Average Reading Time: 5 minutes and 11 seconds
Brahmi is a common name used for two very important Ayurvedic herbs used for enhancing and caring for brain function. Bacopa monnieri is called Brahmi in south India, and Centella asiatica is called Brahmi (or Gotu Kola) in the north of India, where it more commonly grows.
This article is to help us understand the differences between these two powerful herbs for the brain, and describe how well they can work together to boost brain function and keep the central nervous system (CNS) healthy.
Bacopa, called Brahmi in south India, also known as Water Hyssop and Herpestis monniera, is a creeping perennial plant with small leaves and purple flowers found in warm wetlands. It is native to India, but commonly grows in the United States.
Contrary to most brain tonic agents that stimulate and can sometimes deplete brain neurons, Bacopa has been shown to nourish the nervous system while boosting brain function, neuroprotection, memory and learning. Bacopa was used in conjunction with centella in ancient times to help memorize lengthy Vedic hymns and chants as a part of their tradition. (1) Today’s science helps us understand why these two herbs may be better together than apart.
The most well-studied constituents of Bacopa that work specifically on the brain are known as bacosides, a chemical compound that belongs to the triterpenoid saponin group. Bacosides have been shown to be neuroprotective, neurotransmitter-stimulating, brain antioxidants that boost cerebral blood flow. (1) While Bacopa has been indicated in support for numerous brain and neurological health mechanisms, it seems to stand out as support for healthy cognitive function, memory, focus, clarity, mood and learning. (1)
The brain carries high levels of iron that are easily oxidized. This makes the brain very susceptible to damage from toxicity and oxidation, much like an iron car is prone to rust or degenerate. Many of the body’s natural antioxidants cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, and thus cannot help prevent oxidation-related damage. Bacosides have been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, supporting and shielding the brain from toxins and oxidizing agents. (1)
In one study where rats were exposed to high levels of cigarette smoke, they measured the levels of brain antioxidants with and without the supplementation of Bacopa. In the brains of the Bacopa-supplemented group, researchers found significantly higher levels of the following anti-oxidizing agents: glutathione, super-oxide dismutase, Vitamin C, E and A. (1)
Bacopa has also been shown to help prevent the chemical process responsible for the oxidation of good fats (lipid oxidation) in the brain. This is important, as the brain volume is predominately made of cholesterol, which is very prone and susceptible to oxidation damage. (1)
New research has shown that the brain cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) acts like a wash for the toxins in the brain. These CSF toxins are flushed into the brain glymphatics (tiny lymph vessels) in the sagittal sinuses, which are in a Mohawk pattern on top of the skull. When toxins were injected into the CSF, the group that was supplemented with Bacopa was protected from oxidative damage in the brain and CNS.
Bacopa has also been shown to support healthy cerebral blood flow, which is important for numerous reasons. CSF production is derived by a concentration of blood vessels in the base of the brain called the choroid plexus. Here, brain lymph fluid or CSF is oozed out of these vessels and rinsed from one brain ventricle space to the next, as it systematically washes the brain of toxins. It is here that Bacopa and its numerous constituents cross the blood-brain barrier.
Bacopa is also one of just a handful of agents recently identified to increase the natural production of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs) that support the genesis of new brain nerve cells or neurons, suggesting that Bacopa helps us replenish or replace old, worn out brain cells with new ones.
Bacopa was also found in numerous studies to support optimal cognitive function, mood, memory, focus and learning ability. (1-3)
Centella asiatica, also known as Hydrocotyle asiatica, Gotu Kola or Brahmi in the north of India, is also a small creeping plant with delicate leaves and small white flowers that bear small fruits. Centella is generally thought to be more cooling than the Bacopa, but both are considered good for all three doshas (vata, pitta and kapha.) Centella can be grown in tropical climates or in the higher cooler elevations of India and China, while Bacopa is typically grown in warmer and wetter climates.
Both herbs have similar active ingredients, but with distinct differences. Centella, like Bacopa, contains triterpenoid saponin members, but they are uniquely different compounds, including: asiaticosides, brahmosides, brahminosides and centellosides – giving Centella more diverse properties than the bacosides in Bacopa.
Both herbs are non-stimulating brain tonics that support mental clarity, cognitive function, memory, mood and focus as neuro-protectives, antioxidants and mood-stabilizing agents. (4-6) Centella, however, has unique properties not in Bacopa that support the skin (inner and outer), the lymph, and the microcirculation channels of the body. (5,6)
Both Centella and Bacopa have been shown to support optimal brain function, but Centella offers benefits linked to the decongestion of the newly discovered brain glymphatics that drain some 3 pounds of toxins from the brain each year.
Bacopa increases cerebral circulation, which drives more CSF to wash the brain of toxins, while Centella enhances the glymphatic drainage of damaging brain toxins. (4-6) Then, in concert, they both have properties to boost brain function, memory and learning – making them both ideal candidates for the common name, Brahmi. In short, Bacopa drives the nutrients in, and Brahmi (Centella) helps move the brain wash out.
At LifeSpa, we use the term “Brahmi” for Centella asiatica and “Bacopa” for Bacopa monnieri. Below is some of the compelling evidence for the skin, lymph and brain benefits of Centella.
Centella for the Lymph
The centellosides in Centella are responsible for skin health, microcirculation, venous and lymphatic benefits. In one study, Centella was given to 66 flight passengers traveling in economy class for 3-12 hours. Subjects were given 60mg of a Centella extract (roughly equivalent to a 500mg whole herb capsule) two days before the flight, the day of the flight, and for two days after the flight. The results showed significant improvements in microcirculation function compared to the controls. Ankle swelling (common on flights) was lower in those who took the Centella supplement. (5)
In another double-blind study, 94 patients who had venous circulation issues and limb heaviness were randomly selected to take 60mg of a Centella extract per day for 3 months. The Centella group had a significant reduction in limb heaviness, and venous circulation was greatly improved. (5)
Centella for the Skin
For the outer skin: One clinical trial evaluated 227 patients with scars or keloids, which are both an excess of fibrous tissue buildup after surgery. One group of the patients were given Centella for 18 months. In the Centella group, 116 out of 139, or 82% of participants experienced relief of their keloid and scar tissue-related symptoms. (1)
For the inner skin: Centella was shown in one study to significantly increase gastric mucin and glycoprotein secretion, which are known as gastric mucosal defense factors and maintain the structural integrity and function of the stomach lining against threatening factors. This study suggests that the stomach lining was protected from harsh aspirin-induced irritation by the supplemental Centella asiatica. (5)
Note: The studies suggest that it is the asiaticosides in Centella that support the health of both the inner and outer skin.
Centella for the Brain
There are numerous studies suggesting that brahmosides and brahminosides offer the antioxidant, neurotransmitter-boosting, stress hormone-reducing effects that support mood, cognitive function, memory and the brain toxin-, free radical-scavenging benefits. (6)