From the start, you were hooked with the promise of this plant being able to reduce anxiety. Like your hand in the fish tank, let’s dive right in.
In patients with anxiety, Bacopa monnieri had an anxiolytic effect, simply meaning an anti-anxiety effect. Participants in clinical trials experienced reduced heart rates and anxiety levels. These physiological effects point to the adaptogen potential of Bacopa monnieri.Note the word “adapt” nestled inside. Adaptogens are classified by their abilities to help us adapt to stress by normalizing the body’s physiological responses to them.
But the criteria for being labeled an adaptogen are rather strict. The herb must not only be able to assist the body in coping with stress but also decrease stress-induced damage and produce beneficial effects over time. The kicker? Adaptogens must be devoid of significant negative side effects.
One of Bacopa monnieri’s adaptogenic effects is cortisol reduction. Although cortisol is the infamous “stress hormone,” it’s responsible for numerous processes—many of them beneficial. Cortisol is made in the adrenal glands and released into the bloodstream to transport it all over your body. Most of our cells contain cortisol receptors, which allows cortisol to have different effects depending on which cells it acts upon. The hormone can manage blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, and influence blood pressure. Our cortisol levels are constantly fluctuating, but they generally cycle in a sensical way for a steroidal hormone, like being higher when we first wake up. Don’t worry if you’re not eager to jump out of bed every morning, though; cortisol doesn’t quite have the same vigor as caffeine.
When we feel stressed, we release cortisol to help us respond appropriately to the situation.
The fight-or-flight response, anyone? This reaction is very important for our survival. But we aren’t really supposed to engage this response over a long period of time, and elevated cortisol levels from chronic stress can negatively impact your body’s systems. On the minor side, you may suffer from digestive distress, such as diarrhea or constipation. Muscle tension could lead to daily soreness, headaches, or even migraines. On the major end, you could experience higher blood pressure, which is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease.
In a 2013 study examining the anxiolytic effects of Bacopa monnieri supplementation, human subjects dosing with 640mg of the herb experienced a significant reduction in cortisol levels in as little as two hours after taking it.
Bacopa monnieri’s calming effect may also be attributed to its modulation of serotonin levels, which Bacopa monnieri has been shown to regulate. Serotonin is the targeted neurotransmitter for the most successful antidepressive agents: the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (or SSRIs).
Antidepressants also often increase the availability of dopamine in synapses, which is another neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood and motivation. Both dopamine and serotonin levels can decline with age, but Bacopa monnieri may be able to mitigate this decline by protecting dopaminergic neurons from death.
In animal models, bacosides isolated from the Bacopa monnieri plant exhibited antidepressive effects. Better yet, human subjects reported a significant improvement in depression symptoms after supplementing with Bacopa monnieri for a twelve-week period.
Bacopa Monnieri Physical Benefits
We can’t just let the brain have all the fun. Bacopa monnieri is a strong fighter for the body as well.
Radical Agent: Bacopa as an Antioxidant
Twelve weeks may seem like a long time, but Bacopa monnieri does its best work when given ample time to shine. Remember that in order for Bacopa monnieri to be classified as an adaptogen, it must be able to decrease stress-induced damage and produce beneficial effects over time. If you’re patient, it will react like an antioxidant in your system.
Joining the ranks of other common antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, Bacopa monnieri can help remove free radicals such as nitric oxide from your system. Free radicals are unstable molecules missing an electron, which they attempt to take from our lipid membranes (known as lipid peroxidation). Over time, lipid peroxidation can cause tissue and muscle damage and contribute to a scary list of diseases: diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Treat Yourself: Bacopa as Anti-inflammatory
If one disease-reducing quality wasn’t enough, here’s another.
In vivo studies on rats found that Bacopa extracts inhibit the release of cytokines and enzymes associated with inflammation in the brain, leading to an overall reduction in inflammation of the central nervous system (CNS).
A 2016 study on the effects of Bacopa on signaling enzymes and inflammatory markers found that Bacopa monnieri targeted specific inflammatory mediators found in the central nervous system and the periphery that are linked to arthritis and neuroinflammation. Similarly, 2011 in vivo study found that the isolated bacosides prevented age-dependent elevation of pro-inflammatory markers in the aged cortex.
While this doesn’t imply that Bacopa monnieri reduces aging, it does encourage further research into using the herb to reduce systemic inflammation.
This is especially promising because reducing inflammation can assist with the treatment of serious CNS disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and multiple sclerosis.
Epilepsy: Bacopa Beginnings
While the research on Bacopa monnieri’s effects in individuals with epilepsy is in its infancy, the herb’s mechanisms are promising.
Epilepsy is a neuronal disorder often characterized by memory and learning impairments. Frequent recurrent seizures can adversely affect cognition and contribute to brain injuries associated with cognitive degradation. For genetic epilepsies, the mechanisms of seizure activity are actually quite similar to the mechanisms of cognitive impairment. These mechanisms appear to occur as a result of abnormal signaling patterns, which result in modified synaptic function and hyperexcitability. Don’t get too excited—normal cognitive function requires a stable balance of excitatory and inhibitory drive.
In epileptic animal models, Bacopa monnieri treatment significantly reversed the down-regulation of essential gene expression during seizure activity. In other words, neuronal cell receptors appeared to function normally again.
Bacopa monnieri’s effects on epilepsy behavioral deficits were also researched in 2010. Because the herb has been tested for its antioxidant, anticonvulsant, and cognition improving properties, the authors posit that it may be a beneficial herbal medicine for ameliorating the neuronal deficits associated with frequent seizure activity.
Supplementing with Bacopa Monnieri
Daily doses range from 200mg – 400mg of the standardized extract with no major adverse effects reported. Minor side effects include diarrhea, nausea, and an upset stomach. The extract is also not known for having the most pleasant flavor.
Bacopa monnieri is generally considered safe to pair with other medications and supplements.
Remember: Bacopa monnieri is most effective after being used consistently for an eight to twelve week period. With its hefty list of benefits, this is one herb that’s worth the wait.
Testing Your Memory
Whether you need to train your brain to process new information more quickly or train your body to process new movements more gracefully, adding Bacopa monnieri to the mix can help you achieve your memory goals and boost cognitive function.
You may not have started supplementing yet, but try to see how many of Bacopa monnieri’s benefits you’re able to remember on your own:
- Increased memory acquisition and retention
- Defense against age-associated memory impairment
- Increased verbal processing
- Increased rapid visual information processing
- Increased spatial working memory
- Increased memory consolidation
- Defense against lipid peroxidation
- Reduced inflammation in the central nervous system
- Reduced heart rate
- Decreased anxiety
- Decreased depression
- Potential for those with epilepsy and seizure activity
Bacopa monnieri’s cognitive enhancement and protective effects won’t get you out of going to the dentist. But it could help you remember to floss and keep you calm while the dental hygienist does it for you anyway.
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