As we get older, many of us quietly accept as fact that our mental capabilities aren’t as sharp as they were when we were younger. We aren’t surprised to find that our reaction speed slows, that we’re not as adept at mental tasks and that our memory isn’t what it used to be. We accept it because it seems like there’s not much we can do about it.
But, while modern medicine might not be able to help prevent those “senior moments,” an ancient Ayurvedic herb called bacopa can.
Bacopa—also known as water hyssop or brahmi—is a small white flower that grows wild throughout India, where it has been used since at least the sixth century A.D. as a tonic for the nervous system and the heart. Bacopa’s secret? The saponins thought to repair damaged neurons in the brain. A recent study from the National College of Natural Medicine in collaboration with researchers from Oregon Health and Science University, both in Portland, supports that claim. A relatively modest dose of 300 mg. daily for 12 weeks improved information recall and had the added benefit of reducing depression and anxiety.
This isn’t the first study to show bacopa’s brain benefits. In an Australian double-blind study, researchers gave 46 healthy adults either 300 mg. of bacopa or a placebo. After 12 weeks, the group that took bacopa had a 13 percent improvement in learning and memory rates. But the most striking result was the significant reduction in anxiety in those who received bacopa.
Other studies have found that bacopa:
- Increases mental agility and alertness
- Improves memory
- Increases ability to grasp new information and skills
- Calms the mind, while promoting relaxation
- Improves academic performance
- Helps concentration and focus
A number of compounds have been identified in bacopa, including bacosides A and B, two chemicals that improve the transmission of impulses between nerve cells in the brain. These bacosides regenerate synapses and repair damaged neurons, making it easier to learn and remember new information. Bacopa also increases serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation.
But bacosides may not be the only compounds responsible for bacopa’s impact on cognition. A rodent study compared the effects of bacopa and deprenyl, a Parkinson’s disease drug that has been shown to extend lifespan and enhance antioxidant enzymes in the brain.
Amazingly, bacopa increased antioxidant activity in all parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, (memory-storing region of the brain), unlike deprenyl, which increased activity in the frontal regions of the brain, but not the hippocampus. Because the ability of deprenyl to enhance our natural antioxidant enzymes is believed to be the reason deprenyl slows brain aging and extends lifespan, bacopa may be a natural way to not only protect our brains, but also to extend our lifespan.
Engage in activities that utilize thinking skills to keep your mind sharp. Do crossword puzzles; play chess or bridge; learn to use the computer or video camera; play a musical instrument; square dance; play tennis; study a foreign language; write a poem. Your brain needs to be stimulated, challenged and exercised, just like the rest of your body!
Bhattacharya SK, Bhattacharya A, Kumar A, Ghosal S. Antioxidant activity of Bacopa monniera in rat frontal cortex, striatum and hippocampus. Phytotherapy Research. 2000; 14: 174-179.
Calabrese C. Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2008;14:707-713.
Stough C. The chronic effects of an extract of Bacopa monniera (Brahmi) on cognitive function in healthy human subjects. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2001;156(4):481-484.
Dr. David J. Blyweiss began his medical career as a clinical pharmacist in South Florida prior to earning his medical degree from St. George's University School of Medicine in 1982.
His dual background allowed him to appreciate the relevance of conventional pharmaceutical/surgical based treatments in acute medical conditions, and recognize where these approaches fell short in treating the majority of patients who suffered from the chronic degenerative diseases of "western civilization origin."
Over the last twenty years, with the nutritional medical knowledge base expanding in the fields of nutrigenomics, protemics, and other related "orthomolecular" disciplines directed towards patients' biochemical individuality, Dr. Blyweiss became an early adherent and experienced practitioner of what would become known as "functional medicine." This knowledge allows him to effectively manage and alleviate the symptoms related to the most "difficult-to-treat" conditions by addressing the underlying causes, allowing the body to heal itself.
Dr. Blyweiss was one of the initial researchers doing the early work on chlorhexidine (Phisohex) while earning his first post graduate degree at Temple University School of Pharmacy. During medical school he worked with the WHO (World Health Organization) in vaccinating children in the islands of the Carribbean. He has traveled much of the world, most recently to Belize, Central America, Gabon, Africa, and Zagreb, Croatia working closely with teams of specialists to identify new plant life and natural products for possible human benefit as well as researchers and their stem cell transplantation teams. He has consulted for and created state-of-the-art nutritional supplements for multiple nutritional companies since 1999. He is currently in private practice in South Florida where he resides with his family.