Can Bacopa Improve Your Memory?
I experimented with the nootropic Bacopa For Memory. Here’s what I found.
I wanted to know whether taking bacopa improves your memory.
You may have seen my previous story about L-theanine. L-theanine was the first nootropic I experimented with. It was supposed to aid relaxation and produce a state of relaxed alertness, especially combined with coffee.
I won’t spoil it for you. Check out the article to see what I concluded.
The next nootropic I tried was bacopa. Bacopa is also known as Brahmi
Bacopa monnieri is a creeping plant native to the wetlands of most of the world. It has many other names, the most well-known being water hyssop and Brahmi. The substance is also found in the Brahmi Mushroom. Hence the picture.
Bacopa, under its Indian name Brahmi, is used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine and is supposed to treat various diseases. One of the main benefits claimed for bacopa is that it improves your memory.
That is what I thought I would test. Everyone’s memory can do with a boost, not least mine as I get older.
When I was a kid, I had an almost photographic memory. Every scene was captured with the weather, who was where, and if learning from a book, I could see the text in my mind’s eye. That did not last.
My memory hasn’t been bad recently, but I recall during times of stress over the past years, that it had got very shaky. I was forgetting names, repeating the same stories, not remembering who I’d told what to. It’s a good job I’m not a liar or I would be in trouble due to forgetting my lies.
I work in a general practitioner’s surgery and I have had many different roles so know lots of people in passing. I needed to start remembering their names.
It’s not good enough to yell, “Gerald…Sarah? Mandy? Ah, Phil!” You might get the wrong patient in and treat them for the wrong thing. That can be serious.
Bacopa: The Scientific Research
There have been some reputable scientific research studies on Bacopa.
One of them attempted a neuropharmacological review:
This study concluded that animal studies showed promising evidence for medicinal value. Randomized double-blind placebo trials have also demonstrated benefits in humans. This level of study has high value and is considered almost the gold standard of evidence.
The studies suggested that bacopa might be helpful in Parkinson’s Disease, dementia and epilepsy.
We should note that galantamine, one of the current cognitive enhancers used in the treatment of dementia, that has solid research to show it works, is derived from snowdrops.
So why wouldn’t a nootropic made from water hyssop extract also have a benefit?
A 2001 study looking specifically at the effects of bacopa on memory had seventy-six participants (n=76). Memory was tested before bacopa was taken, three months after the trial and six months after the trial.
The study concluded that bacopa had significant benefits on the retention of information, but did not seem to affect learning speed. Therefore, it seemed to stop you from forgetting things, rather than helping you learn things.
This study did not find that bacopa reduced anxiety.
Whereas a pharmaceutical will generally be refined down to provide only one active ingredient, this is not true with whole-plant products.
Plants contain huge numbers of chemicals and many of them have effects on the human body and nervous system.
Bacopa contains nicotine, herpestine, scopolomanine, and brahmin, but also many other compounds.
The effect of a lot of these compounds is unknown. The best they can do is look at chemically identical, or similar compounds in known medication and guess how they may work in bacopa based on that.
A clue to how bacopa might positively affect memory is that it contains scopolamine which is an acetylcholine receptor agonist.
Without getting too technical, that is the same kind of effect that the most of the anti-dementia drugs exert too. They help with memory loss, and this enhancement of acetylcholine in the brain may be behind bacopa’s memory boost.
Bacopa may also enhance GABA. Now, GABA is the main relaxant neurotransmitter and is enhanced by benzodiazepines and alcohol, hence the initial relaxant effect of those two chemicals, and hence also the awful anxiety-provoking withdrawals of them too.
Bacopa may increase the secretion of serotonin and increased serotonin is behind the mood-boosting effects of most antidepressants (and the herbal St John’s wort).
Side effects noted are potential diarrhoea and nausea with gastrointestinal upset. I didn’t notice any of that, though I had some of those symptoms when I was taking L-theanine.
To see whether bacopa would improve my memory, I tested myself each morning with a random string generator, which produced ten random digits.
I gave myself fifteen seconds to memorise the numbers then tested how well I remembered them by writing them down from memory.
Perhaps ten digits were not enough as I seemed to score very well. I would say that my scores improved over the eleven-day period, but for the last five days, I remembered all ten digits pretty easily.
I didn’t really notice anything for the first few days. Then on 4 October, eight days after I started taking bacopa, I wrote:
“I have noticed how easily I’m remembering names when I usually struggle.”
That’s my only observation from my journal, but reflecting now, there does seem to be an improvement, particularly with names.
Sometimes I am cautious about calling people by their names in case I get it wrong and we’re both embarrassed, but I have suddenly become more confident.
I simply reach into my memory and pull out the name. I even remember the names of wives and husbands.
Maybe next year I’ll remember my wedding anniversary. That would be very helpful.
Conclusion: Can Bacopa Improve Your Memory?
My personal findings were in line with the research. The memory-enhancing effect of the bacopa built up over the period I was taking it and then subjectively seemed to plateau.
That means my memory improved but did not continue to improve. There may have been some small enhancement going forwards but my recording methods were not subtle enough to capture this.
But I definitely feel that my memory has improved and when I come to defining my daily “stack”, once I’ve finished my one-off experiments with different nootropics, bacopa will probably earn its place.
Next week I will be trying Rhodiola Rosea which is supposed to help with stress and anxiety.