Huperzine A is a dietary supplement that is also used in products to support memory performance and cognitive function.
There is a lot of interest, in particular, regarding its efficacy for treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Several nootropic stacks use huperzine A to boost cognition, protect the brain from oxidative damage, suppress depression, and promote brain well-being.
So, to review what it can do for your brain health, here an educational piece on Huperzine A.
What is Huperzine A (Huperzia Serrata)?
A naturally occurring alkaloid sourced from Chinese Club Moss, Huperzia Serrata, Huperzine A is a potent nootropic associated with memory and cognitive function.
It also stabilizes levels of essential brain chemicals and protects the brain from oxidative stress damage.
Chinese alternative medicine has been using Huperzia Serrata, also known as Qian Ceng Ta, for medicinal purposes for a long time. But studies are still in their infancy in Western medicine.
This ancient herb has a hybrid identity as a natural-synthetic, meaning it is a naturally occurring compound that must be extracted synthetically to yield nootropic effects.
How Does Huperzine A Work In The Brain?
Huperzine A works by a few different mechanisms to yield its effects.
At its core is acetylcholine production that works to benefit conditions involving memory and thinking.
It may also be helpful for correcting muscular disorders and strengthen weakened muscles.
Mechanisms of Action
The club moss Huperzia Serrata primarily operates as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor.
Like other cholinesterase inhibitors, it prevents acetylcholinesterase (AChE), a cholinergic enzyme, from breaking down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Studies show that by inhibiting AChE, huperzine A can potentially increase the duration and activity of acetylcholine.
This effect benefits general cognition, memory, and mental performance positively.
By the same mechanism of AchE inhibition, huperzine A also offers neuroprotective properties. Many neurodegenerative diseases are linked to inadequate acetylcholine in the brain.
When huperzine A promotes acetylcholine activity, the risk of dementia and other age-related memory problems are minimized.
Researchers also believe that huperzine A might offer neuroprotection by offering antioxidative support to nerve cells.
Oxidative damage is one of the most common triggers of age-related memory loss and dementia. Research suggests that taking huperzine A might improve oxidative balance in the central nervous system (1).
Studies show that Huperzine A easily crosses the blood-brain barrier to make itself more bioavailable in the brain.
For people, this bioavailability is detected in the blood within 5-10 minutes, and peak concentration is achieved within the hour.
It has a 10-hour half-life and gets excreted through urine within 24 hours.
What Are The Health Benefits of Huperzine A?
Most well-known for treating Alzheimer’s disease, huperzine A can also work on other types of dementia.
However, studies are also investigating its nootropic benefits for healthy people looking for ways to think more clearly, learn quickly, and recall accurately.
It is commonly used for learning and working memory enhancement, alertness, neuronal signaling, and the prevention of age-related brain damage.
Clinical trials regarding the drug’s neurology show it to be effective for cholinergic neurotransmission, neuroprotection, and neurogenesis.
Improves Memory Function
The most advertised health benefits of huperzine A include its ability to boost memory performance. And because of this, it is often used in nootropic stacks.
Research suggests that huperzine A does so by enhancing brain levels of acetylcholine. It is also often stacked with other nootropics for memory improvement like choline, alpha GPC, and racetams to achieve this effect.
While this acetylcholine action seriously benefits to improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease, clinical trials indicate that it may also improve memory and learning in younger adults as well.
One early double-blind placebo-controlled study involving adolescent students showed that taking huperzine A in 100 mcg doses for 4 weeks resulted in higher scores on memory quotient tests than the placebo group (2).
Huperzine A may be especially effective when it comes to preventing cognitive decline.
It helps protect the brain from oxidative damage that accompanies age-related mental health issues for patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and other forms of dementia.
In addition, clinical trials also indicate that huperzine A may help with cognitive function issues like brain fog and mental fatigue.
Both are sub-clinical problems that can aggravate poor memory and impaired cognition.
When it reaches the brain, huperzine A acts as a cholinesterase inhibitor to help preserve acetylcholine levels.
This mechanism keeps acetylcholine levels up, which is linked to various aspects of cognitive function. It can improve memory, benefit learning, enhance alertness, and ward off cognitive decline.
High levels of acetylcholine can also increase brain signaling and boost memory retrieval.
Some research indicates that huperzine A may be equally, if not more potent than prescription acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (3).
Improves Sleep and Lucid Dreaming
Huperzine A might be able to produce more lucid dreams in people. This is a state where the dreamer is aware of his dream and may even control what happens in the dream.
Its role in sleep improvement and lucid dreams may be its involvement in its acetylcholine-inhibiting effects.
Studies show that acetylcholine inhibitors may improve REM sleep. This is the sleep state where most lucid dreaming occurs.
Taking huperzine A supplements for acetylcholine inhibition produces similar effects to galantamine but without the side effects. More studies are needed to establish this effect of huperzine A.
Treats Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Most clinical trials involving huperzine A supplements focus on the drug’s neuroprotective potential for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies on the two together show positive links and benefits.
Even though Alzheimer’s has no absolute cure, there are treatment options that mitigate and stabilize symptoms.
One clinical trial showed promise regarding the safety and efficacy of huperzine A in reducing symptoms of neurodegeneration.
The study showed that taking huperzine A in 200 mcg doses for 8 weeks benefits memory, cognitive, and behavioral functions in Alzheimer’s patients (4).
Research has also looked into its effects on cognition and quality of life in treating Alzheimer’s disease.
In one placebo-controlled double-blind study, Alzheimer’s patients were given either 400 mcg huperzine A or a placebo for 24 weeks.
Evidence at the end of the study showed that the huperzine A group showed improved cognition, behavior, and mood in Alzheimer’s patients (5).
One animal study investigated the link between huperzine A and nerve growth factor production in cultured rat cells.
Evidence confirms that the nootropic presents neurotrophic activity. This is considered beneficial in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (6).
Reduces Symptoms of Depression
Huperzine A may also be beneficial for reducing symptoms of depression. It is sometimes used as an additional medication for patients with depression.
Studies on the subject investigated huperzine A administration to people taking antidepressant treatment. Study participants who took both antidepressants and huperzine A exhibited more significant improvement in cognitive function and quality of life (7).
One animal study investigated the anxiolytic effects of huperzine A with results showing that it blocked receptors that heightened anxiety. It also altered neurotransmitters that contributed to this effect (8).
While it may not resolve depression altogether, studies indicated that it helps resolve the cognitive symptoms of depression faster than placebos in human trials.
Prevents Glutamate Toxicity
Glutamate is a powerful excitatory neurotransmitter known for its involvement in signaling between nerve cells.
While this is helpful for the aspects of learning and memory when glutamate is present at normal levels, higher concentrations can become toxic and cause cell damage and even cell death.
Such chronic excitotoxicity is often indicative of oversensitive receptors that occur in neurodegenerative health conditions.
Common symptoms of this condition include restlessness, anxiety, heightened pain sensitivity, and lowered focus and concentration.
Such excitotoxicity is specifically dangerous for older people as aging tends to make receptors more sensitive. This, in turn, makes neurons more vulnerable to glutamate toxicity (9).
Research suggests that huperzine A may act as a glutamate antagonist and inhibit neurons from becoming over engaged by glutamate.
This mechanism can help keep glutamate levels in check and is seen as beneficial in preventing age-related memory impairment.
Possible Treatment For Myasthenia Gravis
This is a neuromuscular condition involving the degradation of muscle fibers resulting in muscle weakness.
The condition is caused by an abnormal immune reaction where the body’s immune defenses attack specific muscle proteins that receive nerve impulses.
Some recent clinical trials in this area show that huperzine A might be a suitable treatment for correcting muscle weakness. However, current research is preliminary and limited, and more studies with evidence are needed to establish its effectiveness (10).
How To Take Huperzine A?
Huperzine A is a substance extracted from the Chinese Club moss and can also be made in a laboratory. It is a potent nootropic supplement that requires only micrograms per dose.
Huperzine A is a fast-acting supplement, usually available as capsules and tablets, but you can also get it in powdered extract form.
Some preformulated nootropic products include it in their stack, so you should not use any additional amounts when using these stacks.
For treating Alzheimer’s or myasthenia gravis, huperzine A is also available as an injection.
Retail supplements typically yield between 50 mcg to 200 mcg of huperzine A per dose.
Many clinical trials corroborate this by establishing a 200 mcg dose to be safe and effective for daily consumption.
To benefit Alzheimer’s patients and multi-infarct dementia, suggested dosing is between 50-200 mcg taken twice daily.
Preventing weakness in the muscles requires 400 mcg daily.
Although these doses are typically taken once daily, they can be divided into multiple doses throughout the day or taken twice daily.
How Long Does Huperzine A Take To Work?
Huperzine A is a water-soluble compound, so you don’t need to take it with a meal. Since it has at least a 24-hour half-life, it is recommended to cycle this nootropic.
This means using it every other day or even only twice a week.
Huperzine A has a quick initial spike becoming available within 5-10 minutes after ingestion and reaching peak concentration in an hour or so.
Signs that you may need huperzine A include cognitive impairment that affects memory and thinking. Typically, these become more apparent as a person ages.
Other signs include experiencing muscle fatigue and weakness or a lack of alertness.
Does Huperzine A Have Side Effects?
Huperzine A products are considered safe to use for the short-term only (less than 3 months).
Its long-term safety has not been studied adequately, so it’s best to use it for the short-term only. Clinical trials show that Huperzine A is safe to take in regulated dosages for up to 12-24 weeks when used to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
When taken in the amounts recommended for supplementation, there is no evidence that huperzine A presents any severe side effects.
However, there can be side effects when you exceed the dose, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Other side effects include incontinence, drooling, muscle twitching, dry mouth, dizziness, high blood pressure, and a slow heart rate.
People with a slow heart rate or other such conditions should take care when using huperzine A.
Huperzine A is an ingredient to watch for when it comes to drug interactions. It can cause drug interactions with anticholinergic medications, antihistamines, and antidepressant medications. Anyone using blood pressure medications should also practice caution.
Other safety concerns focus on the ability of huperzine A to increase mucous and fluid secretions in the intestine, stomach, lungs, and reproductive systems. This may cause congestion in these organs, so products with huperzine A should be avoided.
Although primarily used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, huperzine A may also be effective for various other conditions.
You can enhance your learning and memory, prevent cognitive decline, and boost energy with huperzine A. It also boasts a good safety profile when used in the recommended amounts.
So, if you are looking for cognitive and nervous system support, we would recommend huperzine A as an excellent addition to anyone’s nootropic regimen.
- Can you take Huperzine A every day?
Huperzine A can be taken every day when used to treat certain conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or myasthenia gravis.
It should be cycled every second or third day as a dietary supplement, given its long half-life.
Or you could use it for two to three weeks, followed by a week’s break before resuming supplementation.
- Is huperzine A natural?
Huperzine A is a natural substance that is extracted and processed synthetically.
- Can you take Huperzine A with Ginkgo Biloba together?
Huperzine A is safe to take with Ginkgo Biloba, and many premade supplements already use this combination to good effect.
The two nootropics make a potent duo to support memory through their cholinergic effects.
- Should I use Huperzine A with or without food?
Huperzine A is typically taken without food as it is a water-soluble substance.
- Can you take Alpha-GPC and Huperzine A together?
Huperzine A is often stacked with alpha GPC to increase acetylcholine in the brain to enhance effects further.
Its safety profile shows it to be clear of any side effects.