• Enhancing Memory and Mental Function
Bacopa monnieri is a creeping perennial with white or blue flowers that grows throughout much of Southern Asia. It has been used traditionally to treat epilepsy , depression , insomnia , and schizophrenia . In the traditional medicine of India, Ayurveda , B. monnieri is considered to fall in the “brahmi” category of herbs, a group of substances said to assist the mind and enhance awareness. From this comes B. monnieri’s common name of brahmi, despite the fact that many other herbs fall into the brahmi category as well.
What is B. monnieri Used for Today?
B. monnieri is widely marketed today as a “brain tonic” for enhancing memory and mental function. However, as discussed in the next section, the evidence that it works remains weak at best.
Even weaker evidence, far too preliminary to rely upon at all, hints that B. monnieri might have potential value for allergies , 1asthma , 2narcotic addiction , 3hypothyroidism , 4depression , 5 and ulcers.6 However, far more research is necessary before anyone could responsibly promote B. monnieri for these conditions.
What is the Scientific Evidence for B. monnieri ?
Although several double-blind , placebo-controlled studies have evaluated the potential value of B. monnieri for enhancing mental function, the results are far from conclusive.
B. monnieri appears to have antioxidant properties in the brain, which could potentially lead to positive effects on mental function. 7 However, a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 76 individuals that tested the potential memory-enhancing benefits of B. monnieri generally failed to find much evidence of benefit. 8 The only significant improvement seen among all the many measures used was in one that evaluated retention of new information. While this may sound at least somewhat promising, in fact it means almost nothing. Here’s why: When a study uses many different techniques to assess improvement, mere chance ensures that at least one of them will come up with results. Properly designed studies should focus on one test of benefit alone (the “primary outcome measure”) that is selected prior to running the trial. “Fishing” for results among multiple tests is a highly suspect method. Similarly, a randomized trial involving 48 healthy elderly subjects found some memory enhancing effects of B. monnieri compared to placebo, but the outcomes measured were too numerous to be meaningful.15
Nonetheless, if several independent studies use multiple tests of improvement, and the pattern of response is reliably maintained, then the results begin to appear more significant. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case with B. monnieri . In a previous double-blind, placebo-controlled study enrolling 46 individuals, use of B. monnieri over a 2-week period again produced benefits, but in an entirely different pattern. 9 In yet another double-blind, placebo-controlled study, this one involving 38 people, short-term use of B. monnieri failed to produce any measurable improvements in memory. 10 In addition, use of combined Ginkgo biloba (120 mg) and B. monnieri (300 mg) has also failed to improve mental function. 11,12 This type of inconsistency suggests that the limited benefits seen in some studies were due to chance.
Slightly more promising results have been seen in studies of a proprietary Ayurvedic mixture containing B. monnieri and about 30 other ingredients. 13,14 However, these studies are generally not up to modern scientific standards.
The proposed active ingredients in B. monnieri are substances called bacosides. A typical dose of B. monnieri used in the studies described above was 300–450 mg daily of a concentrated alcohol extract standardized to bacoside content, equivalent to about 6–9 grams of whole dried herb.
3. Sumathi T, Nayeem M, Balakrishna K, Veluchamy G, Devaraj SN. Alcoholic extract of ' Bacopa monniera ' reduces the in vitro effects of morphine withdrawal in guinea-pig ileum. J Ethnopharmacol . 2002;82:75–81.
13. Agrawal A, Dubey M, Dubey G. Effects of Mentat on memory span, attention, galvanic skin resistance (GSR) and muscle action potential (EMG) among normal adults. Pharmacopsychoecologia . 1990;3:39–42.
15. Calabrese C, Gregory WL, Leo M, et al. Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Jul 8. [Epub ahead of print]
Last reviewed July 2008 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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