Natural Health Journals

Bacopa Monniera

WHAT IT IS Bacopa monniera, more commonly known as the Brahmi plant (which means “Creator” in Sanskrit), is one of the most popular brain tonics in the pantheon of Ayurvedic remedies. In India, people of all ages have been taking bacopa for over 5,000 years.

REPORTED EFFECTS While ashwagandha is considered in India (like ginseng is in China) to be an all-around health tonic and adaptogen, bacopa is known specifically as a “smart” nutrient that improves the intellect. So if you want to get smarter, says Ayurvedic physician Virender Sodhi, M.D. (Ayurved), bacopa is a good herb to try. Bacopa also plays many other roles in Ayurvedic medicine–as a diuretic, tranquilizer, and treatment for asthma, depression, insanity, and epilepsy, among other conditions.

HOW 1T WORKS No one is quite sure how bacopa influences brain chemistry, and research is still in the early stages. Because bacopa is an adaptogen, it works to achieve balance in the body and strengthen the immune system’s ability to respond to stress. And it is thought to act as a sedative, influencing the central nervous system by stimulating a “calming” neurotransmitter in the brain. Bacopa may also stimulate the production of serotonin in the brain, which could explain its reputation as an effective antidepressant. According to Sodhi, bacopa also helps to regenerate dendrites in brain cells.

THE EVIDENCE Indian devotees of the herb don’t need studies to prove its efficacy–the plant’s name has long been a household word. But in recent years several rat and clinical studies have substantiated claims that bacopa enhances learning and memory. In one study on laboratory rats using a T-maze trial, rats fed a bacopa extract showed remarkable learning and memory enhancement, compared to both a control group and another group that had been fed valium.

CAVEATS Bacopa contains alkaloids whose chemical action resembles that of strychnine, and excessively high doses of these substances can be toxic. In normally prescribed dose levels, however, it is generally known to be harmless. “Most of these herbs are very safe,” Sodhi said, “even in overdoses.” He figured that you would have to take about 25 percent of your body weight’s worth of bacopa for it to have a toxic effect.

WHERE TO FIND IT Popular in India, where it also goes by the name of a supplement called Memory Plus, bacopa is available in the United States in health foods stores, alone or in combination with other herbs. The recommended dosage is 70 mg, if taking an extract; take this dosage once in the morning and once in the evening. If taking the whole powdered herb, take 1/2 teaspoon once in the morning and once in the evening.

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