Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease of the elderly. The rapid increase in its incidence has necessitated development of newer drugs. Ayurvedic herbal medications are increasingly researched due to their biosafety profile and usefulness in cognitive impairment. In this article, we critically reviewed one such Medhya Rasayana (nootropic drug) Brahmi-derived from extract of Bacopa monnieri (EBm). Studies have shown that EBm promotes free radical scavenger mechanisms and protects cells in prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and striatum against cytotoxicity and DNA damage implicated in AD. It also reduces lipoxygenase activity reducing lipid peroxidation, increases glutathione peroxidase and chelates iron. Administration of EBm was seen to protect the cholinergic neurons and reduce anticholinesterase activity comparable to donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine. It also reduces hippocampal β-amyloid deposition and stress-induced hippocampal damage. The neuroprotective effect of EBm is also due to nitric oxide-mediated cerebral vasodilation. EBm improved the total memory score and maximum improvement was seen in logical memory and paired associate learning in humans and reversed phenytoin-induced memory impairment in experimental model. EBm has not shown any serious clinical, neurological, hematological complications, or vital organs damage in experimental studies. Rats showed marked reduction in fertility; however, libido was unaffected. There is no experimental evidence of genotoxicity or teratogenesis by use of EBm. Mild nausea and gastrointestinal upset are seen in humans. Brahmi promises to be a novel agent in AD; however, further human trials are recommended to verify the efficacy and rule out any side effects as evidenced by the experimental models.
Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Ayurveda; Bacopa monnieri; Brahmi; Nootropics.