What is bacopa?
The scientific name of bacopa is Bacopa monniera.
Bacopa is a small plant that grows in marshy areas all over Asia as well as in South America, Hawaii, and Florida.
This plant is also known as Brahmi, Indian pennywort, water hyssop, and herb of grace.
The common name Brahmi can also refer to a completely different plant gotu kola (Centella asiatica) that has similar medicinal properties to bacopa. Both plants are considered adaptogens Adaptogens "Adaptogen" is a term for certain foods and supplements that are said to help the body cope with "stress." Stress may be psychologic (in the mind), but also may be physical (in the body), and... read more .
The whole plant has been used for centuries as a traditional Ayurvedic medicine Ayurveda Ayurveda is the traditional medical system of India, originating more than 4,000 years ago. It is based on the theory that illness results from the imbalance of the body’s life force or prana... read more in India.
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 neurosis, hypertension, anxiety, epilepsy, asthma, leprosy, tuberculosis, and skin diseases
Slows down aging
Treats snake bites
Prevents or treats Alzheimer disease
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
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.
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.