Huperzia is a club moss indigenous to China. It is a non-flowering ground cover that has changed very little since prehistoric times. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the entire moss was used in making a decoction for treating pain, fever, and inflammation. It can also be implemented as an anti-spasmodic and diuretic. Modern medical scientists are interested in Huperzia’s ability to slow down the progression of the degenerative brain disorders associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Huperzine A is the alkaloid of interest found in Huperzia. In animal testing Huperzine A was found to prevent the degradation of acetylcholine in the body. Acetylcholine (Ach) is a substance used by neurons in the nervous system for communication with other neurons as well as muscle cells. Ach is a primary neurotransmitter released from the Vegas nerve. Its duties include but are not limited to: creating synaptic connections through electro-chemical conduction, transmission of motor nerve signals between muscle cell receptors and muscle neurons, and maintaining proper memory function in the hippocampus portion of the brain. Ach is also an important chemical in the body’s system of checks and balances, most namely it inhibits Acetylcholinesterase (AchE), an enzyme that breaks down or cleans up excess Ach in the synaptic region of cells. The two work together to create balance in the nervous systems, peripheral and central.
Western medical science has attributed a breakdown Ach production in neurons to Alzheimer’s. The FDA has already approved a number of AchE inhibiting drugs such as Cognex. However, as with many laboratory drugs they come with side effects like dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. In a double-blind trials of Huperzia and hybrid like drugs patients with Alzheimer’s are administered injections, capsules, tablets, extracts, and the tea associated with TCM. What they have found is that there is memory, cognitive, and behavioral improvement when taking Huperzia and hybrid pharmaceuticals, with less side effects than their fully engineered cousins. The moss doesn’t cure Alzheimer’s but it does slow the progression of the disease throughout the brain and the rest of the body.
Huperzia, because of its need for tropical forest or swamp like environment to grow, is not often found or cultivated in this country. However, there are a variety of related club mosses native to this region. The Chippewa Indians are also thought to have used club mosses for their medicinal purposes. Other foods and herbs that have been shown to reduce the rate of breakdown of Ach are Rosemary, Brazil Nuts, and Fava Beans. Huperzia is found in all its forms at Health Food stores, Asian Pharmacies, and is also available for purchase over the Internet. It can be used as a general stimulant for memory function and enhancing of cognitive function in healthy individuals. In the case of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s a physician should be included in the incorporation of Huperzia as treatment for the disease.