Reveals that a brain-boosting supplement called Huperzine A also
treats age-related memory loss and Alzheimer's disease. How it has been
used in China for centuries; How it enhances mental ability; Results of
its trials in the United States.
By Norine Dworkin published July 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
Misplaced your keys again? Lost your train of thought mid-sentence? A brain-boosting supplement called Huperzine A may keep you from blanking out.
Huperzine A (HupA), an alkaloid compound found in the club moss Huperzia serrata, has been used in China for centuries to reduce fever and inflammation. Now researchers have discovered that HupA also treats age-related memory loss and Alzheimer's disease.
HupA enhances mental ability by keeping the enzyme acetylcholinesterase from destroying the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which aids memory formation and triggers communication between brain cells. In Alzheimer's patients, the chemical's messages don't always get through. "if we can prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, we're allowing the acetylcholine that is there to work more effectively," says Alan Kozikowski, Ph.D., who studies HupA.
While trials are in the early stages in the United States, Chinese research supports this theory. In a study done at Zhejiang Medical University in Shanghai, 103 patients with Alzheimer's were given either 200 micrograms of HupA a day or a placebo. After eight weeks, 58% of those given HupA showed marked improvement in mental function, compared to 36% who took the placebo.
Kozikowski, a professor of chemistry at Georgetown University, is quick to add that while HupA won't reverse Alzheimer's, it will "delay the progression." He notes, "If I was presymptomatic for Alzheimer's, I would start taking it."