Ayurvedic Brain Food: Bacopa

Ayurvedic medical practitioners were focusing on cognitive enhancement long before the word nootropic was ever coined.

Ayurveda believes that the mind is the bridge between the body and the spirit and places an emphasis on treating the spirit in order to heal the body. As a direct result of this philosophy, Ayurvedic practitioners use cognitive enhancing herbs as a way to improve brain function. They do this in order to reach higher levels of consciousness, and thus a better state of health.

Some of the best nootropics have come out of the traditional knowledge found in Ayurveda. This includes herbs such as Ginkgo, Shatvari, Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, and Gotu Kola.

Out of the entire arsenal of Ayurvedic treatments, bacopa stands out as the king of the cognitive enhancing herbs.

Bacopa As Food For The Brain

In India, from which bacopa originates, it’s known as brahmi. In Sanskrit, brahmi refers to the creator of universal consciousness. It’s used as a broad and general purpose supplement for the brain to promote higher states of consciousness.

Traditionally, bacopa was used by monks to help them focus during meditation, in children to support early cognitive development, and the elderly to slow the process of senility. It was often used for epilepsy, as well as conditions involving nerve degeneration like multiple sclerosis or neuralgia. It’s wide range of uses make it a jack of all trades when it comes to neurological support.

Modern Uses Of Bacopa

Bacopa has become a staple in the nootropics industry in recent years. Its high level of safety, rich evidence base, and versatility make it an excellent choice for nootropic formulas.

Bacopa is mainly used for improving memory and preventing neurological degeneration. It’s also commonly used for its anticonvulsant effects that can benefit conditions like stress and insomnia.

The active constituents in bacopa are a class of chemicals known as bacopasides. Most bacopa on the market comes standardised to contain a specific concentration of these bacopasides by weight.

In the past, companies have taken out the specific bacopasides and concentrated them down in an attempt to increase their potency. The problem, however, is that these chemicals were found to have little effect in isolation. There are other compounds present in the plant that are also required to produce these effects. This is why bacopa is most commonly found as a whole plant extract, with standardised bacopaside content.

The Benefits of Bacopa

Bacopa offers many benefits to the brain. The most significant benefits include:

  • Improved stress resistance
  • Increased nerve cell formation
  • Reduced insomnia episodes
  • Balanced neurotransmitter levels
  • Improved memory and learning
  • Potent antioxidant support
  • Boosted focus
  • Increased blood flow to the brain
  • Supports healthy brain development in children
  • Defends against neurodegeneration and age-related cognitive decline


Some Research on Bacopa

There’s been an extensive amount of research conducted on bacopa over the past 30 years.

It’s has been shown to improve learning [1], memory retention [2], and reaction times. It was also shown to protect the brains of mice given a strong dose of a potent neurotoxic chemical [3], providing evidence that bacopa has powerful protective effects on the neurons in the brain.

In one study, 46 individuals were given either bacopa or a placebo for 12 weeks. Each participant underwent several neuropsychological tests throughout the duration of the study. At the end of the 12 week study, the group taking bacopa was found to have improved information processing, verbal learning, and memory consolidation. Researchers concluded that bacopa was an effective supplement for increasing higher cognitive function in humans [4].

How Bacopa Works

Bacopa contains a class of chemicals known as bacopasides. There are many different kinds of these compounds in the plant, and it remains unclear how each one affects the body individually.

What we do know, however, is that as a collective, these chemicals alter acetylcholine levels in the brain [4], which is a common mechanism for nootropic supplements like racetams, alpha GPC, and huperzine-A.

Additionally, bacopa is a potent antioxidant, helping to resist the negative effects of free radical and oxidative damage in the brain. Inflammation in the control centers of the brain are an early warning sign for neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia [5].

How To Take Bacopa

Bacopa leaves and flowers were traditionally consumed with ghee or butter. Although this is no longer a common way of to taking bacopa, it’s recommended that you take bacopa with a meal because many of its active constituents require the bodies fat transporters to enter the bloodstream. By taking it with fats (like butter, or a meal), bacopa can “piggy back” off these fat transporters to enter bloodstream more efficiently.

Most bacopa comes in the form of dried, powdered leaves and flowers. It’s often supplied in raw, bulk, powder or in capsules.

The normal dose for bacopa is between 500 mg and 2000 mg. Although bacopa doesn’t have many side effects, it’s recommended that you start with a smaller dose, such as 250 or 500mg, and building up to a larger dose slowly.


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  1. Prakash, J. C. (1962). Comparative study of the effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monniera) and chlorpromazine on motor learning in rats. J. Sci. Industrial Research, 21, 93-96.
  2. Prakash, J. C. (1962). Comparative study of the effects of Brahmi (Bacopa monniera) and chlorpromazine on motor learning in rats. J. Sci. Industrial Research, 21, 93-96.
  3. Bhattacharya SK, Kumar A, Ghosal S (2000a) Effect of Bacopa monniera on animal models of Alzheimer’s disease and perturbed central cholinergic markers of cognition in rats. In: Siva Sanka DV (ed) Molecular aspects of asian medicines. PJD Publications, New York (in press)
  4. Stough, C., Lloyd, J., Clarke, J., Downey, L., Hutchison, C., Rodgers, T., & Nathan, P. (2001). The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology, 156(4), 481-484.
  5. Nunomura, A., Perry, G., Aliev, G., Hirai, K., Takeda, A., Balraj, E. K., ... & Chiba, S. (2001). Oxidative damage is the earliest event in Alzheimer disease. Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology, 60(8), 759-767.