A Differential View of Bacopa and Huperzine A for Cognitive Support
Whether we call it the “information age”, the “tech era” or “the social media age”, we now need to sort through huge amounts of information efficiently. We spend a lot of time processing and learning new information. Some of it we also want to remember!
This article reviews some of the research on two natural ingredients which have demonstrated positive outcomes in support of learning and memory.
Bacopa monnieri is a traditional Ayurvedic herb that’s also commonly called Brahmi. The Sanskrit word Brahmi refers to sacred consciousness or intelligence. Bacopa is considered a Rasayana herb—those Ayurvedic herbs with broad application, believed to promote healthy longevity, memory, intelligence, general health and youthfulness.
In animal and human studies, extracts of bacopa standardized for bacosides have been found to enhance several aspects of mental function, especially working memory and learning ability.1,2 Bacopa extracts also appear to have significant antioxidant activity in the brain, which may help protect brain cells.2
Huperzine A is an alkaloid found in huperzia serrata. Studies have demonstrated that Huperzine A is a selective acetylcholinterase inhibitor, which prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine, an important substance needed by the nervous system to transmit information from cell to cell.3 Loss of acetylcholine function is a primary feature of several brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease. Human trials done with Huperzine A have shown positive results for people with specific pathological memory disorders (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease and dementia) while another trial showed positive results for those with minor age-related memory loss.4 Huperzine A may also have a protective effect on brain tissue,5 increasing its theoretical potential for supporting optimal brain function.
While both of these herbs may provide functional crossover support for both learning and memory, a quick review of the research seems to differentiate huperzia serrata and Huperzine A as helpful in supporting memory and cognitive function, specifically for older adults with risk factors for memory disorders. Meanwhile, bacopa monnieri may be helpful in supporting learning and working memory for anyone, throughout their lifespan.
Lisa Murray, RDN, LD
- Stough C1, Downey LA, Lloyd J et al. Examining the nootropic effects of a special extract of Bacopa monniera on human cognitive functioning: 90 day double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Phytother Res. 2008 Dec; 22(12):1629-34. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2537.
- Kashmira J. Gohil, Jagruti A. Patel. A review on Bacopa monniera: Current research and future prospects. International Journal of Green Pharmacy 4(1) · December 2009.DOI: 10.4103/0973-8258.62156
- Cheng DH, Ren H, Tang XC. Huperzine A, a novel promising acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. Neuroreport 1996;8:97-101.
4.Wang Z, Ren G, Zhao Y, et al. A double-blind study of huperzine A and piracetam in patients with age-associated memory impairment and dementia. In: Kanba S, Richelson E (eds). Herbal Medicines for Nonpsychiatric Diseases. Tokyo: Seiwa Shoten Publishers, 1999, 39-50.
- Ved HS, Koenig ML, Dave JR, et al. Huperzine A, a potential therapeutic agent for dementia, reduces neuronal cell death caused by glutamate. Neuroreport 1997;8:963-8.rders.9, 10