Nootropic Profile: Huperzine-A (Huperzia serrata)

Everybody loves nootropics, and why shouldn't they? A daily supplement that helps us remember more, think clearly, react faster, be more creative, and slow the progression of cognitive disease?! 

Settle down, they aren't magic. They wont raise your IQ, give you superpowers, or let you go full Eddie Morra. They will, however, help you to optimize your brain chemistry in a similar way that nutritional supplements help body builders or athletes optimize their workouts.

There are several nootropic substances that have become pretty much a staple ingredient in modern day nootropic formulas. Huperzine-A is one of those ingredients.

Lets find out why...

Huperzine-a nootropic profile

 

What Is Huperzine-A?

Huperzine-A is a naturally-ocurring nootropic agent that acts mainly on the acetylcholine levels of the brain [2]. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter associated with memory and cognition.

Basically, it's one of the main communication chemicals in our brains, helping the spread of information from one area to another. It's involved with storing and retrieving memories, relaying messages to the muscles, and forming imaginative thoughts.

The molecule itself is classified as an alkaloid, which means it contains a nitrogen group. Alkaloids tend to cause dramatic changes in the body, meaning that they can have both potent medicinal, and poisonous implications on the human body.

Some of the most famous examples of alkaloids include morphine, caffeine, strychnine, and atropine. All of which cause strong changes in the body. 

Notice how all of these have the ending "-ine"? This is the signature chemists use to label a chemical as an alkaloid. Caffeine, theobromine, codeine, nicotine, and cocaine are all a part of this family. 

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Where Does It Come From?

Huperzine-A comes from a genus of plants known as Huperzia. This genus contains a few species including Huperzia elmeri, Huperzia carinat, and Huperzia aqualupian which all contain the alkaloid. The most commonly used species, however, is Huperzia serrata, the Chinese firm moss

This moss has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine for blood disorders, cognitive dysfunctions and as a preventative for Alzheimers disease. A surprisingly small amount of the alkaloid is needed to produce effects, allowing the nootropic benefits noticeable even when using the whole plant extract.

This is fairly rare for nootropics unless a very large amount of the initial plant is used. Generally what we find in nootropic formulas are a highly concentrated extract of the herbs with a focus on the fraction containing the active ingredients. 

Huperzia serrata

Huperzia serrata

 

How Does It Work?

Huperzine-A works to improve memory and concentration by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine [2]. A neuron will fire, and release a few molecules of acetylcholine, this enzyme will then come along and break the neurotransmitter up into its amino acid precursers. If there are less enzymes to break down the acetylcholine, the neurotransmitters will fire longer, and will be available for uptake to presynaptic neurons.

This allows for a greater efficiency of the system, and is used to treat conditions with deficient or dysfunctional acetylcholine levels. Even in healthy individuals, this can improve the ability to recall memory, especially with regular use. 

In Alzheimers patients, one of the main causes of the disease involves a buildup of a sticky substance known as amyloid-beta. This is actually a byproduct from the breakdown of acetylcholine via the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. Over many years, this amyloid-beta can build up and cause the destruction of the neurons.

By taking an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (AChE inhibitor) you can reduce the amount of these molecules that are broken down, and subsequently, the amount of amyloid-beta that is produced. Thus, slowing the onset of amyloid-beta related Alzheimers disease. Currently, AChE inhibitors are one of the main treatments used for Alzheimer's patients [1]. 

A Special Note On Huperxine-A For Alzheimers

* I would like to make a special note that there are other causes of Alzheimers that are not addressed, mainly involving TAU protein tangles and poor cerebral blood flow. For Alzheimers, huperzine-A is best used in combination with substances that affect this protein, and improve cerebral blood flow. *

 

Huperzine-A Dosage

As with most alkaloids, huperzine-A is very potent, and the effective dosage range is less than 1 mg.

Roughly 50-200 micrograms are all that are required to cause measurable therapeutic effects within the body.

It's been reported to have a higher potency than the majority of AChE inhibiting drugs currently on the market, while also maintaining a higher degree of safety [2, 3].

For Alzheimers patients, a maximum dose of 400 micrograms (mcg) is suggested by most authorities. 

It's recommended to use huperzine-A supplements in a stack along with other nootropics. One of my favorite, and definatly one of the most popular nootropic supplements on the market that use huperzine-A in combination is Onnit Alpha Brain.

 

Is Huperzine-A Safe?

This nootropic is very safe, and has been found to have little to no side effects overall [3]. It can be taken on a regular basis within the therapeutic range for long periods of time. 

Some people may be sensitive to this nootropic, however, so caution for first time users is recommended. Whenever trying something new it's wise to start with a low dosage, allowing 24 hours to monitor any side effects, before increasing the dose slowly. 

Let me know in the comment section or via Twitter if you've tried huperzine-A. I would love to hear your thoughts and how it either worked or didn't work for you!

 

- Justin Cooke

The Sunlight Experiment

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References:

  1. Zhang, H. Y., Yan, H., & Tang, X. C. (2008). Non-cholinergic effects of huperzine A: beyond inhibition of acetylcholinesterase. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, 28(2), 173-183.
  2. Wang R, Yan H, Tang XC (2006) Progress in studies of huperzine A, a natural cholinesterase inhibitor from Chinese herbal medicine. Acta Pharmacol Sin 27:1–26
  3. Liang YQ, Tang XC (2004) Comparative effects of huperzine A, donepezil and rivastigmine on cortical
    acetylcholine level and acetylcholinesterase activity in rats. Neurosci Lett 361:56–59