The global average life expectancy has more than doubled over the past 100 years. Nowadays, individuals live for approximately 73 years. Living a longer life means we need our brains to be in better shape for a longer period of time, which is why brain health has become an increasingly popular topic.

The most important factor for developing cognitive decline is age. But what many people might not realize is that they have more control than they might think when it comes to protecting their brain. For example, did you know that what you eat can impact cognitive abilities such as memory and attention?

The Connection Between Brain Health and Nutrition

Obesity is definitely a risk factor for cognitive decline in adults. The fat cells that are in the abdomen and surround the intestine are not inert, but they actually heighten inflammation throughout the body and the brain, and that kind of immune-heightened response may be detrimental to our brain cells. The good news is that when people achieve a healthy weight, their memory performance can improve.

Eating a brain-boosting diet can support both short- and long-term brain functions. Reducing processed foods and refined sugars and upping the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish, walnuts, and chia seeds­) can reduce inflammation and promote brain health. Antioxidants (found in fresh fruits and vegetables) can also combat age-related oxidative stress that causes wear and tear on brain cells. The foods we eat can have a big impact on the structure and health of our brains.

Additionally, there are specific botanical ingredients that support some brain functions. For example, bacopa.

What Is Bacopa?

Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is a plant that’s been used in traditional Ayurvedic Indian medicine for centuries. Around the world, it is also known as brahmi, water hyssop, thyme-leaved gratiola, and herb of grace.

Native to Asian countries such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, China and Vietnam, bacopa extracts have different properties, such as:

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How Does Bacopa Improve Brain Health?

Cognitive domains are distinct types of functions the brain uses to execute behavior. Examples of major cognitive domains include memory, learning, language, perception, reasoning, motor skills, sensation, perception, and attention. Studies show that bacopa can support several of these cognitive domains:

Memory and learning

Bacopa can aid with these cognitive processes, namely: holding information over the short term while performing a task (working memory); registering new information and storing it for future use (acquisition and consolidation); and accessing information from storage when needed (retrieval).


Attention involves the following processes: sustaining concentration on a particular object, action, or thought; managing competing demands in your environment; and changing the direction of focus when needed.

Bacopa can help improve memory and attention.

A study performed in 46 healthy adults indicated that bacopa significantly improved the speed of processing visual information, learning rate, and memory. Another study of 60 older adults showed that bacopa improved memory, attention, and the ability to process information.

Bacopa can help improve mood.

Bacopa is an adaptogenic herb, which means it increases the body’s resistance to stress. Research suggests that bacopa helps reduce stress and anxiety by elevating mood and reducing levels of cortisol, a hormone that is closely linked to stress levels.

Start Caring for Your Brain Today

Brain health issues like anxiety, mental fatigue, stress, and trouble concentrating not only affect the older generation but young people too. Cognitive decline is a normal part of aging, but it’s never too late or too early to start protecting your brain and your cognitive abilities.

Start by eating healthier; getting regular exercise; and stimulating your mind through reading, word games, puzzles or learning a new skill. Learning improve techniques will help to compensate for the common forgetfulness associated with aging. The scientific evidence shows that people who engage in these healthy brain lifestyle strategies enjoy better cognitive abilities as they age.

My main advice is to start low and go slow. Don’t overdo it at first because you’ll be daunted. If you’re learning memory techniques, don’t try to remember the names of 10 people that day. Start out with one person, and then build your skills. Stick with brain games that are fun and engaging: it’s best to train and not strain your brain. If it’s too hard, it’s going to be stressful and that’s not good for your brain. If it’s too easy, it’s just going to be routine and repetitive and not really exercising your brain neural circuits.

Gary Small

Gary SmallM.D. – Member, Nutrition Advisory Board

Dr. Gary Small is a member of the Nutrition Advisory Board. He is also the chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Hackensack University and Medical Center and physician-in-chief for Behavioral Health Services at Hackensack Meridian Health. Dr. Small is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, a summa cum laude graduate of UCLA* and an Alpha Omega Alpha graduate of USC Keck School of Medicine. Following medical school, he completed an internship in internal medicine at Children’s Hospital and Adult Medical Center in San Francisco. He also completed a general psychiatry residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a fellowship in geriatric psychiatry at UCLA. He enjoys working out and using SKIN Protective Moisturizer and Liftoff.

*The University of California does not endorse specific products or services as a matter of policy.