Bacopa
Common Names

Brahmi, Herb of Grace, Indian pennywort, Water Hyssop
Botanical Name
Bacopa monnieri
Family
PLANTAGINACEAE Plantaginaceae

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What is it?

In herbal medicine we use the small, succulent leaves of this long-lived perennial plant that is native to India and Sri Lanka and creeps by growing along the ground and especially thrives around or in water and is usually found in tropical or semi-tropical wetlands.


FLOWER


LEAF


DRIED

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How has it been used?

Bacopa is extremely highly regarded in the great tradition of Indian medicine called Ayurveda. Here is where it gets its common name 'Brahmi' meaning it is a herb that is seen to carry the virtue of Brahma, the creator.

Bacopa has been particularly valued for its ability to help impart a long life and to improve mental health in terms of enhancing memory, concentration and cognitive function.

It is widely used in Ayurveda to relieve anxiety, promote mental clarity, improve thyroid health and to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Bacopa is also much used to to help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other traditional uses include being used for asthma, epilepsy, cancer, low back pain, sexual dysfunction and numerous digestive issues.

The great American herbalist, David Winston, writes of Bacopa "I frequently use Bacopa for patients recovering from head trauma injuries (along with St John's wort, Ginkgo & Holy Basil), in one remarkable case from many years ago, I had an opportunity to use a formula like this with great success. A friend's wife came down with bacterial meningitis. Luckily, they caught it early enough. She was rushed to the hospital and given intravenous antibiotics. Her life was saved, and she was discharged from the hospital but she still had severe cognitive problems. Her ability to hear, see, speak, and smell all were seriously impaired. She was unable to hold a conversation, work, or read; even food had a strange taste. Her doctors had done all they could and advised that these troubling symptoms would hopefully resolve after six to twelve months. I was asked to help at this point and recommended the herbs. In two weeks, she reported significant improvements and after a month on this formula, she stated that she was 'back to normal and maybe even better than that!'. This case, although remarkable in its quick and total success, is not all that unusual and shows how herbs can offer significant benefits for many 'untreatable conditions' (from the book 'Adaptogens' by Winston & Maines)

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Science on Bacopa

~ Clinical research showed that taking Bacopa extract daily for 12 weeks improved measures of verbal learning, memory, and information processing in healthy men and women (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;156:481-4) and also (Roodenrys, S., Booth, D., Bulzomi, S., Phipps, A., Micallef, C., and Smoker, J. Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory. Neuropsychopharmacology 2002;27(2):279-281)

~ Another clinical trial showed that taking a different Bacopa extract for 12 weeks significantly improved measures of verbal learning, memory, and retention in healthy adults over 55 years of age (Morgan A, Stevens J. Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. J Altern Complement Med 2010;16:753-9)

~ Evidence suggests that taking Bacopa daily for 4 weeks may reduce nervousness, palpitations, insomnia, headache, lack of concentration, fatigue, anorexia, tremors, dyspepsia/flatulence, and irritability in patients with anxiety compared to baseline (Singh, R. H. and Singh, L. Studies on the Anti-Anxiety Effect of the Medhya Rasayana Drug, Brahmi (Bacopa monniera Wettst.) - Part I. Journal of Research in Ayurveda and Siddha 1980;1(1):133-148)

In children, aged 6-8 years, taking one teaspoon of Bacopa extract three times daily for 3 months improved visual motor function and immediate memory compared to pre-treatment (Sharma, R, Chaturvedi, C, and Tewari, PV. Efficacy of Bacopa monniera in revitalizing intellectual functions in children. J Res Edu Ind Med 1987;1-12)

~ The principal constituents of B. monnieri are triterpene saponins of the dammarane class, which have been named bacosides and bacopasapponins, and which contain two or three sugars each. Pharmacological activity is attributed to the saponin bacoside and bacosaponin constituents

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of approximatley 40 further studies and articles on Bacopa are listed in a PDF found here

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Safety of Bacopa

Bacopa is regarded as an extremely safe herb and is confidently given to children and the elderly. There are no adverse reports of toxicity from Bacopa in the medical literature and no reason to think it would be unsafe for pregnancy or breastfeeding.

~ Drug interactions - Bacopa seems to inhibit acetylcholinesterase and might increase acetylcholine levels. Therefore theoretically, concurrent use of Bacopa with other acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors might have additive effects and increase the risk of cholinergic side effects. AChE inhibitors and cholinergic drugs include bethanechol (Urecholine), donepezil (Aricept), echothiophate (Phospholine Iodide), edrophonium (Enlon, Reversol, Tensilon), neostigmine (Prostigmin), physostigmine (Antilirium), pyridostigmine (Mestinon, Regonol), succinylcholine (Anectine, Quelicin), and tacrine (Cognex)

~ Likewise, and only theoretically, concurrent use of anticholinergic drugs and Bacopa might decrease the effectiveness of Bacopa or the anticholinergic agent. Some anticholinergic drugs include atropine, benztropine (Cogentin), biperiden (Akineton), procyclidine (Kemadrin), and trihexyphenidyl (Artane).

~ Research suggests that Bacopa increases thyroxine (T4) levels in mice by 41% therefore theoretically, Bacopa might have additive effects when used with thyroid hormone (Kar, A., Panda, S., and Bharti, S. Relative efficacy of three medicinal plant extracts in the alteration of thyroid hormone concentrations in male mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002;81(2):281-285)

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Personal experiences

Most people who come to see me have some kind of chronic health problem that is not getting better by itself. In many cases, once we have achieved a satisfactory result, then that is more or less the end of the process. They only come back to see me if they need to and can stop their treatment so long as they feel ready to.

I encourage them to think of the herbs that have helped them to be their allies and, that if their troubles or symptoms return, that they can easily go back to using them on an 'as-needed' basis. This is a completely different mindset from the pharmaceutical model, which appears to want nothing more than to get people hooked onto drugs that they can't stop without either a) getting a return of symptoms that the drugs were suppressing or, b) running the gauntlet of the fear they now have from their GP's dire predictions of what might happen if they 'go off their meds!'

This said, there are occasions when a person is looking to make a deeper improvement in their health and, particularly as they may be suffering from nothing more than the rigours of the aging process, are interested in how they can best look after their brains and mental health in particular. In such cases there are several herbs that stand out for their ability to nourish the vitality of the mind and the nerves and Bacopa is certainly one of the most outstanding of them. I am certain that, if a person uses it in sufficient dose and for long enough, that it can bring a palpable benefit to cognitive function.

If I have a patient for whom their memory or concentration is clearly a concern, perhaps because people close to them have made comments, or they themselves feel that they are not doing as well as they should be, I will certainly use a good therapeutic dose of Bacopa, usually along with Ginkgo biloba, and advise that they keep using it for quite a few months. At the same time, we will give a strong emphasis on undertaking some kind of brain-gym, which could be anything that suits the person, e.g. playing computer games, learning a new skill, reading more, whatever they are most likely to take to and keep up.

Follow-up visits in such cases always seem to bring a positive report. They say that people close to them have been commenting on how much brighter they seem and the patient themselves always seems to be happy with the results.

Perhaps, after a certain age, we need to earn something that we have been given as a gift in our earlier life. In such cases, I have no way of knowing how much their improvement is from the Bacopa, let alone the other herbs, in many cases I will be using some of the other great tonics such as Panax Ginseng and Withania, or how much their applying themselves to getting their brains 'fitter' should be getting the credit for the improvement. It doesn't matter, and no-one cares at that point!

The clinical trials, mentioned above, clearly show Bacopa does has a positive effect on the mind even when nothing else is being done and the subject doesn't even know if they have the herb or the placebo! We know the herbs will at least be a part of their getting better and that is enough to know.

Usually, patient eventually feels that they are at a more satisfactory level or can't make any further improvements and will be ready to stop this treatment too. If they then later feel, or start getting feedback, that their cognitive function is declining again then they can get back into the treatment program. It behoves us to very carefully look after our mental health and fitness as we get older. Our body must lose its strength, our minds not so at all. Each of us, in our unique journey of life, get to choose what we put into our mouths, we even get to choose, if we realise this great freedom, a lot of what we put into our brains. Good food (and Bacopa is clearly a kind of food for the brain) and exercise are a large part of what makes our health, both physical and mental.

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Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Bacopa is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with herb B. There is value in this approach in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another but where it falls short is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Bacopa might work brilliantly for one person but less well for another with the same sort of symptoms -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Bacopa can particularly offer its benefits when an activating action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - more about this here

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'Brahmi'

Note that there is controversy over whether Bacopa is the true 'Brahmi' or if it should be Gotu Kola, also commonly known as Brahmi that deserves this august title! Both herbs are widely used for improving general health, long life and mental powers, amongst a plethora of other more physical applications.

I don't think anyone can categorically say which is the one and only Brahmi, perhaps they both are. For what it is worth I can share from my own personal and clinical experience that I far prefer the action, the gentle taste and the positive results from Bacopa and am in no doubt to my own choice in this matter!

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd