Huperzine, Help for Alzheimer’s

Puzzled.I find myself fascinated again by the power of nature. In one of my recent journals an article was written about a substance referred to as HupA (huperzine a) which sparked my interest. I wanted to share this information with you because of the research done with this natural compound and Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that over 4.0 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s which, as many of you know, is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain. Alzheimer symptoms range form vision problems, sensory nerve impairment, lack of muscle coordination, hearing loss, loss of speech, loss of motor coordination and loss of thinking and memory. The subject of this article is not a cure-all but an aid, and we will look into how it works.

HupA is an extract from huperzia serrata, a type of club moss, indigenous to China. It is a member of the Lycopodeum family and is considered one of the most primitive class of plants. This herb has been used in China for thousands of years to treat fever, inflammation and excessive bleeding.

Research into this plant began back in 1980 where the constituent, HupA, was first isolated. In 1991 Dr. Alan Kozikowski, Professor of Chemistry in The Neurological Dept. of Georgetown University began researching this compound, and he reported his findings in the Journal of the American Medical Assoc., (JAMA) about its promising treatment for Alzheimer’s not to mentions its neuroprotective factors in healthy brains. Research has been done on the isolated compound and the whole herb. There is some controversy as to which is better, but since the whole herb has been used for thousands of years, many researchers use the whole form.

It is not being marketed as a treatment for Alzheimer’s but more as a neuroprotective agent that enhances proper brain functions.  Its action does not work as fast as other brain nutrients, but it does appear to enhance memory and cognition. Some researchers believe that it may act as a preventative in the development of Alzheimer’s. It has been successfully used in China for conditions related to stroke, epilepsy and other brain dysfunctions.

So let’s take a look at how HupA works in the body to give the benefits mentioned above. This information gets somewhat technical, but I will try to keep it simple:

Individual nerve cells in the brain are connected over a synapse or small gap. When thought processes travel through the brain, they must cross this synapse. A small electrochemical reaction creates a bridge between the gaps. The electrochemical reaction is “lubricated” by a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine (ACh). Because the brain knows that it can’t have too much ACh hanging around after the gap is bridged, the body produces an enzyme that breaks down ACh very quickly. This enzyme is called AChE (acetylcholinesterase). It is considered the fastest enzyme ever discovered so far. It works within a fraction of a second to remove any excess ACh. However, in a healthy brain AChE does not destroy all the acetylcholine before it has time to trigger or “turn on” the receptor site at other end of the nerve cell. The ability of this enzyme to enhance the successful crossing of the nerve transmission or to overly impede this transmission are reflected in a healthy or unhealthy brain.

This is where HupA works. It is considered a AChE inhibitor, so it prevents the production of AChE thus allowing more time for ACh to perform its task of sending the nerve signals. It is well known that in Alzheimer’s patients the production of ACh (acetylcholine) is radically diminished; the thinking is that if you can prevent the breakdown of ACh by inhibiting the enzymes responsible over time, the ACh will build up and brain functions will improve. Currently there are two medications prescribed that work similarly as HupA, but they have not been shown to be as effective and they have side effects and liver toxicity. I need to mention two herbs that have been effective in aiding acetylcholine production and they are fresh rosemary and gota kola.

In a study reported in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Assoc.) regarding the effectiveness of HupA in comparison to the prescription drugs mentioned above, they found the 58-75% of the patients treated with HupA responded with improvement to memory and behavioral functions, and the response was faster than those using only the medications. Other benefits were noted:

  • Improved memory in patients with benign memory disorder (86.7% overall improvement with 50% having significant improvement).
  • Helped decrease neuronal cell death.
  • Has potential for improved learning and information retrieval.
  • Improved short- and long-term memory.
  • Improved spatial memory in animals.
  • Improved memory without development of tolerance.

How safe is it? HupA appears to be completely safe and non toxic without side effects. No toxic effect has been recorded particularly with the whole plant. A person would have to ingest over 100 times the recommended dosage to have ill effects like nausea. In regards to single constituents, there have not been any toxic reactions to date but research is still determining this factor.

HupA comes in capsules, tablets and softgels. The typical dosage is 2 mcg (micrograms) per kilo (2.2pounds) of body weight, with the average adult dose around 100mcg per day.  It may be combined with other brain nutrients like gingko, vitamin E, and phospholipids.

As always, it is important that you research for yourself and consult with your health care practitioner before using any substance when treating specific disorders.

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