Huperzine A - An Overview
Huperzine A is a nootropic supplement that may be beneficial for:
It is used in traditional Chinese medicine for treating fever, blood disorders, and swelling.
Recently, it has gained popularity among nootropics users for its brain-enhancing benefits.
There is also ample evidence that it can keep the brain healthy as you age and prevent
Hup A seems to be non-toxic, relatively safe, and well-tolerated. Some people notice a mild stimulatory effect when taking it. They report clear-headed energy.13Zangara A. The psychopharmacology of huperzine A: an alkaloid with cognitive enhancing and neuroprotective properties of interest in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2003
We should note that it is NOT advisable to take this supplement every day due too it’s long half-life.
Daily use could result in higher blood concentrations and an increased chance of negative side effects.
What Does Huperzine A Do?
Alzheimers and Vascular Dementia
There is fairly extensive research showing that Hup A can treat and prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
In fact, it has been used as Alzheimer’s medication in China for many years.
By inhibiting AChE and increasing ACh, Hup A can improve memory function.
Combined with it’s antioxidant and neuroprotective qualities, this makes Huperzine effective in combating the cognitive degeneration associated with this disease.1Chung Kuo Yao Li Hsueh Pao. Huperzine-A in capsules and tablets for treating patients with Alzheimer disease, Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao. 1999 2Little JT, Walsh S, Aisen PS. An update on huperzine A as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, Expert Opinion On Investigational Drugs. 2008 3Xing SH, Zhu CX, Zhang R, An L. Huperzine a in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia: a meta-analysis, Evidence Based Complementary And Alternative Medicine. 2014
It also appears that Hup A can prevent Beta-Amyloid plaques from building up, which are a hallmark of this disease.
Because it is an antioxidant, it can clear out free radicals that form from oxidative stress and cause these plaques to form.4Gao X, Tang XC. Huperzine A attenuates mitochondrial dysfunction in beta-amyloid-treated PC12 cells by reducing oxygen free radicals accumulation and improving mitochondrial energy metabolism, Journal Of Neuroscience Research. 2006
When compared with other Alzheimer’s treatments (galantamine, donepezil, tacrine), Hup A has several advantages.
It has a longer duration of action, better penetration of the blood-brain barrier, higher oral bioavailability, and fewer adverse reactions. 5Bai DL, Tang XC, He XC. Huperzine A, a potential therapeutic agent for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Current Medicinal Chemistry. 2000
Hup A is not only useful for preventing cognitive decline. It can also improve memory in healthy people as well.
Many people in the nootropics community use Huperzine for memory enhancement as part of their daily stack.
Most of the clinical evidence for memory enhancement comes from trials with elderly populations who suffer from some degree of cognitive dysfunction.
However, there are some trials that have looked at younger participants as well.
One Chinese study gave Huperzine A supplements to students for four weeks. At the end of the trial, the students who took Hup A scored significantly better on memory tasks than the placebo group6Sun 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. 1999
There is some anecdotal evidence that Huperzine A can increase overall cognitive performance. Many nootropics users swear by it.
Theoretically, this would make sense; preventing ACh breakdown should improve mental function across the board.
However, the official research on this aspect is not particularly encouraging. At least as far as it can help normal, healthy people.
One meta-analysis concluded there is insufficient evidence for Hup A to help cognitive function.
A team of researchers looked for studies on Hup A and mild cognitive impairment in Western and Chinese journals (most of the research on this nootropic has been done in China)
They concluded that there have not been enough well designed, placebo-controlled studies on Hup A and cognitive enhancement to make any claims about its usefulness.
They call for more, better designed, studies to be done on this subject.7Yue J, Dong BR, Lin X, Yang M, Wu HM, Wu T. No evidence from randomised controlled trials for or against the use of huperzine A in the treatment of people with mild cognitive impairment, Cochrane. 2012
Still, there is evidence that it can help cognitive abilities in patients with diseases like Alzheimer’s.
So, in the future, perhaps we will see more studies that show whether or not this effect does indeed extend to people with otherwise healthy brains.8Wang BS, Wang H, Wei ZH, Song YY, Zhang L, Chen HZ. Efficacy and safety of natural acetylcholinesterase inhibitor huperzine A in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: an updated meta-analysis, Journal Of Neural Transmission. 2009
In the meantime, that hasn’t stopped Huperzine A to become a staple in many people’s nootropic stacks.
How Huperzine A Works In The Brain
Huperzine A works by inhibiting a compound called acetylcholinesterase (AChE) in the brain.
AChE breaks down acetylcholine (ACh), which is an important neurotransmitter for learning and memory.
By preventing ACh breakdown, Huperzine A may be able to improve mental function and brain health.
It also works as an NMDA antagonist, preventing excess glutamate from damaging neurons.
Glutamate is the brain’s primary excitatory neurotransmitter.
It’s extremely important, but too much of it for too long can be neurotoxic.
Huperzine A helps keep glutamate levels within the healthy range. This can protect the brain long-term.9Hynd MR, Scott HL, Dodd PR. Glutamate-mediated excitotoxicity and neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease, Neurochemistry International. 2004
Huperzine A is a powerful antioxidant that can clear out cell-damaging free radicals.
Free radicals are caused by oxidative stress and can damage neurons.
By clearing them out, Hup A can keep the brain healthy and functioning properly, especially during periods of stress.
It is also possible that Hup A can increase the effectiveness of other antioxidants as well. 10Xiao XQ, Wang R, Han YF, Tang XC. Protective effects of huperzine A on beta-amyloid(25-35) induced oxidative injury in rat pheochromocytoma cells. Neuroscience Letters. 2000
Hup A also boosts something called the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).
NGF is a protein that is responsible for growing new neurons and repairing ones that get damaged.
This is vital for creating new memories and overall brain health. Unfortunately, NGF decreases as you age.
Luckily, there is clinical evidence that Hup A can increase levels of NGF in the brain. 11Tang LL, Wang R, Tang XC.. Effects of huperzine A on secretion of nerve growth factor in cultured rat cortical astrocytes and neurite outgrowth in rat PC12 cells., Acta Pharmacologica Seneca. 2005
Huperzine A Potential Side Effects
This nootropic is generally well tolerated. It does not appear to be particularly toxic to humans. However, Huperzine A can cause some mild side effects.
Because it stops the breakdown of acetylcholine, this usually happens when ACh levels are too high to begin with.
- It can cause:
- Dry mouth
- Mild bellyache
- Mild nausea
No adverse effects on vital signs, blood test results, or electrocardiogram results were observed.
Because Huperzine A is a nootropic formulated to treat Alzheimer’s symptoms, it can create some complications with other prescribed Alzheimer’s medications including: donepezil (Aricept), echothiophate (Phospholine Iodide), edrophonium (Enlon, Reversol, Tensilon), neostigmine (Prostigmin), physostigmine (Antilirium), pyridostigmine (Mestinon, Regonol), and tacrine (Cognex)
Huperzine has an extremely long half-life, and for this reason, should not be taken every day.
It could lead to excessive concentrations of the nootropic in your system because your body needs up to a couple of days to fully clear each dose out.
We strive to bring you the most up to date, research-based information about Huperzine A and other nootropics.
Something we missed? Do you use Huperzine A? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
About the author:
Erik Levi is a co-founder of HolisticNootropics.com and a certified holistic nutritional therapy practitioner.
As an NTP Erik takes a nutrition first approach to health. He has worked with many different people to help them use nutrition to optimize their quality of life.
Erik believes that mental health is a physiological process and cognitive enhancement is not something that can be achieved by just taking some pills with good Amazon reviews.
Instead, true cognitive enhancement comes with the right balance of nutrients, movement, and gratitude. Erik continues to stay up to date with the most current nootropic and holistic health research and promises to deliver the best solutions possible.
You can check out his personal health blog/podcast/YouTube Channel all under the name Holistic A-Hole.