Which Wards Off Dementia: Brain-Boosting Supplements or Good Old Exercise?
13 June 2019
A small and rather delicate looking flowering plant by the name of bacopa has been used for thousands of years in India to enhance memory, amongst other things. Bacopa supplements are quickly gaining shelf space in the aisles of American health food stores and are the focus of quite a few promising clinical studies.
Considered by many in the health and wellness industry to be the best adaptogenic, or adrenal supporting, herb for promoting clarity and focus, one could begin to see the importance that a high-quality bacopa extract could have in supporting healthy cognitive function.
Data from the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggests that bacopa “inhibits enzymes associated with inflammation of the brain.” A randomized double-blind placebo controlled study with sixty elderly subjects published by the National Institutes of Health concluded that bacopa could improve attention, cognitive processing and working memory. Bacopa may also be beneficial in supporting healthy blood pressure levels as well as supporting healthy stress response due to its adaptogenic qualities.
Many prefer to take bacopa in capsule form, but it can also be found in tea, liquid and powder as well as in combination with other adrenal or brain supporting supplements. Look for a supplement containing around 300 milligrams of bacopa extract to be taken once or twice daily. Be leery of supplements that make bold medical claims and instead stick with quality brands that can guarantee the purity of their finished product.
Antioxidants are substances that help protect against cell damage caused by potentially harmful molecules called free radicals. Research suggests that damage caused by free radicals is linked to many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Bacopa Monnieri contains powerful compounds that may have antioxidant effects.
For example, bacosides, the main active compounds in Bacopa Monnieri, have been shown to neutralize free radicals and prevent fat molecules from reacting with free radicals. When fat molecules react with free radicals, they undergo a process called lipid peroxidation. Lipid peroxidation is linked to several conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders. Bacopa Monnieri may help prevent damage caused by this process. For example, a study showed that treating rats with dementia with Bacopa Monnieri reduced free radical damage and reversed signs of memory impairment.
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to help heal and fight disease. However, chronic, low-level inflammation has been linked to many chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and heart and kidney disease. In test-tube studies, Bacopa Monnieri appeared to suppress the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines — molecules that stimulate an inflammatory immune response. In test-tube and animal studies, it also inhibited enzymes, such as cyclooxygenases, caspases, and lipoxygenases — all of which play key roles in inflammation and pain. What’s more, in animal studies, Bacopa Monnieri had anti-inflammatory effects comparable to those of diclofenac and indomethacin — two nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs commonly used to treat inflammation. Nevertheless, more research is needed to determine whether Bacopa Monnieri reduces inflammation in humans.
Research suggests that Bacopa Monnieri may help enhance brain function. For example, one study in mice showed that supplementing with Bacopa Monnieri improved their spatial learning and ability to retain information. The same study also found that it increased dendritic length and branching. Dendrites are parts of nerve cells in the brain that are closely linked to learning and memory. Additionally, a 12-week study in 46 healthy adults observed that taking 300 mg of Bacopa Monnieri daily significantly improved the speed of processing visual information, learning rate, and memory, compared to the placebo treatment. Another 12-week study in 60 older adults found that taking either 300 mg or 600 mg of Bacopa Monnieri extract daily improved memory, attention, and the ability to process information, compared to the placebo treatment.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattentiveness. Interestingly, research has shown that Bacopa Monnieri may help reduce ADHD symptoms. One study in 31 children aged 6–12 years found that taking 225 mg of Bacopa Monnieri extract daily for 6 months significantly reduced ADHD symptoms, such as restlessness, poor self-control, inattention, and impulsivity in 85% of the children. Another study in 120 children with ADHD observed that taking an herbal blend that contained 125 mg of Bacopa Monnieri improved attention, cognition, and impulse control, compared to the placebo group. Although these findings are promising, more large-scale studies examining the effects of Bacopa Monnieri on ADHD are needed before it can be recommended as a treatment.
Bacopa Monnieri may help prevent anxiety and stress. It’s considered an adaptogenic herb, meaning that it increases your body’s resistance to stress. Research suggests that Bacopa Monnieri helps reduce stress and anxiety by elevating your mood and reducing levels of cortisol, a hormone that is closely linked to stress levels. One rodent study showed that Bacopa Monnieri had anti-anxiety effects comparable to those of lorazepam (benzodiazepine), a prescription medication used to treat anxiety. However, human studies on Bacopa Monnieri and anxiety show mixed results. For example, two human studies found that taking 300 mg of Bacopa Monnieri daily significantly reduced anxiety and depression scores in adults over 12 weeks, compared to the placebo treatment. Yet, another human study found that treatment with Bacopa Monnieri had no effect on anxiety. More large-scale human studies are needed to confirm its effects on stress and anxiety.
High blood pressure is a serious health concern, as it places strain on your heart and blood vessels. This can weaken your heart and increase the risk of heart disease. Research suggests that Bacopa Monnieri may help keep blood pressure within a healthy range. In one animal study, Bacopa Monnieri reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels. It did this by releasing nitric oxide, which helps dilate blood vessels, resulting in improved blood flow and lower blood pressure. Another study showed that Bacopa Monnieri significantly lowered blood pressure levels in rats that had elevated levels, but it had no effect on rats that had normal blood pressure levels. However, one 12-week study in 54 healthy older adults found that taking 300 mg of Bacopa Monnieri daily had no effect on blood pressure levels. Based on current findings, Bacopa Monnieri may lower blood pressure in animals with high blood pressure levels. Nevertheless, more human research is required to confirm these effects.