What Research has to Say about Bacopa Extract for Memory
Bacopa extract comes from the plant Bacopa monnieri and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine—both alone and in combination with other herbs—as a memory and cognitive function enhancing herbal supplement. It can be found in nature in wet tropical environments; and, under its common English name of “water hyssop,” is often used as an aquarium plant. However, its potential use as a memory enhancing plant has generated a number of scientific studies designed to test whether its Ayurvedic claims are true.
In a 2006 study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, researchers decided to test the efficacy of Bacopa extract on test subjects with age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) who were not suffering from any type of dementia or psychiatric disorder. The subjects had memory loss in everyday activities and/or difficulty in remembering names of individuals following introduction, misplacing objects and difficulty in remembering telephone numbers.
The study consisted of a double-blind, randomized design where test subjects were given either 125 mg of Bacopa extract during the first 12 weeks and then a placebo for the last 4 weeks or a control placebo for the entire16 weeks of the study. Subjects were scored under a battery of cognitive function tests designed to monitor memory at time periods 0, 4, 8, 12, and 16 weeks during the study.
What the researchers found was that both the placebo and the test groups showed improvement in memory; however, the Bacopa extract group was statistically improved over the placebo group. The authors of the paper attribute the placebo group memory improvement possibly being due to learning effects during trial sessions coupled with high expectations from a potential medicine by the subjects.
The conclusion of the researchers was that Bacopa extract yielded significant improvement on mental control, logical memory and paired associated learning during the 12-week drug therapy and that it is efficacious in subjects with age-associated memory impairment.
In an article published in 2008 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers reported their findings in a study similar to the aforementioned 2006 study that looked at not only memory, but also the effect of extracts of Bacopa monnieri on anxiety and depression in elderly test subjects.
What the researchers found was that the Bacopa extract has multiple positive benefits in cognitive performance such as on memory and on anxiety and depression. The Bacopa test subjects improved in delayed recall memory while the placebo group remained unchanged. Furthermore, the Bacopa test subjects displayed decreased depression and anxiety, whereas the placebo control group increased in depression and anxiety.
The conclusion by the researchers was that Bacopa monnieri has potential for safely enhancing cognitive performance in the aging.
In a more recent study published in 2010 (once again in the Journal of Alternative and Complement Medicine), researchers report their findings on the effect of Bacopa monnieri extract on memory in healthy aging Australian test subjects.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study similar to the previous two studies described, the researchers found that an extract of Bacopa significantly improved memory acquisition and retention in healthy older Australians.
Bacopa side effects
All three studies report an overlapping of side effects experienced by the test subjects who took Bacopa extract. During their respective study, side effects were limited to gastrointestinal difficulties such as increased stool frequency, abdominal cramps, and nausea—none of which proved to be significantly debilitating. Other sources list dry mouth and muscle fatigue as reported side effects from taking Bacopa extract.