Huperzine-A Shows Promise in the Battle Against Alzheimer’s Disease

There are an estimated 30 million people worldwide with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Two thirds of them live in developing countries. This figure is set to increase to more than 100 million people by 2050. Much of this increase will be in rapidly developing and heavily populated regions such as China and Latin America.

With no known cure, AD is one of the most expensive diseases in the world to treat. The good news is that Huperzine-A is a natural cholinesterase inhibitor that offers neuroprotective properties, without side effects. Recent studies show that Huperzine-A is a strong candidate for stopping the progression of the disease.

Scientific studies

The first double-blind phase 2 clinical trial of Huperzine-A in mild to-moderate Alzheimer’s patients recently concluded in the U.S. The multi-center study evaluated 210 patients and was done in collaboration with the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study Group (ADCS). The trial compared the safety, tolerability and efficacy of either 200 or 400 mcg of Huperzine-A administered orally twice a day for 16 weeks versus placebo. The study measured the efficacy of Huperzine-A on cognitive function, daily living activities and behavior.

The data demonstrated that the patients taking the higher dose of 400 mcg of Huperzine-A showed cognitive improvement at week 11 of treatment and at 16 weeks compared to placebo.

Paul Aisen, MD, Director of the ADCS, Professor of Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego, and Principal Investigator for this clinical study stated, “This US Phase II trial has clearly demonstrated efficacy of Huperzine-A in the treatment of AD.” 1

A recent study at the Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China, provided an updated meta-analysis of the efficacy and safety of Huperzine-A in AD. The scientists searched for randomized trials comparing Huperzine-A with placebo in the treatment of AD.

They found that taking 300 to 500 mcg a day of Huperzine-A for 8 to 24 weeks led to significant improvement in the patients’ performance on the mini-mental state examination (MMSE) and activities of daily living scale (ADL). (The MMSE and ADL are both diagnostic tools used to assess cognition.) The researchers concluded that Huperzine-A is a well-tolerated herbal medicine that could significantly improve cognitive performance in patients with AD.2

Looking forward

Huperzine-A has attracted widespread attention because of its unique pharmacological activities and low toxicity. As a result, Huperzine-A is becoming an important compound to treat AD.

However, Huperzine-A is obtained naturally from very limited and slowly growing natural resources and the content of Huperzine-A is very low in the raw plant material. This has led to strong interest in developing other sources of Huperzine-A. The Department of Plant Sciences and the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona has developed a method to propagate a member of the same plant species that produces high levels of Huperzine-A. The in vitro propagated tissues produce even higher levels of Huperzine-A than the natural plant, and the scientists are hopeful that they have discovered another excellent source for Huperzine-A.3

Hopefully, with research studies like these, we will soon see a remedy for one of the most dreaded diseases of the 21st century.

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  1. Neuro-Hitech Reports Cognitive Improvement From Phase Two Clinical Trial of Huperzine Feb 1, 2008.
  2. Wang BS, Wang H, Wei ZH, Song YY, Zhang L, Chen HZ. Efficacy and safety of natural acetylcholinersterase inhibitor huperzine A in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: an updated meta analysis.
  3. Ma X, Gang DR. In vitro production of huperzine A, a promising drug candidate for Alzheimer’s disease. Phytochemistry. 2008 Jul;69(10):2022-8. Epub 2008 Jun. 5.