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Huperzine A: A Natural Fix for Alzheimer’s?

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Posted Tuesday, Dec. 10th, 2013

HuPA

The quest for new, natural approaches has taken herbalists to the corners of the earth in search of plant-based treatments for disease.

As it turns out, one such remedy may have been under their feet the whole time.

Found deep within in the shady forests of the Far East, this plant has been a mainstay of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.

And now, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that it may help improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

So just what is this powerful plant-based product?

A Moss for Better Memory…

Chinese club moss (Huperzia serrata) has long been used in Asian countries as a treatment for a variety of woes, including bruises, sprains, swelling, fever, and inflammation, as well as more serious conditions like seizures and memory loss.

In traditional Chinese medicine, it is known under a variety of names, including Qieng Ceng Ta, Jin Bu Buan, She Zu Cao, and She Song.

But these days, the moss goes by a different moniker.

See, in the early 1980s, scientists discovered and isolated a specific alkaloid from Chinese club moss.   They called it Huperzine A.

These researchers soon found that Huperzine A could cross the blood–brain barrier.  In doing so, it is able to prevent the enzyme acetyl cholinesterase (AChE) from destroying acetylcholine, which is intimately involved in learning and memory.  When you inhibit this process, you make more acetylcholine available to help stimulate nerve cells.  That’s important, because people with Alzheimer’s disease tend to have a shortage of acetylcholine.

This is a very similar mechanism to that of AChE inhibitors – drugs such as tacrine and donepezil, which are used to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

And that suggests that Huperzine A may also have a positive effect on this condition.  But let’s look at the actual studies.

New Hope for Alzheimer’s Disease…

Huperzine A has been well studied for its effects on memory and cognitive function, and most studies provide powerful proof that this supplement does indeed benefit those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.5,6

For example, in one randomized, controlled trial of 202 people with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease, researchers asked patients to take either 400 mcg or a placebo daily. They used a variety of scales to measure different symptoms of the disease.  After 12 weeks, they noted a 4.6-point improvement in cognition, a 2.7-point improvement in memory, a 1.5-point improvement in behavior and mood, and a 2.4-point improvement in the subjects’ ability to carry out activities of daily living.1

A similar study of 103 Alzheimer’s patients found that those who were treated with Huperzine A experienced significant improvements in memory, cognitive function, and behavioral function after eight weeks.2

And yet another study looked at the effects of Huperzine A in 56 people who had dementia as the result of multiple small strokes and in 100 people who were senile.  The former took 0.05 mg twice a day for four weeks, while the latter took 0.03 mg twice a day for two weeks.  At the end of the study, Huperzine A was associated with significant improvement in memory function in both groups.3

Although Huperzine A’s primary action appears to be its ability to act as an AChE inhibitor, it may also help treat Alzheimer’s disease in other ways.  These include its antioxidant properties and its ability to protect against the nerve cell death that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease.

Hope for Another Challenging Condition…

The majority of research into Huperzine A involves its effects on memory and cognitive function.  However, there is one other area of promise for this plant-based product.

Some studies have looked at the alkaloid’s ability to treat myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune condition that can cause muscle weakness.  When Huperzine A is injected into people with myasthenia gravis, it appears to protect against this symptom.

In fact, in a small study, people with stabilized myasthenia gravis received intramuscular injections of Huperzine A daily or every other day for 10 days. Huperzine A appeared to reduce muscle weakness in these people for 7 hours at a time – 3 hours longer than those who received another type of injection.4

More research is needed, but people with myasthenia gravis may benefit from Huperzine A.  However, because it was administered in injection form, you’ll need to see your doctor for this particular treatment.

Help with Using Huperzine A…

Huperzine A has a very specific use: It’s recommended for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, such as that caused by multiple strokes.  And while it isn’t for everyone, it may be a real godsend for this group of people.

But you need to do a little research before you run out and purchase this product for yourself or a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive dysfunction.

See, Huperzine A is available in several different forms.  These include extracts of Huperia serrata, as well as natural Huperine A, and synthetic Huperzine A, which has been created in a lab and is supposed to be bio-equivalent to natural forms.

There are even products that combine synthetic Huperzine A with AChE drugs such as tacrine and doneprezil.  These formulations are still being studied, but would obviously require a prescription.

The natural form of Huperzine A has been found to be three times more potent than synthetic versions, and it’s what you should look for when shopping for Huperzine A. The recommended dose is 50 to 200 mcg twice a day.  Be sure to check with your doctor, who can monitor symptoms and progress while you or your loved one take the supplement.

You should also be aware that this product may interact with certain medications.  For instance, it might increase the effects of AChE drugs and decrease the effects of anticholinergic drugs.

Plus, Huperzine A may negatively affect or worsen conditions such as epilepsy, peptic ulcers, heart disease, asthma, and emphysema.

Otherwise, the supplement is safe to take, although it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for side effects including nausea, sweating, diarrhea, dizziness, loss of appetite, muscle cramping, high blood pressure, blurred vision, hyperactivity, insomnia, and decreased heart rate.

And remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.

References

1Zhang Z, Wang X, Chen Q, et al. Clinical efficacy and safety of Huperzine Alpha in treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer disease, a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial Zhonghua Yi Xue Za Zhi. 2002 Jul 25;82(14):941-4.

2Xu SS, Gao ZX, Weng Z, et al. Efficacy of tablet Huperzine-A on memory, cognition, and behavior in Alzheimer’s disease. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao. 1995 Sep;16(5):391-5.

3http://www.healthy.net/scr/column.aspx?Id=281

4http://www.lef.org/protocols/neurological/age_related_cognitive_decline_02.htm?source=search&key=huperzine%20a

5Xu SS, Cai ZY, Qu ZW, et al. Huperzine-A in capsules and tablets for treating patients with Alzheimer disease. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao. 1999 Jun;20(6):486-90.

6Xu ZQ, Liang XM, Juan-Wu, et al. Treatment with Huperzine A improves cognition in vascular dementia patients. Cell Biochem Biophys. 2012 Jan;62(1):55-8.

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