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Have you heard of “nootropics?”
Sometimes called smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, they are a class of substances that may support brainpower, motivation, memory, and mood.
Is your brain aging? Brain fog, sluggish memory, and declining ability to learn new things are all natural processes of brain aging.
Researchers have discovered two Ayurvedic nootropic herbs that may help slow brain aging and improve processing speed, mental alertness, and ability to assimilate new information.
Nootropics + Ayurveda
Ayurveda is quite interested in mental acuity because originally, it was an entirely oral tradition passed down in the form of songs, chants, or hymns. Much like Celtic bards (who came much later), volumes of Vedic information were memorized and therefore preserved. Their ability to memorize such a wealth of knowledge is staggering.
Many Ayurvedic techniques are designed to enhance memory, such as yoga, pranayama, and meditation, but two herbs stood out in ancient times for their ability to help promote memory and cognitive function: bacopa monnieri and brahmi (centella asiatica).
Studies find bacopa monnieri and brahmi (centella asiatica) are synergistic, meaning that when combined, the effects on cognitive function and sharper intellect can be greatly enhanced.
Ancient Ayurvedic scholars were given bacopa to sharpen their memories in order to maintain their oral tradition and memorize thousands of pages of Vedic hymns. Numerous studies find bacopa to be a powerful herb for supporting brain health.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study on bacopa, dosages of 320 mg and 640 mg produced positive cognitive changes one and two hours after consumption. There were also positive mood changes and a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, suggesting adaptogenic or stress-reduction properties.
In another double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 54 volunteers, bacopa was found to increase word recall and cognitive function, while supporting mood stability, focus, and attention.
An Australian study, also double-blind and placebo-controlled, measured the effects of just 300 mg of bacopa per day for 12 weeks. They concluded that bacopa significantly improved verbal learning, memory acquisition, information retention, and recall in healthy older Australians.
Finally, a study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found supplementing with bacopa at 300 and 600 mg for 12 weeks resulted in improved attention, cognitive processing, and working memory.
Bacopa for mood
Studies find that in mood-related concerns, a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) decreases. BDNF is a member of the nerve growth factor family, which helps regrow brain and nerve cells.
In a handful of studies, bacopa was able to effectively support mood stability by boosting BDNF levels. The mechanism for bacopa’s mood stability support is linked to promoting growth in the brain’s emotional cortex (hippocampus and amygdala).
Brahmi brain (centella asiatica)
Brahmi, or Centella asiatica, is also commonly called gotu kola. In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study, the effect of Centella asiatica on the cognitive function of 28 healthy elderly volunteers was investigated. One hour after supplementation, researchers saw improvement in reaction time and attention in mental tasks. Working memory, word recognition, spatial memory, picture recognition, and alertness all improved at dosages ranging from 200 to 750 mg per day for two months.
Like bacopa, brahmi shows improved function and synaptic density of the hippocampus (or emotional cortex) of the brain. Centella also demonstrates antioxidant activity and increased mitochondrial proteins, suggesting it supports multiple facets of age-related cognitive decline.
Brahmi brain for mood
In a study of 34 adults with issues related to worry and fear, brahmi supported healthy mood stability and improved cognitive function. Brahmi also effectively supported a healthy response to chronic stress. Brahmi was able to show a balancing effect on moods that were either overstimulated or understimulated (melancholy).
Nootropic conclusion: take your fatty brain tissue tonics
According to Ayurveda, bacopa and brahmi are medha rasayanas (fatty brain tissue tonics), which boost memory, potentially restore cognitive deficits, and may help improve mental function.
A rasayana is a herb that supports longevity. Research on bacopa monnieri and centella asiatica clearly indicates that both plants possess neuroprotective properties, causing nootropic activity with therapeutic implications for supporting memory, mood, emotional stability, focus, and cognitive longevity.