Nearly four million people in the U.S. have dementia at the moment, but this is expected to grow dramatically over the next two decades.
Doctors continue to scramble for ways to treat Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. More specifically, this means finding ways to boost memory and cognitive tasks for elderly persons.
Yet a particular treatment known to ancient medical practitioners continues to provide both the most promising and the most scientifically valid approach to disorders related to dementia and cognitive impairment.
That's right. A simple herb that grows from the ground is outsmarting billions of dollars of research by pharmaceutical companies - focused upon finding a way to stimulate an increase in memory and cognition known to deteriorate in Alzheimer's disease.
Not only is their approach wrong - toxic chemicals which can harm brain tissues further - but their ammo is simply too light.
Nature's ammo swamps pharmaceutical drugs, because herbs contain sometimes hundreds of constituents that work synergistically to heal.
One of these is an Ayurvedic herb called Brahmi – botanical name Bacopa monnieri - often called simply Bacopa. This herb has been used for thousands of years to boost memory and cognition. Now we find it may also treat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Memory, attention span, cognitive processing all improved with Bacopa
In one study, scientists from Thailand’s Khon Kaen University Medical College studied 60 elderly adults, with an average age of 63 years old. The researchers gave the adults the Ayurvedic herb bacopa or a placebo for three months.
As I explained in a previous article on this topic, before and after the treatment period, the researchers tested the subjects’ memory accuracy, attention span, cognitive processing speed and reaction time. They also measured their brain cell cholinergic and monoaminergic functions – which related to neuron firing speeds. The subjects were also tested every four weeks during the treatment as well as four weeks after the end of the treatment.
The herbal medicine-treated group were given either 300 milligrams or 500 milligrams of a whole-herb extract of the Bacopa monnieri herb.
The groups given the Bacopa had significant improvement in cognitive function, including increased memory, greater attention spans and better reaction times.
The researchers also found Bacopa altered their cholinergic and monoaminergic activity. The researchers concluded that these results:
“suggest that Bacopa monnieri can improve attention, cognitive processing, and working memory partly via the suppression of AChE activity.”
Another placebo-controlled clinical study of Brahmi was conducted by psychopharmacology researchers from Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology. They gave 24 healthy adults either a placebo or standardized extracts of Bacopa. This study utilized two different dosages as well – 320 milligrams or 640 milligrams – but also conducted a crossover design. This means that the adults given the placebo were tested and then given the herbal medicine and those given the Brahmi were then given the placebo.
In this study, the 320 milligram-treated groups showed significant increases in cognition and memory during three different intervals of testing.
As discussed in another previous article, a 2008 clinical study from Portland’s National College of Natural Medicine – also a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study – had similar results. Here 54 adults with an average age of 73 years old took either a placebo or 300 milligrams of a Bacopa standardized extract for three months. The Bacopa-treated group had increased word recall, less anxiety, decreased average heart rate and cognitive increases. The researchers concluded:
“This study provides further evidence that B. monnieri has potential for safely enhancing cognitive performance in the aging.”
Laboratory and animal research has concluded similar findings, using Brahmi and its constituents. These have also found that Brahmi prevented neurological damage related to oxidative damage. In a study conducted by India’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, researchers concluded:
“We infer that BM displays prophylactic effects against ACR induced oxidative damage and neurotoxicity with potential therapeutic application in human pathology associated with neuropathy.”
Swinburne University of Technology researchers conducted a study of Bacopa in 2013 with cognitive demand testing. The researchers tested 24 healthy elderly subjects. The researchers gave each subject 430 milligrams of Bacopa, 640 milligrams of Bacopa or a placebo. Each subject received each of the three treatments with a washout period in between. They gave the subjects a series of six cognitive demand tests – called a Cognitive Demand Battery.
The researchers found that the Bacopa treatments significantly improved cognitive performance - but not the placebo.
Longer study shows memory boosted by Bacopa
A 2008 study from Swinburne's Brain Science Institute studied the cognitive effects of Bacopa following three months of Bacopa treatment. Here 62 healthy elderly volunteers completed this double-blind, placebo-controlled study. They were given either a placebo or 150 milligrams of CDRI 08 twice a day – 300 milligrams per day.
The subjects were given the Cognitive Drug Research cognitive assessment system before and after the 90 day treatment period. This battery of tests measures reaction times, number ordering, word recall and recognition, picture recognition, and spatial and numeric working memories.
The researchers found that the Bacopa significantly improved working memory and spatial working memory. This includes accuracy and context memory recognition. The researchers also found that rapid visual information processing tasking was improved.
Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted on Bacopa in 2001. Similar results were found using 300 milligrams of Bacopa, tested after five weeks and twelve weeks of treatment. The researchers concluded in this earlier study:
"These findings suggest that B. monniera may improve higher order cognitive processes that are critically dependent on the input of information from our environment such as learning and memory."
Can Bacopa Treat Alzheimer’s disease?
These studies bear the obvious question of whether Bacopa can treat Alzheimer's disease. The answer is yes.
In a laboratory study using human brain cells at the pharmacy college of Thailand’s Naresuan University, researchers duplicated the scenario of beta-amyloid-induced damage of Alzheimer’s disease among brain cells.
When the researchers treated the brain cells with tested Bacopa monnieri, the beta-amyloid-induced Alzheimer’s damage was halted. The researchers observed that, “Brahmi-treated neurons expressed lower level of reactive oxygen species suggesting that Brahmi restrained intracellular oxidative stress which in turn prolonged the lifespan of the culture neurons. Brahmi extract also exhibited both reducing and lipid peroxidation inhibitory activities.”
The results were convincing. In their paper, the researchers concluded:
“From this study, the mode of action of neuroprotective effects of Brahmi appeared to be the results of its antioxidant to suppress neuronal oxidative stress and the acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activities. Therefore, treating patients with Brahmi extract may be an alternative direction for ameliorating neurodegenerative disorders associated with the overwhelming oxidative stress as well as Alzheimer's disease.”
The Conclusion is clear: Bacopa works
The overriding conclusion of all these studies - which are confirmed by others - is that Bacopa does significantly boost memory and cognition, and can be a valid Alzheimer's disease treatment. But this isn't all. Bacopa can also increase multi-tasking, reduce stress and even help treat Schizophrenia. Let's look at these.
Multi-Tasking Boosted by Bacopa
Increased multi-tasking is a hallmark for reducing dementia, as this stimulates brain activity and helps defer progression of the disease. Bacopa has been shown to boost multi-tasking. Research from Australia's Swinburne University of Technology tested 17 healthy elderly adult volunteers.
In this cross-over design study, each patient was tested with the placebo and the Bacopa treatment with a clearance period in between.
The volunteers were tested for multi-tasking framework and then tested again one and two hours after taking two different doses of the Bacopa or a placebo.
The subjects were also tested for moods and salivary cortisol levels – which will indicate levels of stress and/or anxiety – before and after the dosing of the Bacopa or placebo.
Each of the subjects underwent the multitasking framework testing separated by a week – called the washout period. The first week the subjects were given the test, then given the placebo, and then tested again a week later before and after being given 320 milligrams of a commercial extract of Bacopa called CDRI 08 – also labeled KeenMind®.
After another washout period of seven days, the subjects returned to receive 640 milligrams of the CDRI 08 – followed and proceeded by a round of multitasking framework testing.
The results of the study determined the subjects' memory was significantly enhanced by the Bacopa, but not by the placebo.
Better moods and decreased stress
This study also found the Bacopa elevated mood levels and reduced stress levels – indicated by the reduction of salivary cortisol levels. These also indicated adaptogenic effects of the Bacopa extract.
Bacopa and Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is often linked to dementia in many adults. A recent clinical report has also found that 500 milligrams a day of Brahmi treatment can significantly improve schizophrenia symptoms. This finding comes from India’s Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute after an observed treatment with Bacopa on a patient diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Another study from 2012 found that Bacopa helped to ameliorate brain injury - in effect helping to protect the brain from long-term brain damage.
So what is Bacopa anyway?
Bacopa Monniera – also called Brahmi and Indian Pennywort - has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to boost moods, memory and related disorders. It has thus been used to relieve anxiety, stress, ADHD-related issues, epilepsy and memory disorders such as Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia and mental diseases.
Outside of these uses, Brahmi has been used for irritable bowels, inflammation including joints, backache, headaches and some menstruation symptoms.
The plant is a small shrub that grows in wet and tropical regions, including South and Central America. Year-round ponds in warm climates will often support Bacopa.
All this research has noted few side effects among the study subjects. At most, slight stomach upset was noted in the Portland study.
While most pharmaceuticals - which typically have numerous harmful side effects - contain one or maybe two active constituents, Bacopa contains a host of medicinal compounds. These include multiple bacopasaponins, bacopasides, bacosides, jujubogenin, pseudojujubogenin, donepezil, deprenyl, brahmine, herpestine, D-mannitol, apigenin, hersaponin, cucurbitacins and plantainosides and other therapeutic phytochemicals.
How can pharmaceutical companies compete with this? Most pharmaceuticals contain one active ingredient - sometimes two. Yet each of these medicinal compounds in bacopa work synergistically to help different parts of our metabolism. Some affect our neurotransmitters. Some affect our liver. Some affect hormones. Why can't we admit that nature has designed the ultimate medicine for brain issues?
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