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Bacopa

By

Laura Shane-McWhorter

, PharmD, University of Utah College of Pharmacy

Last full review/revision Jan 2022| Content last modified Jan 2022
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION

What is bacopa?

The scientific name of bacopa is Bacopa monniera.

Bacopa's active ingredients are a mixture of "bacosides," which are believed to protect nerve cells and improve learning.

  • The plant's ingredients are also thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Antioxidants protect cells against damage by free radicals, which are active by-products of normal cell activity.

The plant can be used in several ways:

  • Eaten as an herb

  • Dried and made into a powder that can be mixed with butter

  • Added alone or with other herbs to dietary supplements in pill and capsule forms

What claims are made about bacopa?

The long list of health benefits claimed for this herb includes the following:

  • Improves memory and learning

  • Treats epilepsy, neurosis, hypertension, anxiety, epilepsy, asthma, leprosy, tuberculosis, and skin diseases

  • Slows down aging

  • Treats snake bites

  • Prevents or treats Alzheimer disease

  • Improves digestion

Does bacopa work?

Any single compound, including bacopa, is highly unlikely to have such a broad range of health benefits. Thus, evidence is very unlikely to confirm such multiple benefits.

Studies in cells and animals show that bacopa could have the following health effects, but these findings have not been confirmed in studies in people:

  • Reduce levels of inflammation, which are at high levels in many conditions (such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes)

  • Prevent anxiety and stress

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Kill cancer cells

The evidence from studies in people to show that bacopa has the claimed health benefits is limited. Many of these studies are small (for example, fewer than 100 participants) and of poor quality. These studies suggest that bacopa could have the following health benefits, among others:

  • Improve attention and memory

  • Speed up the processing of visual information

  • Reduce the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children

  • Help prevent seizures

  • Reduce anxiety

What are the possible side effects of bacopa?

Bacopa is safe in most people when taken by mouth for up to 12 weeks. Sometimes bacopa causes an upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, and/or fatigue. Some evidence also shows that bacopa might

  • Slow the heart rate, which could be a problem in people whose heart rate is already slow

  • Slow transit in the intestines, which could be dangerous for people with blockages that could slow the transit of food or liquids moving through their intestines

  • Worsen ulcers because it might increase secretions in the stomach and intestines

  • Increase fluid secretions in the lungs and thus worsen asthma and other lung conditions

  • Increase thyroid hormone levels, possibly making it unsafe for people with a thyroid disorder

  • Increase urinary obstructions because it could increase secretions in the urinary tract

What drug interactions occur with bacopa?

Very little evidence is available on interactions between bacopa and other drugs.

  • Because bacopa could increase thyroid hormone levels, people taking thyroid hormone drugs should not take bacopa.

  • Taking both bacopa and fluoxetine, an antidepressant, could cause such symptoms as confusion, agitation, and changes in blood pressure or temperature.

  • Bacopa might boost levels of certain chemicals in the brain, heart, and other parts of the body. Some drugs, such as those used to treat Alzheimer disease and glaucoma, including pilocarpine, donepezil, and tacrine, might also affect these chemicals.

  • Bacopa could also increase levels of other drugs, such as the blood thinner warfarin, diabetes drugs such as glipizide, some blood pressure–lowering drugs, such as diltiazem or losartan, or some chemotherapy drugs, such as etoposide, vinblastine, or vincristine.

Recommendations

No beneficial health effects of bacopa have been confirmed in high-quality studies in people.

Use of bacopa is not recommended because there are no confirmed benefits to outweigh the possibility of harmful side effects.

Bacopa is probably safe for most people. However,

  • Pregnant women and people with stomach ulcers, thyroid disease, intestinal blockages, urinary obstruction, a slow heart rate, or a lung disease should avoid bacopa.

  • People who take certain drugs (including fluoxetine, thyroid hormones, and drugs to treat Alzheimer disease, glaucoma, high blood pressure, or diabetes) should talk to their doctor before taking bacopa.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION
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