What is Bacopa monnieri good for?

Image credit: “bacopa” by M. Martin Vicente is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Bacopa is one of the breakout stars of the nootropics world. Lots of people are talking about it and there has been a proliferation of supplement products containing this brain-boosting herb.

But does the science live up to the hype? And what does it actually do for you? And do the products you see advertised have the right amount of the active ingredients to actually deliver a benefit? Let’s take a quick deep dive into the history and science behind Bacopa monnieri and find out whether this is something we should be interested in!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Why are people taking Bacopa monnieri?

The main promise of a Bacopa supplement is mental performance and cognitive function. For some, this means getting that mental edge, with increased focus, concentration, and productivity. For others, it means keeping your mind sharp as you get older and maybe even regaining some youthful mental performance.

Bacopa has even been showing up in some products for kids in hopes of delivering that little educational boost in school. However, the promises you see on products are just that. It’s important to dig a little deeper to understand whether these claims carry water, and if so which products you can really have confidence in.

Ancient roots with modern data from clinical trials

Bacopa has actually been around for quite some time. It’s a flowering plant that’s been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, a 3000-year-old medical practice that was developed in India. It’s also known as water hyssop, brahmi and “herb of grace.” As you can imagine in such a traditional medicine approach, not everything is backed up by western science. However, there are some exceptions where a traditionally-used herbal ingredient turns out to have a well-substantiated benefit, and Bacopa is one of them.

One of the best indications that there is a good body of evidence behind an ingredient is when we find a meta-analysis – this is a statistical analysis of several clinical trials to find out what the overall effect was. A research group performed such an analysis in 2014, and found that Bacopa improved cognitive function, especially on what’s called the “trail making test part B” (Kongkeaw et al, 2014). The trail making test is basically like “connect the dots” with alternating numbers and letters, and is a measure of several different cognitive processes. Check out a demo below:

In healthy people, several studies have shown that Bacopa can improve higher-level cognitive processing including memory and learning in both younger and older people (Stough et al, 2001; Roodenrys et al, 2002; Stough et al 2008; Downy 2013). There has also been some speculation that Bacopa may worth synergistically with brain training exercises to help reinforce learning (McPhee et al, 2016). The effects are similar to those of huperzine A.

How does it work? The key ingredient is thought to be a component called “bacosides,” which is actually a class of compounds. They are known as “triterpenoid saponins,” and as you can see below they have quite a complex chemical structure:

Bacoside A3

There is some evidence that they work by way of blocking inflammatory pathways in the brain (Nemetchek et al, 2017), but there are a number of other mechanisms that have also been suggested, including an effect on the serotonin receptor, but nobody really knows for sure.

As for safety, the main side effect could be some mild gastrointestinal issues, but a study in 2007 demonstrated clearly that Bacopa intake is safe (Pravina et al, 2007). On the other hand, we always recommend that you don’t exceed the amount recommended on the facts panel of any supplement. More is not always better. Also, it’s a good idea to check for any drug-supplement interactions here, although we didn’t find any.

What is the dosage of Bacopa monnieri for cognitive performance?

Whenever we look at botanical extracts, a key question is whether the product being marketed is equivalent to the product tested in clinical trials. This all comes down to standardization, being sure that the active ingredients are present at the same levels. The good news for many of the studies on Bacopa is that they have been done with well-characterized standardized extract, either one called CDRI 08, aka KeenMind, aka Synapsa (55% bacosides), or another called Bacognize (12% bacosides).

As for the effective dosage – Most studies found positive effects with either 300 mg/day of Bacognize or 320 mg/day of Synapsa. If you are comparing products and it’s not clear whether one of these extracts is being used, be sure to choose a product that shows the bacoside content and do a little math to correct the dosage for these active ingredients.

What are the best Bacopa monnieri supplements?

As mentioned above, finding a brand that uses the Synapsa or Bacognize ingredients would be ideal, as those are what many of the positive studies have tested. We also like brands that have been around awhile and are not fly-by-night dropshippers because we know they properly formulate and test their products. However, regardless of the ratings, we will only recommend brands that we know and trust. And the main thing, as always, is the level of the active ingredient. You should look for products that have standardized amounts of bacosides in their extract, versus herb powders or extracts that don’t show you this. Here are a two suggestions:

Doctor’s Best makes a high-quality product using Synapsa:

Doctor's Best, Bacopa with Synapsa, 320 mg, 60 Veggie Caps

NOW Foods also makes a nice Bacopa product containing standardized amount of bacosides:

Now Foods, Bacopa Extract, 450 mg, 90 Veg Capsules

Summing up

If you are looking for a naturally-sourced nootropic that’s been used for centuries to boost brain function, Bacopa monnieri is it. Clinical studies show that it works and that it’s safe. If you are shopping for products, look for ones that carry the active ingredients Synapsa at 320 mg or Bacognize at 300 mg, as those have been clinically tested. And as always, look for trusted brands.


Scientific References

Benson, S., Downey, L.A., Stough, C., Wetherell, M., Zangara, A., and Scholey, A. (2014). An acute, double-blind, placebo-controlled cross-over study of 320 mg and 640 mg doses of Bacopa monnieri (CDRI 08) on multitasking stress reactivity and mood. Phytother Res 28, 551–559.

Calabrese, C., Gregory, W.L., Leo, M., Kraemer, D., Bone, K., and Oken, B. (2008). Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med 14, 707–713.

Downey, L.A., Kean, J., Nemeh, F., Lau, A., Poll, A., Gregory, R., Murray, M., Rourke, J., Patak, B., Pase, M.P., et al. (2013). An acute, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study of 320 mg and 640 mg doses of a special extract of Bacopa monnieri (CDRI 08) on sustained cognitive performance. Phytother Res 27, 1407–1413.

Kean, J.D., Kaufman, J., Lomas, J., Goh, A., White, D., Simpson, D., Scholey, A., Singh, H., Sarris, J., Zangara, A., et al. (2015). A Randomized Controlled Trial Investigating the Effects of a Special Extract of Bacopa monnieri (CDRI 08) on Hyperactivity and Inattention in Male Children and Adolescents: BACHI Study Protocol (ANZCTRN12612000827831). Nutrients 7, 9931–9945.

Kean, J.D., Downey, L.A., and Stough, C. (2016). A systematic review of the Ayurvedic medicinal herb Bacopa monnieri in child and adolescent populations. Complement Ther Med 29, 56–62.

Kongkeaw, C., Dilokthornsakul, P., Thanarangsarit, P., Limpeanchob, N., and Norman Scholfield, C. (2014). Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract. J Ethnopharmacol 151, 528–535.

McPhee, G.M., Downey, L.A., Noble, A., and Stough, C. (2016). Cognitive training and Bacopa monnieri: Evidence for a combined intervention to alleviate age associated cognitive decline. Med. Hypotheses 95, 71–76.

Morgan, A., and Stevens, J. (2010). Does Bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. J Altern Complement Med 16, 753–759.

Nemetchek, M.D., Stierle, A.A., Stierle, D.B., and Lurie, D.I. (2017). The Ayurvedic plant Bacopa monnieri inhibits inflammatory pathways in the brain. J Ethnopharmacol 197, 92–100.

Pravina, K., Ravindra, K.R., Goudar, K.S., Vinod, D.R., Joshua, A.J., Wasim, P., Venkateshwarlu, K., Saxena, V.S., and Amit, A. (2007). Safety evaluation of BacoMind in healthy volunteers: a phase I study. Phytomedicine 14, 301–308.

Roodenrys, S., Booth, D., Bulzomi, S., Phipps, A., Micallef, C., and Smoker, J. (2002). Chronic effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) on human memory. Neuropsychopharmacology 27, 279–281.

Sathyanarayanan, V., Thomas, T., Einöther, S.J.L., Dobriyal, R., Joshi, M.K., and Krishnamachari, S. (2013). Brahmi for the better? New findings challenging cognition and anti-anxiety effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monniera) in healthy adults. Psychopharmacology (Berl.) 227, 299–306.

Stough, C., Lloyd, J., Clarke, J., Downey, L.A., Hutchison, C.W., Rodgers, T., and Nathan, P.J. (2001). The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology (Berl.) 156, 481–484.

Stough, C., Downey, L.A., Lloyd, J., Silber, B., Redman, S., Hutchison, C., Wesnes, K., and Nathan, P.J. (2008). Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Phytother Res 22, 1629–1634.