What is Bacopa?
Bacopa monnieri is a traditional Indian herbal remedy that has become pretty popular, even more so as it has gained traction in scientific literature. This is one of the herbal extracts that really does what the historical uses imply, which is why it is now used in all of the best nootropics on the market today, including Mind Lab Pro.
It’s a mental-adjustment herb, primarily, with most of the benefits focusing on the effects it has over mood, cognition, stress, and other areas.
On top of these popular uses, however, it also has some interesting interactions with your hormonal system elsewhere.
Bacopa is promising because its traditional uses and scientific evidence line up well.
It’s not sold on name-recognition alone and continues to have interesting effects unearthed by nutrition scientists.
But it is still important to focus on the safety of nootropics, even well researched natural nootropics like Bacopa monnieri. So is Bacopa safe? Can you take it long-term? What about side effects?
To answer these questions, let's first look at what Bacopa monnieri does and how it works.
What Bacopa Monnieri Does
So, what effects are we talking about?
Bacopa’s most proven benefit is as an antioxidant. It protects your cells from damage, preventing risks of unwanted mutation, premature cell death, and improper cell function. This is obviously important since these are common causes of cancer development.
On top of that, the anti-oxidative effect is a general wellbeing benefit that just keeps your entire body looking, feeling, and performing younger.
It combats those decay-related changes that affect your health in subtle ways, adding up to a generally improved feeling of wellness.
It’s not going to save you from aging itself, but it adds up - tipping the scales towards youth and health, rather than age and decline.
One of the most powerful ways that bacopa helps with these kinds of problems is the development of a more robust resilience to stress.
This is because it’s an adaptogen: a compound that reduces the effects of stress, either physically or psychologically.
Usually, adaptogens do both at the same time, adjusting factors like hormonal change in response to stress, as well as the cellular response to oxidative stress, as mentioned above.
Nootropic; specifically memory
Not only is bacopa protective, but it also has promising evidence as a relatively powerful nootropic.
A nootropic is any compound that is specifically useful to mental performance, which is handy because bacopa is all about mental performance.
Specifically, it’s a beneficial supplement for your memory—both inscriptions of data into your monkey brain and recall later on. These are great when combined with the other effects of this herb for overall mental performance.
Balance and regulation for mood: anxiety and depression
Perhaps the most interesting application of bacopa monnieri is its relationship with mental stress and mood. This is at the base of common psychological issues such as mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
The function of bacopa is as a regulator of both the dopaminergic and serotonergic systems. These are the two key systems involved in how you feel, with dopamine affecting mood, while serotonin also affects mood, but specifically concerning how energetic you feel.
This harkens back to memory and performance changes, as these are often associated with better mood-control.
However, it also speaks to some interesting applications to reducing mental stress and its effects: lowered resting anxiety is an excellent way of controlling stress.
Chronic stress is one of the main reasons we develop significant mental disorders, exaggerating both risks and symptoms, especially in common mood disorders like depression.
T4 interactions: an interesting change
A surprising benefit associated with this herbal supplement is that it actually regulates thyroid hormones.
Bacopa seems to actively regulate the release of T4, a thyroid hormone involved in regulating your metabolism, body temperature, and—less surprisingly, mood.
This provides another physiological benefit to bacopa, along with the clear nootropic effects. It is a really interesting way of grounding psychological benefits in the hormonal effects of bacopa on the body.
This is obviously also useful for people managing diabetes risk—because better thyroid hormone function can be a great adjustment for energy levels, appetite, and metabolic regularity. Bacopa doesn’t have clear, direct benefits, but these secondary benefits are pretty interesting.
Why do some people think Bacopa is unsafe?
The reason people are asking if bacopa is a safe option is the collection of anecdotal reports on digestive discomfort in response to the herb.
And this wouldn’t be a crazy thing to see—there are digestive responses to anything we eat or drink. This specifically occurs at higher rates in response to bacopa monnieri on an empty stomach—which we wouldn’t recommend doing, anyway.
What’s actually happening is less clear, but it has a wide variety of possible explanations. All we know for sure is that bacopa has a greater risk of digestive discomfort than a placebo—so it’s definitely got something going on.
Is it safe to take Bacopa monnieri long-term?
Can you safely take Bacopa monnieri for a long time?
The risks associated with bacopa are both small and not terribly severe.
Things like stomach-ache and discomfort are possible, but they don’t occur with the regularity or severity we’d have to see to make it “unsafe”.
More importantly, we know bacopa monnieri isn’t toxic: it’s not going to cause significant damage to any of your internal organs or processes. Unless you’re allergic or severely intolerant—so maybe consider talking it through with your doctor.
But you know you’re allergic, why are you reading this at all?
Alongside some discomfort, bacopa may also be a mild diarrhetic. This is the same kind of risk we associate with things like plant-based sweeteners like stevia—so it’s not looking like you’re going to be running to the toilet every time you use this.
The effects are very mild, and we don’t need to worry about them blowing out your intestinal tract. It’s just a mild increase in risk; it’s not really a mechanical relationship, so maybe just start with a reasonable dose, rather than jumping in at the maximal safe intake.
So yes, Bacopa monnieri appears to be safe to take long-term. Many people take Bacopa monnieri for a long time - months and years on end - without experiencing any side effects or adverse health effects.
Limitations, not risks
Beyond risks, we do have a few limitations to talk about. These aren’t a problem—they’re just worth thinking about when deciding if bacopa monnieri is a good choice for you.
First, the anxiolytic effects won’t last into the long-term. They’re usually effective for 2-3 weeks, after which they ease off, and you only have the protective effects. This is fine for most people, but worth considering if you’re relying on it as an anxiety-adjusting supplement.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the nootropic effects associated with bacopa take four weeks of commitment, at the very least, to take effect. This means that you’re only really getting one set of effects at a time.
On the other hand, you could say that’s good timing: you’re losing anxiolytic effects as you start to get the memory-boosting ones. It’s a decent enough trade-off, but there’s going to be a point in the middle where you don’t feel like it’s doing anything.
Consider your timeframe for this supplement, as well as what you’re paying. It could be a classic case of not wanting to pay for a modest reward—but that’s up to your budget and priorities.
There are changes we see in the studies that aren’t likely to have any effect in the real world.
These include things like anti-fertility potential, which has been noted in studies but doesn’t seem to be either practically significant or regular enough to be a real threat to your lifestyle. The same applies to insulin mimetics and hemoglobin glycosylation.
It happens in animals, but we’ve not seen anything concrete in humans. It’s also not even clear if the effect is significant in the real world, rather than in the clinical, animal models it was shown in.
Closing Remarks: Is Bacopa monnieri safe to take daily?
So, overall, bacopa monnieri is pretty safe. There’s a small risk of digestive discomfort and diarrhetic response, but it’s small enough not to be a huge issue. It’s probably comparable to caffeine. You should be able to take Bacopa monnieri every day without worrying about side effects.
There are no known long-term risks associated with taking Bacopa monnieri daily for long periods of time. All observed side effects (stomach discomfort, etc) are immediate, and they typically dissipate with time.
You should make sure you take it with fat where possible since it’s a fat-soluble nutrient.
A lipid transporter makes it a much more effective supplement, so just make sure you’re ingesting it alongside a fat-rich snack or a mixed-nutrient meal.
- Antioxidant effects of Bacopa: https://dx.doi.org/10.14740%2Fjocmr3362w
- Adaptogen effects: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2017.09.081
- Nootropic benefits: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-80045-2
- Mood regulation: https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.3631
- Digestive side-effects: https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2008.0018