering its mechanisms of action on the nervous system. As a result, bacopa has proven its place in the nootropic category. The health effects of bacopa extend far beyond the confines of the cranial cavity. This adaptogen is known for its impact on anxiety and depression, while in vitro and animal studies show promising results on protecting the liver from drug toxicity, reducing gastric ulcers, and exhibiting anticancer properties. In this article, we will focus on exploring its effects on memory., , 
The active constituents believed to contribute to the nootropic effect of Bacopa monnieri are the triterpenoid saponins known as bacosides (specifically bacosides A and B) and saponins A, B, and C. These saponins exert antioxidant and neuroprotective activities that aid in the repair of damaged neurons; promote the generation of new nerve connections (synaptogenesis); and influence neurotransmitters involved in focus and memory generation, namely acetylcholine, serotonin and, dopamine., , ,  Additionally, bacosides reduce oxidative stress and increase activity in areas of the brain responsible for memory, including the frontal cortex, hippocampus, and striatum., 
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the effects of bacopa on memory and cognition. It involved 46 healthy volunteers aged 18–60, who were randomly assigned into a treatment or placebo group. Subjects in the treatment group were administered 300 mg of bacopa extract daily for 12 weeks, and a series of cognitive tests were administered at baseline, week 5, and week 12. At the end of the 12‑week test period, results in the treatment group indicated a significant improvement in verbal learning, memory consolidation, and speed of early information processing, compared to the placebo group.
In another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, a total of 76 adults ranging in age from 40 to 65 years were given either 300 or 450 mg of bacopa, and a battery of memory function tests was conducted before the trial, at three months, and six weeks after the completion of the trial. Additionally, anxiety levels were measured as part of the study. The results from the subjects in the treatment group showed a significant effect of bacopa on a test for new information retention. Follow-up tests indicated that the rate of learning was unaffected, suggesting that bacopa aided in the retention of newly acquired information with observed reductions in forgetting.
In yet another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 60 healthy elderly subjects received either a standardized extract of Bacopa monnieri (300 or 600 mg) or placebo, once daily for 12 weeks. Dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine activities were monitored, and working memory was assessed before treatment, every four weeks throughout the study period, and four weeks after the cessation of intervention. The bacopa group showed improved working memory coinciding with a diminution of the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of the plasma acetylcholine. Acetylcholine has a direct impact on improving attention, processing, and encoding new information to create new memories.
Nootropics are an important category of compounds to aid in brain function and memory. Research has indicated that Bacopa monnieri is a powerful herb in this category, due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well as its ability to modulate dopamine and acetylcholine, which have an impact on working memory. Despite the mounting evidence on the utility of bacopa for cognition and neuroprotection, don’t forget that it is of paramount importance that you consult your health-care practitioner before adding this herb to your wellness routine, to ensure it is indicated and appropriate for your unique health needs.
Dr. Colleen Hartwick, ND
Dr. Colleen Hartwick is a licensed naturopathic physician practising on North Vancouver Island, BC, with a special interest in trauma as it plays a role in disease.
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