By Caroline Robertson and Rama Prasad
Botanical name Bacopa monniera. Family name Scrophulariaceae. English name Thyme leaved gratiola. Sanskrit name Brahmi, Sarasvati. Hindi name Barami, Jalnim. Parts used Leaves, the whole plant.
Description Bacopa is often confused with Centella Asiatic as it is also called Brahmi in South India and the US but Centella is commonly known as Gotu Cola in English. Bacopa is a profusely branched, prostate, succulent herbaceaous plant with a deep green colour. It is a glabrous annual rooting at the nodes with ascending branches. The leaves are simple, decussate, opposite, ovate-oblong, sessile, penninerved, punctate with entire margins and an obtuse apex. They are about 1cm by 0.4cm in size. It’s fl owers are pale blue, purple or white arranged on long, slender pedicles. They are axillary, solitary, linear and with 2 bracteoles. The pedicle is approximately 0.5cm. Bacopa’s calyx has fi ve unequal lobes with the outer two lobes being larger. They are ovate and measure about 7 by 3.5mm in an ovate shape. The inner two lobes are linear and the one median long lobe is oblong, imbricate, obtuse and acute.
Brahmi’s corollas are white with violet and green bands. Its didynamous stamens have fi lament pairs 1 and oblong anthers. The fruits are ovoid, acute, 2-celled with 2-valved capsules and minute numerous seeds. It has no distinct odour but a slightly bitter taste.
Grows throughout Asia, Australia and the United States. Most abundant in India throughout wet mountainous regions upto 1,200m elevation.
Bacopa is one of Ayurveda’s most investigated and documented herbs. A vast array of clinical trials and scientifi c studies support its effi cacy as a brain and nervous system tonic. It also has the remarkable ability to enhance mental clarity while simultaneously effecting a sedating action. This gives it a reputation as the ideal herb to support study and mental performance under stressful conditions.
Bacopa monniera contains the alkaloids brahmine ,herpestatine,(C 34 H46 N206, m p 116-17 0), and a mixture of three bases. The herb also contains saponins, monnierin (C 5,H 82 021 -3H 20, m p 63 0); hersaponin [m p 232-34 0’ (decomp.)], bacoside -A [C 4,H 6.0 13 .4H 20, m p 250 0(decomp.)] and bacoside –B; [C 4,H 68 0,3 .5H 20, m p 203 0. Monnierin, on hydrolysis, gave glucose, arabinose and aglycone (C 30 H48 04, m p 235-37 0) whereas, bacosides A and B gave glucose, arabinose and bacogenines A, A2, A3 and A4; bacogenines A1and A 2.are epimers, and A4 is an ebelin lactone.
degradation of bacoside A gave jujubogenin and pseudojujubogenin. Other
constituents present are
D-mannitol, betulic acid, b -sitosterol. stigma-sterol and its esters,
heptacosine, octacosane nonacosane,
triacontane, hentriacontane, dotriacontane, nicotine,
3-formyl-4-hydroxy-2H-pyran (C 6H603), luteolin and
its 7-glucoside. The presence of a -alanine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid and
serine is also reported. Isolation of
apigenin-7-glucuronide and luteolin-7-glucuronide from leaves; a new minor
saponinbacoside A 1- isolated and
characterised as 3-o-a -L-arabinofuranosyl (1-3)-a -L-arabinosyl-jujubogenin; isolation of another
saponin - bacoside A3 - and its structure elucidated as 3-0-b -D-glucosyl
(1--2) -0-b -D-glucosyI-jujubogenin;revision of structure ofcis –isomer of
ebeline lactone, obtained during
acid hydrolysis as another artifact of jujubogenin. Analysis of the
leaves and stalks gave: moisture, 88.4; protein, 2.1: fat, 0.6; carbohydrates,
5.9; crude fiber,1.05;
and ash, 1.9 g / 100g. calcium, 202.0; phosphorus, 16.0; iron, 7.8; ascorbic
acid, 63.0;nicotinic acid
0.3 mg /100 g; and energy, 38 cal / 100 g. The leaves contain a sterol C 26 H46
O .H 2O, m p 76 0). The drug is
characteristically designated on the basis of its total bacosides content which
are tetra cyclic triterpenoid
saponins. These steroidal saponins called Bacoside A & Bacoside B are
considered Bacopa’s most therapeutic
Though Brahmi is now promoted as the ‘brain booster’ of the new millennium Ayurvedic medicine has known this for millennia. It is highly valued in conditions affecting the nervous system and brain. As such it is often prescribed for epilepsy, psychiatric disorders such as a mental breakdown, dementia, alzheimers, neuralgia and poor concentration and memory. Clinical evidence supports Bacopa’s antiinflammatory activitywhich explains its traditional useage for general inflammation and splenomegaly. Considered a bronchodilator, those suffering from asthma or bronchitis have benefited from Bacopa. Its emmenogogic action make it useful in amennorhagia and dysmennorhoea. Other miscellaneous historical uses include for biliousness, boils, diabetes, tumours, ulcers, dyspepsia, skin diseases such as leprosy and leucoderma, syphilis and elephantiasis.
It is often mixed as
a hair oil to restore and preserve the memory and taken internally with ghee to
aid its assimilation
across the blood/brain barrier.
Actions and pharmacodynamics
The body of
scientific evidence explaining Bacopa’s therapeutic actions help herbalists to
use it with confidence and precision. At the forefront of
its effect is Bacopa’s brain tonic properties. These are mostly attributed to
the Bacosides A and B
effect which support the transmission of nerve impulses, thereby maintaining
memory and cognition.(Singh
1997). Bacopa is said to effect the the GABA-ergic system which involves the
nerves and synapses of the
central nervous system where memory originates and is stored.(Shukia 1987). The saponin
hersaponin is reported to possess cardiotonic, sedative and spasmodic
properties. A comparative study of
hersaponin and pentobarbitone indicates that hersaponin has a superior sedative effect:
- Vasoconstrictor (1)
- Sedative (1)
- Cardiotonic this effect was demonstrated during a preclinical trial on frogs using the whole plant. (1)
- Improved motor efficiency in learning(2). This is hypothetically due to the bacosides.
- Faster comprehension and improved memory retention(3) Also due to Bacosides A and B.
- Analgesic (4) This effect was shown in studies with mice and rats administered Bacopa in a traditional formula called Brahmi Rasayana which also contains cloves, cardamom and long pepper.
- Anticonvulsant (4), (5) , protects mental function in those with epilepsy who take the drug phenytoin. (Moharana, D.; Moharana, S. Department of Physiology, SCB Medical College, Cuttack, Orrisa.) A clinical trial of Bacopa in patients with various types of epilepsy.. Thirty one adult epileptic patients aged between 23-42 years were treated with Bacopa and other herbs in a formula called Mentat along with the other antiepileptic drugs for a period of six weeks. Bacopa brought about significant reduction in seizure frequency and served as a valuable adjuvant to commonly used antiepileptic drugs. No side effects were observed.
- Antiinflammatory (6) The mechanism of the antiinflammatory action is said to be similar to NSAIDs such as asprin which are mediated through prostaglandin synthesis and stabilisation of lysosomal membranes. In induced inflammation it was shown to be as effective as the antiinflammatory indomethacin without the side effects of gastric irritation.
- Improved cognitive function(7)including improved speed of visual information, processing information and memory consolidation.
- Antioxidant (8) Preclinical research suggests that Brahmi particularly has an antioxidant action on the brain’s frontal cortex, striatum and hippocampus which are all associated with cognitive functions such as memory.
- Anticancer(10) An ethanolic extract (50%) of the plant exhibited anticancer activity against the Walker carcinosarcoma 256 in rats.
- Antistress(11) Clinical studies performed in India confirm that the bacosides can revitalize intellectual functions in children and reduce anxiety in stressed individuals thereby contributing to improved brain functions. Studies have suggested that Bacopa prepares the brain to respond to stress in the most efficient way.
- Thyroid stimulating(12) When given to male mice Bacopa was shown to increase T4 concentrations suggesting a thyroid stimulating role. Mast cell stabiliser (13) A methanolic fraction of Bacopa was shown to have mast cell stabilising effects comparable to disodium cromoglycate, a known mast cell stabiliser.
- Therapeutic indications Bacopa monniera is the remedy of choice for nervous system and mental debility. Conditions where it has proven effective include-
• Memory loss
• Poor concentration
• Alzheimers disease
• Attention Deficit Disorder
• Brain fag
• Nervous deficit due to an injury, stroke or transcient ischemic attack
• Nervous breakdown or exhaustion
• Carcino sarcoma
Traditional uses include for neuralgia, inflammation, tumours, ulcers, constipation, asthma, bronchitis, skin diseases, syphilis, fever and dysmenorrhoea.
Contraindications and cautions
Brahmi possess no known side effects or toxicity at normal doses. In experimental studies, the saponinrich highly potent extract of Brahmi did not show any endocrine, metabolic, gastrointestinal, anabolic or behavioural side effect. No lethality was observed on the oral administration up to 2150 mg/kg body weight in rats and mice. Clinical Studies in school children for over three years have not shown any adverse side effects. In healthy human volunteers multiple doses of bacosides (the active ingredient in Brahmi) have been well tolerated and are devoid of any untoward reactions or side effects. The isolated extract of brahmine from Bacopa was shown to be highly toxic when administered at a dose of 0.5 mg/kg body weight of cats as it produced a fall in blood pressure. In therapeutic doses it is said to resemble strychnine.
Powdered herb as infusion: 1-3gms tds
1:2 fluid extract: 4-12ml/day
Malhotra, C.L and Das, P. K: Indian J Med Res 47, 294 (1959)
2) Prakash, J C and Sirsi, M: J Sci Industr Res 21C, 93 (1962)
3) Singh, H K and Dhawan, B N: Ethnopharmacol 5, 205 (1982)
4) Shukia, B et al: J Ethnopharmacol 21, 65 (1987)
5) Gupta,S.S.1962. Journal of Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Science. 20: 1052-55. A few observations on the psychotropic and anticonvulsant effects of some ayurvedic remedies. Mukherjee, G D and Dey, C D: J Exp Med Sc 11, 82 (1968)
6) Jain, P.,. Khanna, N.K, Trehan, T., Pendse,V.K. and Godhwani, J.L. (1994). Antiinflammatory effects of an Ayurvedic preparation,
Brahmi Rasayan, in rodents. Indian J. Exp. Biol. 32: 633-636.
7) Stough C, Lloyd J, Clarke J, Downey LA, Hutchison CW, Rodgers T, Nathan PJ. Neuropsychology Laboratory, School of Biophysical Science and Electrical Engineering, Victoria, Australia. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 2001 Aug;156(4):481-4
8) Tripathi, Y.B. et al. (1996) Bacopa monniera Linn. as an antioxidant : mechanism of action. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol. 34, pp. 523-526. Bhattacharya SK, et al. (2000) Antioxidant activity of Bacopa monniera in rat frontal cortex, striatum and hippocampus. Phytother Res 14(3):174-9
10) Bhukani, D.S., Dhar, M.L., Dhar, M.N., Dhawan, B.N. and Mehrotra, B.N. (1969) Screening of Indian plants for biological activity II Indian J. Exp. Biol., 7, 250. 11) Chowdhuri DK, et al Phytother Res 2002 Nov: 16(7):639-45
12) Kar A, Panda S, Bharti S. J Ethnopharmacol 2002 Jul; 81(2):281-5
13) Samiulla D S et al Fitoterapia 2001 Mar;72(3): 284-5
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