(58% of Patients Show Improved Memory and Cognition … )
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It’s true. Having taken notice of the success the Chinese have had in treating Alzheimer’s, the traditional medical establishment (and not just the alternative medical community which has been promoting Huperzine-A for more than a decade) is now both acknowledging the effectiveness of this substance and actively pursuing their own developmental studies.
For example, the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, in their position statement regarding principles of care for patients with dementia resulting from Alzheimer disease, mentions Huperzine-A and says “it may have efficacy as a treatment of the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in some clinical trials.”1
And even more exciting (or disturbing depending upon your point of view) is the fact that an American pharmaceutical company is attempting to have the FDA classify Huperzine-A as a drug for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
The fact that pharmaceutical medicine is now endorsing an extract from Chinese moss is surprising to say the least. Conventional medicine has long turned its back and thumbed its nose at natural cures, usually for monetary reasons. But with more than 20 years of clinical proof from studies conducted in China, and the pending epidemic of Alzheimer’s here in the United States, the race is on to make Huperzine-A a patentable, pharmaceutical drug and reap millions of dollars of profit.
What’s all the fuss about Huperzine-A?
Right now, Huperzine-A is approved as a drug in China to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other age-associated memory impairments, and it is currently marketed in the U.S. as a dietary supplement that promotes memory and brain health.
But its real power, and the reason Big Pharma is so interested in it, is its ability to inhibit acetylcholinesterase, which is an enzyme found in the brain that breaks down acetylcholine. 2
A shortage of acetylcholine is considered the most common cause of memory loss, decreased learning ability, and intelligence. Additionally, the greatest amount of damage in the Alzheimer’s brain is in the cells using acetylcholine.3
To understand the significance of this, it’s important to understand how acetylcholine works in the brain. This messenger molecule is the most abundant and essential neurotransmitter in the brain and is responsible for numerous functions, including many related to cognition and memory. Acetylcholine is released into the synapse, or space between two nerve cells, where it stimulates the transfer of nerve impulses from one nerve cell to another. After the nerve impulse is transmitted, acetylcholinesterase—an enzyme that is found between nerve endings—breaks down acetylcholine into choline and acetate, and the nerve signal ends.
Loss of acetylcholine function is a primary feature of several types of brain dysfunction, including Alzheimer’s disease. In Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia, acetylcholine is destroyed too quickly, and consequently the nerve impulse is either too weak to be received or it is incompletely transmitted between nerve cells.
Huperzine-A inhibits the activity of acetylcholinesterase, so the breakdown of acetylcholine is slowed and the strength and duration of the nerve impulse is improved. In fact, Professor Joel Sussman, of the Weizmann Institute in Israel who studied the structure and function of Huperzine-A said, “It is as if this natural substance were ingeniously designed to fit into the exact spot in acetylcholinesterase where it will do the most good.”4
Scientific studies support Huperzine-A
In the 20+ years since it was first identified, hundreds of scientific studies in both human and animal models show Huperzine-A makes more acetylcholine available for better brain functioning.5
Back in 1995, a double-blind, placebo controlled study at Zhejiang Medical University, in Hangzhou, China, 50 Alzheimer’s patients received 200 mcg of Huperzine-A and 53 received a placebo for 8 weeks. All the patients were evaluated with several memory exams, including the Wechsler memory scale and the minimental state examination scale.
At the end of the study, about 58% (29/50) of the patients treated with Huperzine-A showed significant improvements in their memory, cognitive, and behavioral functions versus only 36% of those receiving the placebo. There were no adverse side effects reported, and the researchers said, “Huperzine is a promising drug for symptomatic treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”6
In a more recent study, Huperzine-A was tested on 202 mild to moderate Alzheimer’s patients at the Peking Medical College Hospital in Beijing, China. One group was given 400 mcg of Huperzine-A per day for 12 weeks, and the other group was given a placebo. All patients were assessed with tests that evaluated their cognitive function, daily life activity, and non-cognitive disorders such as muscle control. The group treated with Huperzine-A showed remarkable improvement in cognition, behavior and mood, in comparison to the placebo group. There were no side effects except for a few reports of very mild insomnia and water retention in a few patients, and these effects were transient.7
Huperzine-A protects against beta-amyloid buildup
And while the studies cited above demonstrate the power of Huperzine-A to treat those suffering from Alzheimer’s, senility, and memory loss, one of the most exciting recent animal studies showed how Huperzine-A protects the brain from developing these diseases in the first place. In 2009, researchers at Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Sciences, where Huperzine-A was first isolated, reported that Huperzine-A protects brain mitochondria from beta-amyloid.8
By demonstrating that Huperzine-A protects the brain from beta-amyloid, these researchers have shown it may both treat and prevent Alzheimer’s.
Huperzine-A protects against free radicals
In addition to its acetylcholine enhancing effects, and the newly discovered noncholinergic effects, Huperzine-A has also been found to protect against free radical-induced cell toxicity in lab tests.9
This is significant because many diseases are believed to be the result of free radical damage. Huperzine-A has also been shown to dramatically decrease the abnormally elevated free radical activity in the brains of old animals10 as well as the blood of Alzheimer’s patients.11 This protective effect has been noted by scientists to be a significant additional benefit of Huperzine-A, beyond its acetylcholine enhancing effect.
Huperzine-A enhances learning
In a study to determine the effects of Huperzine-A on memory and learning, Chinese researchers selected 34 matched pairs of normal middle school students whose only complaints were of poor memory and difficulty in learning.
In a double-blind trial, one member of each pair was given 100 mcg of Huperzine-A twice daily for four weeks, while the other member received the placebo. The students’ memory quotients were measured before and after the trial, and their academic performance in their Chinese, English, and mathematics lessons was also monitored.
At the end of the study, the Huperzine-A group scored significantly higher than the control group on standard memory tests. They also did significantly better in their Chinese and English lessons.12 These results have prompted busy executives to embrace Huperzine-A to keep them sharp and give them a mental edge.
Reverses effects of amnesia
Scopolamine is a class of drugs that induces amnesia by interfering with acetylcholine and is a common tool in research on memory enhancing drugs. An animal study showed that Huperzine-A reversed the deficits in performance and memory that result from scopolamine, again demonstrating that Huperzine-A has the potential to benefit patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory disorders.13
The advantages of Huperzine-A over prescription drugs
Animal research suggests that Huperzine-A’s ability to preserve acetylcholine may be greater than that of the two FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs designed to do the same thing; tacrine and donepezil. Like these drugs, Huperzine-A works by disrupting acetycholinesterase, yet it seems to do it more effectively and with fewer side effects.14
These findings, along with the fact that Huperzine-A has a longer duration of action, is absorbed more quickly, penetrates the brain more rapidly, and does not produce liver toxicity,15 are just a few more reasons why the pharmaceutical companies are now trying to jump on the Huperzine-A bandwagon.
Suggested dosage and potential side-effects
The doses of Huperzine-A used in clinical studies range from 50 mcg to 400 mcg daily. And while dizziness was reported in a few people in one study, and mild insomnia and water retention in another, no severe side effects have been reported in human trials using Huperzine-A. The most common side effect is usually mild nausea or headache, and all of these minor side effects are dose related and can be avoided by starting with the smallest amount and slowly increasing the daily dosage of Huperzine-A.
However, if side effects continue to occur, reduce dosage until side effects disappear. It is important to note, Huperzine-A should not be used by children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers.
Tomorrow’s pharmaceutical today?
With the intense interest of pharmaceutical medicine in Huperzine-A, it would not surprise us if this inexpensive, readily available natural substance was hijacked by Big Pharma and turned into a costly prescription-only pharmaceutical for the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. The potential profit is too great to be ignored.
So before this beneficial dietary supplement becomes tomorrow’s restricted pharmaceutical, you might consider trying it out now. You can protect your brain, your memory, and ultimately your pocketbook by taking advantage of the health benefits of Huperzine-A now, while you still can.
- Lyketsos, Constantine G.; Colenda, Christopher C.; Beck, Cornelia; Blank, Karen; Doraiswamy, Murali P.; Kalunian, Douglas A.; Yaffe, Kristine, AAGP Position Statement: Principles of Care for Patients With Dementia Resulting From Alzheimer Disease American Journal of Geriatric Psych. 14(7):561-573, July 2006.
- Wang BS, Wang H, Wei ZH, Song YY, Zhang L, Chen HZ. Efficacy and safety of natural acetylcholinersterase inhibitor huperzine A in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: an updated meta analysis.
- Picoulin, Kathryn, Reversing Alzheimer’s Naturally. 2002, Auburn Hill Publishing Co., CA.
- Raves ML, Harel M, Pang YP, Silman I, Kozikowski AP, Sussman JL, Structure of acetylcholinesterase complexed with the nootropic alkaloid, (-)-huperzine A. Nat Struct Biol. 1997 Jan:4(1):57-63.
- Desilets AR, Gickas JJ, Dunican KC. “Role of huperzine-a in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.” Ann Pharmacother, 2009 Mar;43(3):514-8.
- Xu SS, Gao ZX, Weng Z, Du ZM, Xu WA, Yang JS, Zhang ML, Tong ZH, Fang YS, Chai XS, 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.
- Zhang Z, Wang X, Chen Q, Shu L, Wang J, Shan G. 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. [Article in Chinese]
- Gao X, Zheng CY, Yang L, Tang XC, Zhang HY. Huperzine A protects isolated rat brain mitochondria against beta-amyloid peptide. Free Radic Biol Med. 2009 Mar 9. [Epub ahead of print].
- Xiao XQ, Yang JW, Tang XC. Huperzine A protects rat pheochromocytoma cells against hydrogen peroxide-induced injury. Neurosci Lett. 1999 Nov 12; 275(2): 73-6.
- Shang YZ, Ye JW, Tang XC. Improving effects of huperzine A on abnormal lipid peroxidation and superoxide dismutase in aged rats. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao. 1999 Sep;20(9):824-8.
- Xu SS, Cai ZY, Qu ZW, Yang RM, 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.
- Sun QQ, Xu SS, Pan JL, Guo HM, Cao WQ. Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao. Acta Pharmacol Sin 1999 Jul; 20(7): 601-3.
- Ye JW, Cai JX, Wang LM, Tang XC. Improving effects of huperzine A on spatial working memory in aged monkeys and young adult monkeys with experimental cognitive impairment. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1999 Feb; 288(2): 814-9.
- Cheng DH, Tang XC. Comparative studies of huperzine A, E2020, and tacrine on behavior and cholinesterase activities.Pharmacol Biochem Behav 1998;60:377-86.
- Tang XC. Huperzine A (shuangyiping): a promising drug for Alzheimer’s disease. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao. 1996 Nov; 17(6): 481-4.