Bacopa (Brahmi)

Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is your brain’s ally. It increases blood flow to the brain, keeping it well nourished with oxygen and nutrients. Together with the body’s innate antioxidants, it also fights nerve-damaging free radicals. Bacopa helps nerves branch out further and activates protein kinases. As a result, more nerves start communicating with each other. It also increases serotonin availability, which helps form memory and improve mood. Bacopa also increases the production of antibodies.

A creeping marsh plant, bacopa (brahmi in Sanskrit) is all kinds of good for your brain. It is also an adaptogen – which means it helps your body cope with both physical and mental stress.

The leaves are especially valuable with their arsenal of health-promoting compounds. Here’s a quick look:

Though the bacosides steal most of the limelight for bacopa’s health benefits, we can’t ignore the fact that any herb is a lot more complex than isolated compounds. Different components support or keep each other in check, a necessity for their efficacy and safety.

Why It’s So Great

1. Helps Improve Memory

Given the amount of information one has to process, store, and call back just in the span of a single day, some help with memory is always appreciated. Mnemonics come in handy. Walnuts and oily sea fish are known to help. You can also add bacopa to the list.

Bacopa increases the nervous crosstalk in the brain’s memory center, the hippocampus. More communication is always a plus. Bacosides A and B seem to be the most involved. Here are their major strategies:

  • Protein kinases: To record new information, there needs to be enough “flexibility” or neuroplasticity in the brain. It helps rewire brain cells to store more and more information in different ways. Protein kinases are enzymes crucial to neuroplasticity. They intervene at various points of a traveling nerve signal, controlling if, when, and where the rewiring can take place.

Bacopa nudges protein kinases to work harder.

  • Serotonin: The emotions you feel during an experience determine how much and what you remember of that experience. Serotonin is a nerve-signaling molecule that helps regulate your emotions, often helping you feel more and, thus, remember more.

Bacopa ensures your brain has enough serotonin, better consolidating your memories. It stimulates the serotonin synthesis enzyme (TPH2) and increases inter-nerve serotonin transport.

  • Dendrites: Like branched arms stretching out, nerve endings called dendrites bridge nerve cells. They help carry nerve messages forward. Bacopa helps dendrites grow and branch out more, creating a wider neural network with stronger connections.
  • Blood circulation: Bacopa increases blood flow to the brain without increasing blood pressure. This is mediated by nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels. More blood flow to the brain means more oxygen and nutrients for the brain to use.
  • Antioxidant protection: The brain is a mass of nerve cells, which are extremely vulnerable to highly reactive molecules called free radicals. Free radicals can be knocked off by antioxidants. Unfortunately, nerve cells are naturally low in them and may not be able to deal with a sudden upsurge as seen when disease strikes or as we age.

Fortunately, not only do bacopa’s bacosides work as antioxidants, they also fire up your brain’s own antioxidant enzymes.

NOTE: You don’t need to be losing your memory or be exceptionally forgetful to benefit from bacopa’s memory-enhancing effects.

2. Helps Reduce Stress and Anxiety

We often make mountains out of molehills when it comes to stress, imagining more than there really is. There’s even a term for it – perceived stress.

Your body already has a store of “happy” signaling molecules to fight stress – like serotonin, which is associated with feelings of peace, and dopamine, which gives you mental energy and motivation. All it needs is a little nudge.

Bacopa can give it that nudge. Bacosides in bacopa amplify serotonin and dopamine and lower the stress hormone cortisol. In effect, it helps your body reduce perceived stress and controls your reaction to stress at a molecular level. It doesn’t take too long to work.

3. Helps Strengthen Immunity

You can’t even begin to imagine your immune system’s daily workload. Invaders like bacteria, viruses, and parasites are constantly trying to enter and wreak havoc in your body.

Bacopa can offer your immune system a hand and take on some of that load.

  • Increases antibodies: Antibodies are bullets fired at invaders by your immune cells. Bacopa increases the production of antibodies IgA, IgG, and IgM, making your internal defenses stronger.

In case you’re wondering, IgA helps fight allergies, IgM is an all-time front-line trooper, while IgG is the body’s most abundant antibody.

  • Increases SOS signals: As immune cells fight invaders at an attack site, they also send SOS signals to call in immune cells from other parts of the body. These signals are carried by chemical messengers called cytokines. Bacopa helps regulate cytokine production in the spleen, an important immune system junction.

Lifestyle Tip

Have about 250–500 mg bacopa powder once or twice daily. It’s best to have it with food or ghee (clarified butter). The fat in cooking oil and ghee will help your body absorb the powder better. It will also reduce the chances of ending up with an upset stomach.

Importantly, give the herb time to work.