Bacopa monnieri is a creeping perennial with white or blue flowers that grows throughout much of Southern Asia.
It has been used traditionally to treat epilepsy, depression, insomnia, and schizophrenia. In the traditional medicine of India, Ayurveda, B. monnieri is considered to fall in the “brahmi” category of herbs, a group of substances said to assist the mind and enhance awareness. From this comes B. monnieri’s common name of brahmi, despite the fact that many other herbs fall into the brahmi category, as well.
B. monnieri is widely marketed today as a “brain tonic” for enhancing memory and mental function. However, as discussed in the next section, the evidence that it works remains weak at best.
Even weaker evidence, far too preliminary to rely upon at all, hints that B. monnieri might have potential value for allergies,1 asthma,2 narcotic addiction,3 hypothyroidism,4 depression,5 and ulcers.6 However, far more research is necessary before anyone could responsibly promote B. monnieri for these conditions.
There is conflicting evidence to support the use of B. monnieri to enhance mental function. Although some double-blind, placebo-controlled trials have have evaluated it's potential value, results remain inconclusive.
B. monnieri appears to have antioxidant properties in the brain. These antioxidant properties could potentially lead to positive effects on mental function.7
A double-blind, placebo-control trial, which lasted 12 weeks and involved 76 people, generally failed to find evidence that the B. monnieri could improve memory.8 The researchers did find, though, that the people in the B. monnieri group had an improvement in their ability to retain new information. However, the problem is that numerous tests were used to assess different types of memory. When researchers use such a range of tests, they increase the likelihood that at least one of the tests will show positive results to support the herb merely by chance. Because of this study design, the results are not as meaningful. Similarly, a randomized trial involving 48 healthy elderly people found some memory enhancing effects of B. monnieri compared to placebo. But, again, the outcomes measured were too numerous to be meaningful.15 Another small study looking at the possible short-term effects of B. monnieri also did not find promising results.10 Thirty-eight healthy people were randomized to receive 300 mg of B. monnieri or placebo. When taken two hours before neuropsychological tests, B. monnieri appeared to have no effect on cognitive function.
In another study, however, 46 healthy people were randomized to receive B. monnieri (300 mg) or placebo over a 12-week period.9 The results found that those in the B. monnieri group had an improvement in test scores, showing higher order cognitive processes, which are important to learning and memory, but not an improvement in memory per se. In a subsequent trial, 98 healthy older adults (aged 55 years and older) were randomized to one of two groups—300 mg of B. monnieri (a product called BacoMind) or placebo.16 After 12 weeks, those taking B. monnieri experienced an improvement in their memory test scores (eg, verbal learning, memory acquisition, and delayed recall) compared to those in the placebo group.
Use of combined Ginkgo biloba (120 mg) and B. monnieri (300 mg) failed to improve mental function.11,12 This suggests that the positive results seen in some of the above studies may have been due to chance.
Slightly more promising results have been seen in studies of a proprietary Ayurvedic mixture containing B. monnieri and about 30 other ingredients.13,14 However, limitations in study design make these results less reilaible.
The proposed active ingredients in B. monnieri are substances called bacosides. A typical dose of B. monnieri used in the studies described above was 300-450 mg daily of a concentrated alcohol extract standardized to bacoside content, equivalent to about 6-9 g of whole dried herb.
There are no well known significant side effects associated with the use of B. monnieri. However, comprehensive safety studies have not been reported. Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
1. Samiulla DS, Prashanth D, Amit A. Mast cell stabilising activity of Bacopa monnieri. Fitoterapia. 2001;72:284-285.
2. Channa S, Dar A, Yaqoob M, Anjum S, Sultani Z, Rahman A. Broncho-vasodilatory activity of fractions and pure constituents isolated from Bacopa monniera. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003;86:27-35
3. Sumathi T, Nayeem M, Balakrishna K, Veluchamy G, Devaraj SN. Alcoholic extract of ' Bacopa monniera' reduces the in vitro effects of morphine withdrawal in guinea-pig ileum. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002;82:75-81.
4. Kar A, Panda S, Bharti S. Relative efficacy of three medicinal plant extracts in the alteration of thyroid hormone concentrations in male mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002;81:281-285.
5. Sairam K, Dorababu M, Goel RK, Bhattacharya SK. Antidepressant activity of standardized extract of Bacopamonniera in experimental models of depression in rats. Phytomedicine. 2002;9:207-211.
6. Sairam K, Rao CV, Babu MD, Goel RK. Prophylactic and curative effects of Bacopa monniera in gastric ulcer models. Phytomedicine. 2001;8:423-430.
7. Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Kumar A, Ghosal S Antioxidant activity of Bacopa monniera in rat frontal cortex, striatum and hippocampus. Phytother Res. 2000;14:174-179.
8. Roodenrys S, Booth D, Bulzomi S, et al. Chronic effects of B. monnieri ( Bacopa monnieri) on human memory. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2002;27:279-281.
9. Stough C, Lloyd J, Clarke J, et al. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera ( B. monnieri) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology. 2001;156:481-484.
10. Nathan PJ, Clarke J, Lloyd J, et al. The acute effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera ( B. monnieri) on cognitive function in healthy normal subjects. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2001;16:345-351.
11. Nathan PJ, Tanner S, Lloyd J et al. Effects of a combined extract of Ginkgo biloba and Bacopa monniera on cognitive function in healthy humans. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2004;19:91-96.
12. Maher BF, Stough C, Shelmerdine A, et al. The acute effects of combined administration of Ginkgo biloba and Bacopa monniera on cognitive function in humans. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2002;17:163-164.
13. Agrawal A, Dubey M, Dubey G. Effects of Mentat on memory span, attention, galvanic skin resistance (GSR) and muscle action potential (EMG) among normal adults. Pharmacopsychoecologia. 1990;3:39-42.
14. Sharma AK, Agrawal A, Agrawal U, et al. Influence of Mentat (BR-16A) on memory and mental fatigue in cases of anxiety neurosis and depression. Ind J. Cancer Res. 1990;3:27.
15. Calabrese C, Gregory WL, Leo M, et al. 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. 2008 Jul 8. [Epub ahead of print]
16. Morgan A, Stevens J. Does bacopa monnieri improve memory performance in older persons? Results of a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(7):753-759.
Last reviewed September 2014 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 9/18/2014
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