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Bacopa: The Brain-Boosting Alternative

What if I told you there was a plant used to treat memory and brain-related disorder for thousands of years — a plant thought to be so beneficial to the mind that it’s been a staple of traditional Ayurvedic medicine in India since seemingly forever? You’d be excited about its possible application, right?

Then you’re in luck, because bacopa checks off both these boxes and then some. Also known as Brahmi, bacopa is used to treat a broad range of mind-related health concerns, including Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, anxiety, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, epilepsy, and as a general tonic to fight stress. Best of all, it has far less severe side effects than the dangerous psychotropic drugs often prescribed today.

Consider these findings from a 2014 ADHD study in Advances in Mind-Body Medicine.advances1

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a clinically heterogeneous disorder of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity or difficulty in controlling behavior. Psychostimulant medications remain the mainline treatment for children with ADHD; however, the average response rate to these medications is 70%, and up to 30% of children do not respond to these medications or are unable to tolerate such potential adverse effects as nausea, insomnia, and weight loss.

The study investigated the effectiveness of standardized Bacopa monnieri extract (SBME) in ameliorating the severity of the symptoms of ADHD in children. Thirty-one children were participants in the trial. They were 6-12 y of age, with an age of onset of ADHD before 7 y of age, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) criteria for ADHD. The children received SBME at a dose of 225 mg/d for a period of 6 mo. SBME significantly reduced the subtests scores of ADHD symptoms, except for social problems.

  • The symptom scores for restlessness were reduced in 93% of children
  • Improvement in self-control was observed in 89% of the children.
  • The attention-deficit symptoms were reduced in 85% of children.
  • Similarly, symptom scores for learning problems, impulsivity, and psychiatric problems were reduced for 78%, 67%, and 52% of children, respectively.
  • It was observed that 74% of the children exhibited up to a 20% reduction
  • 26% of children showed between a 21% and a 50% reduction in the total subtests scores.

Standardized extract of B monnieri was found to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of ADHD and was well-tolerated by the children.

Great news, the benefits of consuming Bacopa Monneri don’t end there. Check out these additional, lesser-known benefits.

Adaptogenic Stress Reducer
It’s been shown that up to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints — 90 percent! (3) Crazy, I know, but not hard to believe. Stress — especially chronic stress — does terrible things to our minds and bodies, and general stress reduction should always be a top priority for anyone trying to live a healthy lifestyle.
Bacopa extract has actually been shown to work as a natural stress reliever by helping our bodies better handle or adapt to our daily stressors. An animal study conducted at the Central Drug Research Institute in India showed that a standardized extract ofBacopa monniera successfully guarded against acute and chronic stress. More specifically, it reduced damaging stomach ulcer and adrenal activity. The study concluded that bacopa possesses a potent adaptogenic activity. (4)

Anti-Anxiety & Antidepressant
It’s probably not too surprising that just as it reduces stress, this beneficial plant also canreduce anxiety and depression. Animal research published by the University of Michigan Health System shows the positive brain effects of bacopa, including reduction of both depression and anxiety. These very positive effects on the nervous system have biochemically been attributed to an enhancement of the effects of the neurotransmittersacetylcholine and, possibly, serotonin or GABA. (5)

Memory Improvement
A small, double-blind, 12-week study conducted at the Neuropsychology Laboratory at the School of Biophysical Science and Electrical Engineering in Australia had volunteers take 300 milligrams of bacopa daily while other volunteers received a placebo. Prior to the study commencing, researchers tested all volunteers on visual information processing, memory and speed of information processing.
The tests were repeated five and 12 weeks after the study began. A significant improvement among the volunteers in the bacopa group was found compared to those in the placebo group, leading researchers to conclude that it “may improve higher order cognitive processes that are critically dependent on the input of information from our environment such as learning and memory.” (6)

Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia Treatment
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that progressively causes memory loss, dementiaand early mortality. Natural Alzheimer’s treatment can include supplementation with bacopa. According to the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, it might hold promise for preventing the dementia (decline in mental ability severe enough to affect daily life) associated with Alzeimer’s. Studies in rodents and test tubes suggest that it has biological effects that might protect against brain aging and/or dementia, but we don’t yet know if these effects are the same for humans or if the effects are strong enough to be clinically relevant. One encouraging human study showed that in elderly people with memory complaints, bacopa improved scores on tests of attention and verbal memory when used for three months at 450 milligrams per day. (7)

Epilepsy Treatment
Seizures occur in the body when your brain cells, which communicate through electrical signals, send out the wrong signals. Generally, several seizures are needed before there is a diagnosis of epilepsy. One preliminary trial in India found that an extract of bacopa reduced the frequency of epileptic seizures in a small group of people. However, another similar preliminary trial gave inconclusive results. Controlled research is needed to properly evaluate whether bacopa is helpful for epilepsy, but there is hope that it could benefit those who suffer from seizure disorders like epilepsy. (8)

Chronic Pain Minimizer
Chronic pain is a huge health concern and health cost around the world today. Sadly, 77 percent of people with chronic pain also have some degree of medically treatable depression. Bacopa is well-documented to be a safe and well-tolerated herbal therapy for pain management in multiple clinical trials including various age groups.
A study published in Current Medicinal Chemistry showed that Bacopa monnieri not only has strong antidepressant effects, but it has pain-reducing capabilities comparable to morphine. The study also indicated that this herbal treatment offers protective benefits for organs commonly affected by opiate toxicity like the brain, kidneys and heart. (9)

Blood Pressure Regulator
A recent animal study showed that bacopa might increase the human body’s utilization of nitric oxide and encourage vascular muscle function, two benefits that positively influence normal blood pressure. The Journal of Ethnopharmacology study concludes that some Bacopa monnieri ingredients could be effective at reducing high blood pressure. (10)

So how does Bacopa Monneri stack up again one of the most commonly prescribed medications Adderall? You be the judge…

Bacopa vs. Adderall

Adderall is a form of amphetamine legally used in a limited number of countries, primarily the U.S. and Canada, for the treatment of ADHD, narcolepsy and depression. It’s a common drug pushed to treat ADHD, but it comes with some unhealthy side effects that are much more dangerous and common than those of bacopa.

Bacopa Prosscreen-shot-2016-09-15-at-9-20-09-am

  • Not addictive
  • Improves memory and cognitive function
  • Shown to improve anxiety and depression
  • Shown to support focus, attention, learning and memory
  • Shown to enhance brain communication
  • Positively regulates dopamine and serotonin

Bacopa Cons

  • Can cause upset stomach if taken without food
  • For cognitive benefits it can take time to work — studies show improvements are much better at eight 12 weeks than they are at four to six weeks
  • Its powder form has a very bitter taste

Adderall Pros

  • When used short term, Adderall can have the positive effect of counteracting symptoms of ADHD by increasing availability of certain neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, which boosts alertness, attention and energy levelsscreen-shot-2016-09-15-at-9-19-54-am
  • Increases the heart rate and the flow of blood to the muscles, making the user feel more energized
  • Can cause feelings of energy and invigoration, similar to the high experienced by cocaine users
  • Can also create rewarding feelings of euphoria, but this has led to it becoming popular as a recreational drug

Adderall Cons

  • Adderall can be highly addictive and dangerous to those who abuse it
  • Even when taken as prescribed, Adderall can have several negative effects in the short term, including:
  • Appetite suppression and unhealthy weight loss screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-9-20-24-am
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Potentially dangerous cardiac issues

Bacopa Plant Origin & Nutrition Facts
Bacopa is a genus of 70–100 aquatic plants belonging to the family Plantaginaceae. It’s native to India, where it grows in marshy regions. In the West, it’s a water plant often found in aquariums. Bacopa species are found in tropical and subtropical regions of the world,
particularly the Americas. Most parts of the plant have been used traditionally, but modern
preparations are extracts of the stem and leaves. The type traditionally used in herbal medicines is Bacopa monniera or Bacopa monnieri. It’s also commonly called Brahmi and water hyssop as well.
The leaves contain saponins, including bacosides that are believed to be responsible for the therapeutic properties of the herb. Studies have shown that both purified bacosides and extracts of bacopa standardized for bacosides have been found to enhance several aspects of mental function and learning ability.

Bacopa History & Interesting Facts
Since at least the sixth century A.D., bacopa has been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a diuretic and tonic for the nervous system as well as the heart. (14) In Indian and Ayurvedic medicines, it’s typically known as “Brahmi” after Brahmā, the creator god of the Hindu pantheon. In Ayurveda, pitta energy is considered the regulator of heat, energy, excitement and passion. A pitta imbalance is believed to be reflected in an inflamed, overheated, over-agitated,condition of mind and/or body. Brahmi is known as a soother of pitta imbalances. In India, where bacopa has been revered for centuries, newborn babies are consecrated with it in the hope that it will open up the pathway to the intellect. In 1998, the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was given jointly to Robert F. Furchgott, Louis J. Ignarro and Ferid Murad for their discoveries of nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. It’s been said that the Nobel Prize winners used bacopa in their award-winning experiments.

Final Thoughts on Bacopa
Bacopa has been a star of traditional Ayurvedic healing for centuries. Now modern-day research continues to confirm bacopa’s abilities to improve and positively change not just mental abilities like memory and learning, but also mental health like depression and anxiety. ADHD is on the rise globally and so is the use of conventional treatment like the drug Adderral, but bacopa extract is a natural substance that has the ability to significantly help ADHD without all of the scary side effects of conventional treatment. And don’t forget, in addition to treating ADHD, bacopa is an adaptogenic stress reducer, anti-anxiety and antidepressant agent, memory enhancer, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia treatment, epilepsy treatment, chronic pain minimizer, and blood pressure regulator — making it a safe, healthy alternative to remedy and/or prevent a host of health issues.

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