Herb Feature

Herb Feature

One of the most fascinating systems of your body is the Nervous System, in particular your awesome brain. Comprised of approximately 100 billion neurons and weighing around 1.4kg, this remarkable organ uses about 20% of the oxygen you breathe in when you’re at rest. It requires a huge amount of energy and some of us notice that if we don’t eat every few hours, we can get foggy-headed, fatigued or even “hangry” (hungry and angry). In early development of a human embryo, neurons develop at the astonishing rate of 250,000 cells per minute! It is truly a magnificent biological computer and looking after your brain is vital for you to have a long, happy and fulfilling life. Unfortunately, many of us find our memory and concentration just ain’t what they used to be especially as we get older. So, is there anything we can do about it?

One of the most revered plants in Ayurvedic medicine is Brahmi, or Bacopa Monnieri, my favourite brain herb! Bacopa is a miraculous plant from the Indian subcontinent that has been shown to stimulate enhanced communication between neurons. Our brains have trillions of connections and Bacopa seems to enhance the ability of brain cells to fire (or not fire) via improved synaptic function. Synapses are the microscopic gaps between neurons where messengers called neurotransmitters trigger a cell to fire (excitation) or not fire (inhibition). We need to have a balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in order to remember, make calculations, create, learn, laugh, cry, sleep, wake up, move our bodies etc. Anything that helps support the function and structure of our neurons is extremely valuable, especially in our aging societies around the world.

Bacopa has traditionally been used to enhance cognition, as a mild relaxant, a nervine tonic, and even as a mild anticonvulsant. It is indicated for disorders of the nervous system, improving concentration, enhancing mental performance and memory, for insomnia and anxiety. It has also been used for epilepsy, but of course this is a serious condition which needs to be managed medically. Bacopa is said to support serotonin production, which relieves anxiety and insomnia, and to slow down the breakdown of dopamine, leading to improved mood and memory. An enzyme found in Bacopa known as Tryptophan Hydroxylase is responsible for improving the assimilation of new information, recalling facts and enhancing memory. The anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) properties of the extracts also help with mental clarity as people feel more calm, clear, relaxed and focused. Brahmi oil is a combination of Bacopa mixed with coconut oil and other medicinal plants, and is considered a very effective brain tonic.

Clinical studies have shown that Brahmi relieves anxiety as effectively as the drug lorazepam, but without affecting motor functions such as balance and co-ordination (which the drug did impair). Bacopa was compared to the drug Chlorpromazine to see how it influenced learning and memory: the herbal medicine not only outperformed the drug, but improved motor functions compared to controls (the non-treatment group), whereas the drug treatment group was adversely affected. A trial of 35 patients with anxiety were given Bacopa for 1 month. The participants reported a significant reduction in anxiety, as well as improvements in mental performance and memory. They also experienced an increased sense of wellbeing, improved sleep and appetite and an improvement in weight. Finally, an Australian randomised controlled study showed that people taking Bacopa extract significantly improved the speed of visual information processing (they could learn faster from reading), verbal learning rate, and memory consolidation. Again, the reduction in feelings of anxiety were highly significant in the Bacopa group.

It’s great to see these positive benefits from scientific clinical studies, which reinforces what we see in our clinic everyday: that Botanical Medicines such as Bacopa can and do make profound improvements in people’s lives. One of the benefits of Natural Medicine is that when it is prescribed properly from a qualified Naturopath/ Herbalist using high quality extracts, it is safe, reliable and extremely efficacious. I love to use Bacopa in combination with Ginkgo Biloba, Withania Somnifera and perhaps Rhodiola Rosea depending on the person’s symptoms. Rosemary and Sage are also said to improve memory, so you can add these to your food as well. And speaking of food, if you have a diet high in over-processed, packaged, “dead” food, your brain is going to suffer along with the rest of your body. In general, we need to eat a lot of vegetables, moderate amounts of lean protein, beneficial fats (particularly high quality omega-3 fatty acids), drink plenty of water, exercise daily and get adequate sunlight, fresh air and laughter! And remember to get enough sleep: your brain will love you for looking after it. When you’re taking these essential lifestyle actions, you can really slow down the negative affect of time on your body; adding an incredible herbal medicine like Bacopa can have profound benefits for your memory, concentration and wellbeing. Stay smart, and have a beautiful day!

David Peirce is a practicing Naturopath/ Herbalist.

Bachelor of Health Science - Complementary Medicine

Contact: 07 4032 0038

Comments are closed.