Bacopa Monnieri Guide: What does it do & how does it work?
Bacopa monnieri is an extremely popular natural nootropic. It is a common ingredient in pre-made, premium brain supplements. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that it is one of the most common ingredients in pre-made nootropic stacks today. Bacopa is rarely taken by itself in the West, although it has long been a staple of traditional Aurverdic medicine. That said, some manufacturers are now making standalone Bacopa monnieri products.
But as with any extremely popular supplement, people very rarely stop to explain what this substance actually does!
If you look online, you wont struggle to find people telling you how amazing Bacopa monnieri is for enhancing memory function. You’ll find plenty of blogs, supplement websites and articles explaining the wonderful things Bacopa supplementation can do for you.
But what you’ll struggle to find is a proper explanation of what Bacopa monnieri does, how it works, and how effective it is in practice.
Below is a concise explanation of how Bacopa monnieri actually works. We’ll go through the main studies looking at its effects in humans to find out how good it really is compared to similar substances.
We’ll also touch on the potential health and side effect risks associated with Bacopa monnieri use.
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments at the end.
What is Bacopa monnieri?
Before we go through what Bacopa monnieri does in the body, it’s worth briefly explaining what it is – after all, you probably wont come across this plant in your normal day-to-day life!
Bacopa monnieri – also known as Brahmi, water hyssop or Indian pennywort – is a perennial creeping plant native to several varied climates including India, Australia, Europe, and parts of America. While it can and does grow naturally in these areas, it is heavily cultivated in India because of its medicinal usage there.
Few people know that Bacopa monnieri can grow underwater. It is actually a popular aquarium plant – it might be difficult to spot because its thick, succulent, leaves jutting from the stem make it look very similar to other plants used in aquariums.
Bacopa’s main active phytochemicals are a class of saponins called bacosides. But Bacopa monnieri also contains a host of other phytochemicals, including brahmine, nicotine, and another class of saponins called bacopasides.
What does Bacopa monnieri do?
Bacopa monnieri is first and foremost a memory enhancer. There is strong evidence that Bacopa supplementation also increases attention, heightens focus, reduces stress, and promotes calmness. Bacopa monnieri is an adaptogen, so it will definitely help you resist stress and reduce anxiety levels.
But the main reason we take Bacopa monnieri is because of the remarkable effect it has on memory function.
There is some debate over the exact mechanism of action of Bacopa monnieri.
However, after doing a thorough review of the research we are convinced that Bacopa works by promoting neuron dendrite growth.
In a 2011 clinical trial conducted on rats, researchers found that Bacopa monnieri supplementation led to significantly greater dendritic branching and an increase in the number of dendrite intersections compared to baseline (source).
We don’t need to explain to you why having more dendrite branches and intersections is good for cognitive function! These are the communication channels of your neurons. Better inter-neuronal communications means better focus, faster memory formation, and quicker memory recall.
Note that the researchers observed significant dendrite growth in the hippocampus of these rats; the area thought to be heavily involved in memory formation.
Interestingly, the researchers in this study found that the rats treated with Bacopa monnieri for 2 weeks experienced no extra dendritic growth, while the rats treated for 4 and 6 weeks showed a considerable increase in the number of dendrite branches and intersections.
Other studies have found that similar dendrite growth occurs in the amygdala region of the brain. Again, these studies find no increased dendrite branching after 2 weeks, but a lot after 4 and 6 weeks (source).
In both of these studies, the increases in dendrite branching observed after 4 and 6 weeks coincide with significant improvements in cognitive function. The mice are able to remember their way around mazes much better, and their performance in other tests designed to measure focus also improves.
So how does Bacopa monnieri work?
Having looked at this research, it seems clear to us that Bacopa monnieri works by promoting dendrite branching. It causes your dendrites to form more branches, which effectively increases the number of intersections your neurons have with other neurons.
It looks as though the bacosides in Bacopa monnieri are largely responsible for this effect. It also looks as though it takes a while for these bacosides to start working – at least 2 weeks in rodent studies.
But these are just rodent studies.
While these studies can inform us of the pharmacology of Bacopa monnieri, it can’t tell us whether or not it works in humans. We have alluded to the human-based clinical trials conducted on Bacopa monnieri. It’s time we took a look at the best ones.
How well does Bacopa monnieri work in humans?
We can talk all day about the pharmacology of Bacopa monnieri – the phytochemicals it contains, what these do in rats, and what they might do in humans.
But this can only tell us so much.
VAGA is all about human optimization. You’ve come to this article wondering if Bacopa monnieri can enhance your cognitive function on a day-to-day basis.
Before we decide that a substance is a good nootropic, we need to see solid evidence that it can make a meaningful, noticeable difference to human cognitive performance.
Thankfully, there is no shortage of robust scientific data showing that Bacopa monnieri significantly improves cognition in humans.
Because of the sheer number of studies looking at Bacopa monnieri and its effects on memory, focus, and anxiety, we’ll just briefly run through them. If you’re interested, we strongly advise reading them in full when you have time.
In this clinical trial, researchers took 54 people aged 65 and over and gave them either 300mg of Bacopa monnieri extract or placebo for 12 weeks. None of the participants had any sign of dementia or severe memory loss. The researchers observed several significant improvements in the Bacopa treated group:
Controlling for baseline cognitive deficit using the Blessed Orientation-Memory-Concentration test, Bacopa participants had enhanced AVLT delayed word recall memory scores relative to placebo. Stroop results were similarly significant, with the Bacopa group improving and the placebo group unchanged. CESD-10 depression scores, combined state plus trait anxiety scores, and heart rate decreased over time for the Bacopa group but increased for the placebo group.
A study published in 2008 looked at Bacopa monnieri’s effects on a much broader population. The researchers in this study took 107 healthy people aged 18-60 and gave them either 300mg of Bacopa monnieri extract or a placebo for 90 days. The Bacopa monnieri treated group showed significantly better memory function than placebo. The researchers made special note of the improvement in working spatial memory and rapid visual information processing (source).
In this study, published in a 2001 edition of Psychopharmacology, researchers gave 46 healthy participants aged 18-60 300mg of Bacopa monnieri or placebo for 12 weeks. Their findings are worth quoting in full:
B. monniera significantly improved speed of visual information processing measured by the IT task, learning rate and memory consolidation measured by the AVLT (P<0.05), and state anxiety (P<0.001) compared to placebo, with maximal effects evident after 12 weeks. These findings suggest that B. monniera may improve higher order cognitive processes that are critically dependent on the input of information from our environment such as learning and memory.
Finally, it’s worth talking about Bacopa monnieri’s effects in people with memory loss.
Since it improves memory function in healthy, young people, you might assume that Bacopa monnieri would be particularly effective in older people suffering with age-related memory loss.
You’d be right!
In several robust, clinical trials, Bacopa monnieri has been found to improve memory retention, recall speed, and recall accuracy in people living with age-related memory impairment (but not dementia or Alzheimer’s).
In one study, published in 2011, researchers gave participants aged 55 and over (who were all suffering with memory loss) either 125mg of Bacopa monnieri extract or placebo each day for 12 weeks. The subjects given the Bacopa monnieri extract exhibited significantly improved mental control, logical memory function, and paired association learning after 12 weeks (source).
As you can see, the evidence for Bacopa monnieri being a potent memory enhancer is overwhelming. These results have been replicated several times over in numerous clinical trials. Bacopa monnieri has been found to be effective in healthy 18 year olds, in the middle aged, and in older people actually experiencing memory decline.
The quality of these studies is excellent. There is no systemic bias to speak of in the studies quoted here. No obvious commercial bias, and no statistically insignificant results. It looks as though Bacopa monnieri is the real deal.
Bacopa monnieri is a great natural memory enhancer. A true nootropic – one that everyone can benefit from using!
Who should use Bacopa monnieri?
Bacopa monnieri is a phenomenal memory-enhancer. It works reliably well for practically everybody. The clinical literature makes this clear; everybody from healthy 18 year olds to 65 year olds with age-related memory loss both show remarkable improvements after Bacopa monnieri supplementation.
Whether you want to improve working spatial memory for sports or you want to make sure your memory doesn’t start failing as you get older – Bacopa monnieri can help.
It is well-tolerated, and very rarely causes side effects.
Basically, we think Bacopa monnieri should be used by anybody who is remotely interested in enhancing their cognition.
If you think you could benefit from having a better memory, then Bacopa monnieri is for you!
How should you use Bacopa monnieri?
One thing is very evident from the studies cited above; for Bacopa monnieri to have any discernible effect on your memory function, you need to use it for at least 4-6 weeks.
The best results are invariably seen after 8-12 weeks.
In our experience, this is not a hard limit – you shouldn’t stop after 12 weeks. It is just when the studies stop! The benefits of Bacopa monnieri just keep getting stronger and more pronounced the longer you use it for. After 12 weeks, the benefits of Bacopa monnieri are only just becoming really apparent!
We recommend taking 150mg of high quality Bacopa monnieri extract every single day for at least 12 weeks.
Most of the studies have used 300mg, but we don’t think this dose is really necessary. Some trials have used as little as 125mg and seen good results. With a lower dose, it might just take a little longer for bacoside levels to build up enough to trigger dendrite growth. But that’s fine by us – we’re in tis for the long-haul!
If you’re interested in seeing what Bacopa monnieri can do for you, we highly recommend it!
Bacopa monnieri is in one of our top rated nootropics, Mind Lab Pro. If you can’t find a standalone Bacopa monnieri supplement, taking it as part of a pre-made stack is a good way to go.