Do you spend each day swirling in a mental sea of assignments, demands, voices, headlines, songs, reminders, numbers, questions and deadlines? And at the end of the day, do you feel like time has once again run away from you?
Some people seem to be born with an admirable natural ability to remain clear and on top of tasks, while remembering everything effortlessly. Many of us have doubtless wished that we too could possess these qualities.
Smart drugs can boost brain performance
A new class of supplements known as “smart drugs” has recently arrived on the scene. With the official title of nootropics, these supplements can be made from many different ingredients, including herbs, nutraceuticals or functional foods, which are known to improve one or more aspects of mental function.
One such ingredient is Bacopa monnieri, a creeping herb that grows in wetlands around the world. Bacopa is most well known in India, where it has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Recent studies have supported the use of bacopa to improve cognitive function naturally. In 2011, researchers from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine found that regular use of bacopa extract has the potential to significantly improve the ability to recall learned information, even in elderly people with cognitive impairment and memory loss.
A 2005 study published in Phytomedicine confirmed that bacopa has antioxidant and cell-protective effects, while a 2013 study reported that the herb increases cerebral blood flow. In fact, there are over 92 unique studies examining the beneficial effects of bacopa. It can even increase the growth of nerve cells called dendrites in the brain, to promote more efficient communication in the nervous system.
This effect is achieved through an active compound called bacoside A, and the stimulation of an enzyme called tryptophan hydroxylase. Together the effect is more rapid processing and exchange within the brain, producing clearer thoughts and memories that come forth more easily.
Other noted therapeutic benefits include rapid relief of anxiety and stress. The cognitive effects tend to take effect over a longer period; studies show that bacopa should be used for eight to 12 weeks before results are evaluated. Side effects are few, especially when the supplement is taken with food to prevent digestive upset.
Bacopa monnieri in Ayurvedic medicine
The traditional Indian medical approach, Ayurveda, is arguably one of the most holistic approaches in the world. It’s fascinating that Bacopa monnieri, a traditional Ayurvedic supplement, is now being connected to brain function in Western research. Just one more exciting example of herbal medicine finally being supported by modern science and entering the mainstream!
Bacopa is known to interact with and protect the midbrain, including the pituitary gland and pineal gland. This area of the brain is related to the processing of information and has been linked to creative abilities and imagination. According to the Indian energetic system, the third eye is related to the pituitary and pineal glands. Therefore, bacopa is believed to positively influence the following abilities, via the third eye:
- Vision, revelation and aspiration
- Imagination and creativity
- Control of time
- Awareness of light, and a healthy sleep-wake cycle
- Psychic abilities
- Connection to insight
- Motivation and inspiration
Bacopa’s antioxidant action also appears to enhance neural transmission and interactions with serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which is popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.
Using Bacopa monnieri extract safely
Although this herb appears to have few risks, there are still a few precautions to take into account. Taking the herb on an empty stomach has been known to cause cramping and diarrhea. Therefore, it should be taken with food. Since the active compounds are fat soluble, the food consumed with the dose should contain fat to get the best effects.
Also, note that bacopa is sometimes called “Brahmi” in Ayurveda; however this name is also used for other herbs and natural medicines. Be sure to check that you are getting the right product.
The use of bacopa for mental and emotional health is well supported by both ancient and Western medical modalities, and could be an excellent, safe approach for many common cognitive conditions.
Interestingly, many other herbs have been well studied for natural stress relief purposes. Find out more about herbs for mental health.
—The Alternative Daily