Bacopa Monnieri is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine that promotes cognition. It supports cognition because of its effects on choline, and it an be referred to as a cholinergic—though not in the usual way that you might think of.
Bacopa allows more acetylcholine to circulate in the body because it inhibits the enzyme which breaks down acetylcholine (acetylcholinesterase). Most of Bacopa’s effects on acetylcholinesterase take place in the cerebral cortex. With less of the enzyme which breaks it down, acetylcholine is more plentiful in the brain, and it can be readily available for the brain to use.
The brain uses acetylcholine primarily in areas of the brain which are involved in learning and memory. The area of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory is the hippocampus, and acetylcholine is found in high concentrations in this region. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter which is responsible for signaling and communications between neurons.
Acetylcholine can be synthesized in the body from its precursor, choline. Choline is an essential nutrient found in some food sources that the body uses to make acetylcholine. Despite the body being able to synthesize acetylcholine from choline, the lack of choline in the diet can make it hard for the body to have enough of the precursor to synthesize appropriate amounts of acetylcholine.
Since acetylcholine is responsible for transmitting messages, it can quickly be depleted if the body is under stress or goes through a lot of decision-making. Certain supplements and even other nootropics (like racetams) can deplete the body’s acetylcholine more rapidly than it can synthesize it. This, coupled with the lack of choline in most people’s diet, can make it very difficult for the body to have enough acetylcholine.
Choline can be found in eggs, organ meats, a few cruciferous vegetables, and some grains and seeds. It is estimated that 10% of the population is actually deficient in choline. It is possible to supplement directly with choline. The way that choline supplementation works is through providing the body with more choline, which then the body can make into acetylcholine.
Bacopa Monnieri is unusual because it is an herbal cholinergic, though, as explained above, it does not use the familiar route of supplying the body with more choline. Its actions as a cholinergic are due to the inhibition of the enzyme which breaks down acetylcholine. Bacopa Monnieri also helps cognition with some other benefits that are specific and unique to Bacopa.
Bacopa Monnieri can improve cognitive processing, focus and attention, and promote mood. Most of Bacopa’s effects are due to its active compounds which are called bacosides. Bacosides not only improve cognitive processing functions, but they are neuroprotective and can repair neurons.
Bacopa Monnieri can also improve mood because the bacosides are active with the brain’s serotonin receptors. Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that is usually associated with feelings of happiness, and Bacopa has been studied and proven to work with these receptors, which may increase levels of serotonin in the brain.
Bacopa improves focus and attention because its bacosides can also enhance the transmission of impulses between the connections of neurons (their neural synapses). With so much extra communication in the brain made faster and easier, Bacopa Monnieri has some clear advantages over supplementing with choline on its own.