Bacopa – “Godlike”
Posted by Gina Mohammed, Ph.D.,a plant physiologist on January 11, 2013
Bacopa is the classic Ayurvedic nervine and brain tonic. It has been reported that the plant has been used for thousands of years as a traditional Ayurvedic treatment for epilepsy, asthma, and mental clarity. Bacopa is included in a class of Ayurvedic herbs called “Brahmi”, literally translated this mean “Godlike”. Obviously, Bacopa is held in great esteem in the science of Ayurveda to earn this title, and rightfully so due to its multitudinous effects on the body and mind. This herb is used to maintain healthy learning, memory, speech, sleep patterns, imagination, and ease nervous and mental strain.*
“Bacopa monnieri, an aquatic plant also known as water hyssop, has emerged from the recesses of a 3,000-year-old Indian medicinal tradition to claim its place in today’s pharmacopoeia. It was used historically as a brain tonic for memory and learning, a nerve tonic for anxiety or epilepsy, and a cardiac and respiratory aid. Research nowadays has honed in on the herb’s prospects for improving memory, and the studies are very encouraging.
Bacopa apparently improves our ability to learn and retain new information. For example, a well-designed (double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled) Australian study of adults aged 18 to 65 indicates that taking 300 mg of bacopa extract daily for up to 12 weeks can enhance brain function. Using various tests of cognitive performance, the study revealed that subjects were able to process visual information more quickly, learn faster and consolidate new material into memory more effectively.
CALM FRAZZLED NERVES
Learning and memory seem to operate better when we are calm and relaxed — and one of the ways bacopa may act is by allaying anxiety. In a 1980 study, patients treated with bacopa for anxiety neurosis saw their anxiety levels lowered by about 20 percent and experienced reduced mental fatigue and better short-term memory performance. Four weeks of bacopa therapy also produced a decrease in average systolic blood pressure, from 117 mm-Hg to 112 mm-Hg, and a 37 percent increase in respiratory function, as assessed by breath-holding time. Other symptoms of anxiety, such as insomnia, headache, irritability, lack of concentration, tremors, palpitations and nervousness, also were notably relieved. In other words, bacopa may improve memory and productivity by reducing anxiety and related problems. An added advantage is that it may be a safe substitute for anti-anxiety drugs without the attendant side effects.
Another aspect of memory relates to motor function in our bodies, and bacopa may participate here as well. Memory operating at a molecular level is involved in transmitting chemicals that govern motor responses and nerve signals. Researchers believe that, among its other mechanisms, bacopa may help regulate these important chemicals by stimulating production of a neurotransmitter in the brain known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA inhibits convulsive behavior and assists locomotor function. This neurotransmitter further helps prevent pain from super-sensitive nerve endings and can serve as a sedative. So we can now understand why bacopa has been used successfully for millennia to help counteract epilepsy, a serious neurological disorder.
HELP FOR ADHD IN CHILDREN
Bacopa’s positive influences also are seen in children. In one study from India, published in the Journal of Research and Education in Indian Medicine, healthy children aged 6 to 8 who took bacopa syrup daily for four weeks not only solved problems more quickly and accurately, but they also showed greater exploratory behavior — a key ingredient of curiosity, attention and motivation. Children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have been shown to benefit. Another Indian study of 8- to 9-year-olds, published in 2000, found that children who received bacopa extract twice daily for 12 weeks did better on tests, such as sentence repetition, logical memory and paired associate learning tasks (the ability to recall pairs of items presented together). It is not surprising, then, that bacopa syrup is commonly given to schoolchildren in India.
Scientists have really only begun to dig into the mysteries of this plant. Work is progressing on many fronts, including bacopa’s antioxidant actions, antimicrobial properties and its possible capacity to combat cancer, cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal disorders and respiratory ailments. What appears to be emerging is that bacopa may have an adaptogenic effect, meaning it strengthens the body’s overall resistance to stress and disease.
CLEAN YOUR CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM
Bacopa apparently provides a specialized cleansing and repair system for our nervous system. Its “memory chemicals” are unique saponins known as bacosides. Saponins are natural detergents present in many plants and are commonly used in soaps because of their foaming action. They help flush out damaging chemicals, such as free radicals and excess cholesterol, from the body, protecting molecules such as DNA from damage. The key ones in bacopa, bacoside A and B, are a mixture of saponins that further serve to repair damaged nerve cell connections by aiding protein synthesis, thereby allowing nerves to transmit signals more effectively. The bacosides, combined with many other chemicals in the plant — such as useful alkaloids, sterols and flavonoids — provide a well-stocked cache of brain and nerve foods to boost learning and memory.
What can this mean to people at risk for, say, Alzheimer’s disease? The main feature of this ailment is a loss of nerve-cell function in the brain’s hippocampus, and animal studies indicate bacosides have antioxidant activity in the hippocampus as well as the frontal cortex and striatum. This suggests they may help protect the integrity of the brain’s nerve cells in these regions and perhaps deter the onset or development of the disease. “
*A Note on Dosage: It is advisable to take Brahmi for at least three months for significant effects and thereafter adjust the dose to suit the individual. It is wise to treat the brain like a muscle – use it or lose it. Regular, stimulating mental activities keep the brain sharp, just as a vigorous workout helps keep muscles fit and performing optimally. The brain is susceptible to dehydration, so drink plenty of clean, pure fluids as part of any brain nutrition program. Supplemental herbs such as Bacopa may prove efficacious to a brain power plan, but give any supplement program enough time to work before evaluating its effects. Based on the metabolic rate of brain cells, the benefits may not be noticed for at least 90 days.
Contraindications, Toxicity, Cautions, and Safety: As with all dietary or herbal supplements, you should inform your health care professional that you are using this product. Women who are pregnant or nursing are advised to consult with a physician prior to use. When a preparation of the plant was evaluated for safety and tolerability it showed no adverse effects, but there were some reports of mild gastrointestinal symptoms. However, this herb has been used safely by healthy people of all ages in India, and Brahmi tea is actually given to infants starting in their first month of life to encourage optimal brain development. To date, no other side effects have been reported with Bacopa. Laboratory studies on rats indicate that extracts of the plant can improve memory capacity. Recent studies suggest bacopa may improve intellectual activity, and in a randomized clinical trial of 98 healthy older people (over 55 years) Bacopa significantly improved memory acquisition and retention.
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