Bacopa Monnieri (aka Coastal Waterhyssop, Brahmi, Thyme-leafed gratiola, Water hyssop) is an herbal plant whose habitat includes wetlands and muddy shores.
Found mostly in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, it can also be found domestically growing in places like Florida or Hawaii. While it has a long history of being used to treat epilepsy and asthma, it was only recently that rigorous scientific study has shown that it has anti-anxiety effects as well (Reference: PMID: 18611150, PMID: 16428031 ).
It wasn’t until relatively recently that assessments began to determine if Bacopa Monnieri had anti-anxiety affects. The earliest examination of Bacopa Monnieri’s effect on anxiety appears to have taken place in 1980 (Singh RH, Singh L. Studies on the anti-anxiety effect of the Medyha Rasayana drug, Brahmi (Bacopa monniera Wettst.) – Part l. J Res Ayur Siddha 1980; 1: 133-148.). This study suggested the powerful effect of Bacopa, and found that the oral administration of it“resulted in a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms, level of anxiety, level of disability, and mental fatigue, and an increase in immediate memory span.”
Other early testing of Bacopa Monnieri occurred in 1998 (Bhattacharya SK, Ghosal S. Anxiolytic activity of a standardized extract of Bacopa monniera in an experimental study. Phytomedicine 1998;5:77-82.). This investigation found that Bacopa Monnieri “exerted anxiolytic activity comparable to Lorazepam, a common benzodiazepine anxiolytic drug.” A follow-up study performed in 2002 (PMID: 12093601) with a small sample of people determined that Bacopa increased memory functions in individuals who took it, and had some small degree of effect on anxiety. Building on this early success, another 2002 (PMID: 2410544) study examined the neurobiology of Bacopa and found that higher doses than previously given would indeed have anti-effects. However, this experiment was based on animal testing and it was uncertain if the positive results would be seen in humans as well.
It wasn’t until 2008 that a well-structured double blind study was conducted to assess the affect of Bacopa in humans (PMID:18611150). This study found that when people took 300mg/day of Bacopa, their anxiety rating scored decreased significantly when compared to the placebo group. Most interestingly, both short term anxiety and long-term anxiety decreased with the administration of Bacopa. This means that not only did the Bacopa Monnieri alleviate acute anxiety, it actually prevented and decreased chronic long-term anxiety.
Further 2009 animal studies (PMID: 19700373) determined that Bacopa affects the neurobiology of the hippocampus, which is often associated with anxiety. Specifically, it was shown to create an “upregulation of 5-HT(2C) receptors.” It has been shown that in anxiety a neurochemical known as Serotonin is low, and the receptors for it are few. The scientific name for Serotonin is 5-HT. Therefore, this 2009 study showed that Bacopa increases Serotonin, which has been shown to decrease anxiety. This is why the class of pharmaceutical drugs that are used to prevent anxiety (such as Lexapro, Zoloft, or Paxil) is designed to target Serotonin and increase it. This 2009 study suggests that Bacopa Monnieri can increase serotonin – no artificial medication required.
Further studies performed in 2010 and 2011 (PMIDs: 9944749, 20850955) both continue to support the positive anxiety affects of Bacopa Monnieri. A search of the PubMed database has found that since 1982, 161 studies have been conducted examining the affect of Bacopa, and it has consistent data supporting its use in anti-anxiety efforts.