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Before we get into this supplement, an obligatory reminder that just like medications, supplements are made of molecules that affect your body, and can counteract some medications. Be sure to research any possible interactions between medications you are on and a supplement you want to try. If you can’t find reliable information on your own, consult your doctor.
Huperzine-A is a compound found in an herb commonly know as Chinese Club Moss. What has made this compound intriguing, especially when it comes to brain health, is its ability to inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is found throughout the body. Motor neurons of the nervous system release it to activate muscle. It also transmits messages within the nervous system.
In the brain it also acts as a neurotransmitter, as well as a neuromodulator. If effects memory and learning, and a lack of it is known to be a driver of Alzheimer’s Disease. Enter Huperzine-A.
Huperzine-A is to acetylcholine as SSRI’s are to serotonin. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s, are medications that inhibit the body from breaking down and reabsorbing the active form of serotonin. These medications are thought to help with depression because serotonin is the neurotransmitter of mood. When serotonin is too low, depression and other health complications set in. The body is a recycling machine, and neurotransmitters are broken back down into smaller molecules to be reused. Blocking this breakdown can keep more of the active neurotransmitter available for longer.
Huperzine-A kind of does the same thing, in that it inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine, so the neurotransmitter is accessible for longer to the neurons that need it. There have been a handful of studies that seem to indicate Hup-A can have positive effects on retaining acetylcholine and could have benefits for Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. The problem is that because Huperzine-A is a supplement, thus not subject to the strict standards and regulations of pharmaceuticals.
As mentioned before, do your homework before starting to supplement with Hup-A, especially if you take other medications that are cholinergic or anticholinergic. That should be easily determined with a quick search on the internet.
I read about one person’s experience saying that taking it before bed kept them up and gave them a “buzzing” feeling in their head. This kind of makes sense if acetylcholine is still active, assisting neurons in firing off. Sometimes having neurotransmitters breakdown and drop in levels can be a good thing at the right time, like when you want the activity of your cells to quiet down.
I also read another experience stating that it took about a month of use before really feeling the effects. (I personally have taken it infrequently, but am starting to take it regularly, so I can’t yet verify either way.)
In clinical studies, dosage was typically 200 mcg daily, increased to 400 mcg daily after 30 days. Because this has been minimally studied and is not regulated, you might have to do your own experimenting, but I’d start on the low side, even starting at 100 mcg daily to see how your body and brain likes it.
In regards to what brand to choose, if you’re ordering online, consider choosing a brand that you’ve seen in a natural foods or health food store you trust, especially if they have a robust supplements section and knowledgeable employees. Better yet, the first time around go to that store and purchase a recommended brand to try.
The Bottom Line
Supplementing with Huperzine-A might just help your neurons process information and recall memories better. In fact, China approved Huperzine-A for recognized use in treating Alzheimer’s back in 1994. Obviously it’s no cure, but could supplementing with it earlier in life actually improve outcomes later in life by retaining acetylcholine for longer periods of time? We don’t have an answer to that yet, but if you like trying new health hacks to support your brain, consider giving this one a try.
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