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How bacopa can help improve your cognitive function

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Bacopa Monnieri

Story at-a-glance -

  • Bacopa is a popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine because of its potential effects on brain function
  • The bacopa herb is commonly known as a nootropic herb, which means that it can help repair damaged neurons and improve brain function
  • Aside from being a nootropic, bacopa is a cardiotonic, nervine, diuretic and adaptogen

Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri), or moneywort, is a popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine that has been used in India for centuries.1 Bacopa is commonly known as a nootropic herb, which means it can help repair damaged neurons and improve brain function.2,3 Nootropics are usually said to have the ability to "unlock" the brain when it comes to creativity and cognitive drive.4

In India, the bacopa herb falls under the category of the "Medhya Rasayana" — herbs that have the ability to improve memory and intellect.5 This herb is also called "brahmi," together with the herb gotu kola.6 This was taken from the name of "Brahma," the creator of the universe in Hinduism.7 While the gotu kola herb shares the ability of the bacopa plant in improving cognition, these two can be easily differentiated based on their appearance.

The gotu kola plant can be identified by its fan-shaped leaves, and produces white, purple or pink flowers.8 Bacopas, on the other hand, have succulent oblong leaves and blue or white (with purple veins) flowers.9

Bacopa monnieri also shares its name with the Bacopa caroliniana plant, which is widely cultivated in aquarium settings because of its blue flowers and aromatic leaves. The two plants are closely related, but the Bacopa monnieri variety is much more known for its medicinal properties rather than its ornamental and decorative characteristics.10

Aside from being a nootropic, bacopa is a very potent cardiotonic, nervine and diuretic.11 Continue reading to learn more about the health benefits you can acquire from this herb.

Get these impressive health benefits from bacopa

Bacopa monnieri offers an impressive list of health and nutritional benefits, which are usually credited to the alkaloids, saponins and sterols that this herb contains.12 These benefits include the following:

May improve epilepsy symptoms — Bacopa has been used to reduce the frequency of epileptic episodes.13 In one study, the herb's effect on the GABA receptors, which are responsible for maintaining and regulating neuronal excitation, was measured. An imbalance in these receptors causes the abnormal occurrence of seizures.

The use of bacopa showed a decrease in GABA receptor activity, decreasing the frequency of seizures and epilepsy symptoms.14

Has antidepressant and antianxiety properties — Bacopa contains bacosaponin C and bacopasides, which were observed to show antidepressive properties in animal studies. In a human study, people over the age of 65 who used bacopa showed a decrease in both anxiety and depression.15

Promotes normal blood pressure — This herb has been observed to help in vascular muscle function and the complete utilization of nitric oxide. These two processes help in normalizing blood pressure.16

Functions as a nootropic — As mentioned above, bacopa can boost cognitive function and improve memory and creativity. It also helps in improving focus.17

May improve memory and information retention — In a study, subjects were given placebos and bacopa monnieri supplements. The individuals who were given the bacopa monnieri showed a higher ability to retain newly introduced information. Improved cognition was also observed in people who took bacopa regularly.18

Acts as an adaptogen —  Bacopa has the ability to regulate the body's response to acute and chronic stress. In an animal study, rats were treated with bacopa monnieri and subjected to high amounts of stress. According to the authors:19

“[O]ur study indicates that the adaptogenic activity of BM might be due to the normalization of stress induced alteration in plasma corticosterone and levels of monoamines like NA, 5-HT and DA in cortex and hippocampus regions of the brain, which are more vulnerable to stressful conditions analogous to the effects of PQ [Panax quinquefolium].”

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How can the bacopa plant be used?

The bacopa plant is available in the market in various forms. It's usually sold as powder or liquid extracts.20 Bacopa is being used in the food processing industry as well.21

This herb has a potent herbal flavor and a bitter aftertaste,22 which may not be that appetizing for children. The taste, though, is just a minor characteristic because what you're actually aiming to get are the numerous health benefits it offers.

Here's how you can grow your own bacopa

Bacopa monnieri is a hydroponic plant, which means that it can grow without soil, and can even be cultivated in aquariums and other water-based planting systems. The good news is that bacopa does not need too much of your attention for it to grow. All it needs is an adequate source of water and enough light.23 Here are a few bacoba growing tips from Gardening Know How:24

Make sure the plant gets part to full sun. Bacopa can grow in different types of soils — even rocky, sandy or muddy areas.

Nourish the plants with slow-release fertilizer, in moderation. Even if they're not heavy feeders, the added nutrients will help them thrive.

Ensure the plants get sufficient water. As mentioned, you can grow bacopa in water. If you do this, though, it would be better not to use any fertilizer, because this may lead to algae growth.

Try these tasty and healthy bacopa recipes

Once you get your hands on this herb, the next step is determining how you can add it to your diet. The good news is that there are numerous recipes available that use bacopa as the main ingredient, which means that you get the highest concentration of the minerals it offers. Here are a couple of recipes that you can follow:

Brahmi Pesto

Ingredients:

1 cup pine nuts, soaked overnight and drained

1/2 packed cup basil leaves

1/2 cup packed brahmi/bacopa

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon Himalayan salt

50 milliliters (1.69 ounces) water

Procedure:

1. Combine all ingredients in a high-speed blender.

2. Blend until smooth.

3. Transfer to a jar and keep refrigerated. This will last up for up to three days.

(Adapted from Vie de la Vegan25)

Brahmi with Lentils (Vallarai Keerai Kootu

Ingredients:

1 to 2 cups tightly packed bacopa leaves

3/4 cup mung beans

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon homemade ghee

2 teaspoon coconut oil

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 dried red chili

1 teaspoon black lentils

1 teaspoon chickpeas

A pinch of asafetida

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

5 to 6 curry leaves

Himalayan salt to taste

Lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Procedure:

1. In a pressure cooker, pour 2 cups of water. Add the lentils and turmeric powder. Cook for about 10 minutes or until done. Set aside.

2. Wash the greens with cold water. Make sure the leaves are clean and free from dirt. Blend the leaves in a food processor or a blender until it becomes a coarse paste.

3. Using a pan, heat the coconut oil and ghee on low-medium heat. Add the mustard seeds to the coconut oil and ghee mixture. Once the mustard seeds start popping, add the red chili, mung beans, chickpeas, asafetida, black lentils and cumin seeds.

4. Add the bacopa puree and cook until the raw smell is gone. Add the Himalayan salt to taste.

5. Add the cooked lentils and mix until thoroughly combined. If the mixture is too thick, feel free to add a little water until you get your desired consistency.

6. Add lemon juice to taste. Serve.

(Adapted from Chef in You26)

What is bacopa oil?

Bacopa oil, or brahmi oil, is commonly sold in natural food and health stores. It is made of bacopa juice mixed with coconut oil to dilute its concentration. Other medicinal plants may be added. This herbal oil has been used to help:27

  • Strengthen memory
  • Boost hair growth
  • Ease stress
  • Alleviate insomnia
  • Support nervous system health
  • Treat epilepsy symptoms

Because of the limited studies that back the use of this oil, it's not yet determined if it can improve certain health conditions when ingested regularly. If you're planning on using bacopa oil therapeutically, make sure that you consult a clinical practitioner for the right dose.

Bacopa contraindications and possible side effects

The intake and use of this herb should be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women so as to avoid possible ill effects. While there are no studies that prove that bacopa causes side effects, people have observed that excessive intake of bacopa may lead to stomach upset, fatigue, diarrhea, dry mouth and nausea.28

To avoid the risk of suffering from these adverse effects, it would be a good idea to gauge your tolerance for this herb. Start with the lowest possible dose and build up your threshold. It's highly recommended to use this herb in moderation, just like other herbs. As always, it’s best to consult with your preferred health care provider before taking this or any herb or supplement, to make sure that it is something that will work for you.