Several recent studies have confirmed what Ayurvedic practitioners have known for thousands of years: That a special Ayurvedic herb increases memory and cognition, and may well treat dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers from the Medical College of Thailand's Khon Kaen University conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled and randomized clinical study with 60 elderly adult volunteers with an average age of 63 years old. The researchers gave the adults either a placebo or an Ayurvedic herbal medicine called Brahmi – botanical name Bacopa monnieri – for three months.
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 Brahmi had significant improvement in cognitive function, including increased memory, greater attention spans and better reaction times.
The researchers also found that the 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 recent placebo-controlled clinical study of Brahmi was conducted by psychopharmacology researchers from Australia's Swinburne University of Technology. The researchers gave 24 healthy adults either a placebo or standardized extracts of Bacopa monnieri. 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.
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."
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.
Treating Alzheimer's disease
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 overriding conclusion of this peer-reviewed amalgam of research by different researchers using different methods is clear: The Ayurvedic herb, Bacopa monnieri, long held as a way to increase cognition, reduce anxiety and prevent dementia, does precisely that, along with potentially being one of the first known herbal treatments of Alzheimer's disease. And all this research resulted in few if any adverse side effects – the primary being slight stomach upset noted in the Portland study.
While most pharmaceuticals contain one or maybe two active constituents, Bacopa contains dozens, including multiple bacopasaponins, bacopasides, bacosides, jujubogenin, pseudojujubogenin, donepezil, deprenyl and other phytochemicals. Pharmaceutical companies have begun isolating and testing some of these single constituents in hopes of developing a patentable drug. But how can the pharmaceutical industry improve upon this incredible combination of biochemicals produced by nature?
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