Lycopodium serratum - thunb.
Common names: Qian ceng ta, Huperzine A
Location - Huperzia is a type of moss that grows in China. It is related to club mosses (the Lycopodiaceae family) and is known to some botanists as Lycopodium serratum.
Parts used - The whole prepared moss was used traditionally. Modern herbal preparations use only the isolated alkaloid known as huperzine A.
Huperzia has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):
Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
Huperzia moss tea has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese herbalism for fever, as a diuretic, for blood loss, and for irregular menstruation.1
Pharmacology - Huperzine A, lycopodium alkaloids. Huperzine A is an alkaloid found in huperzia that has been reported to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, an important substance needed by the nervous system to transmit information from cell to cell. Animal research has suggested that huperzine A’s ability to preserve acetylcholine may be greater than that of some prescription drugs. Loss of acetylcholine function is a primary feature of several disorders of brain function, including Alzheimer’s disease. Huperzine A may also have a protective effect on brain tissue, further increasing its theoretical potential for helping reduce symptoms of some brain disorders.
In a double-blind trial, people with Alzheimer’s disease had significant improvement in memory and cognitive and behavioral functions after taking 200 mcg of huperzine A twice per day for eight weeks.7 Another double-blind trial using injected huperzine A confirmed a positive effect in people with dementia, including, but not limited to, Alzheimer’s disease.8 Another double-blind trial found that huperzine A (100–150 mcg two to three times per day for four to six weeks) was more effective for improving minor memory loss associated with age-related cognitive decline than the drug piracetam.9
Huperzine A has also been shown to enhance memory in adolescent middle school students. A small controlled trial found that 100 mcg of huperizine A two times per day for four weeks was effective in improving memory and learning performance.10 Although no side effects were reported in this short trial, long-term safety studies are needed before huperizine A is recommended for adolescents or younger children to improve memory and learning performance.
Medicinal Uses - A decoction of the plant is antispasmodic and diuretic, it is also used in the treatment of irregular menstruation. The spores of this plant are dusted on wounds or inhaled to stop bleeding noses. They can also be used to absorb fluids from injured tissues. The spores can be used as a dusting powder to prevent pills sticking together. It is currently approved for AD treatment in China. Huperzine A appears to relieve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease by blocking the depletion of acetylcholine in the brain. Huperzine A is currently under study by the US Army at Walter Reed Hospital as an antidote for nerve gas poisoning because of its protective effect on the cells of the brain.
Huperzine A promotes the growth of nerve dendrites! Animal and cell culture studies, along with molecular structure data, suggest that Huperzine A is a potent acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor and may also protect neurons against glutamate-induced excitotoxicity. The molecule's strong specificity for AChE suggests it may lower liver toxicity and other adverse effects. In orthodox medicine, there are two phamaceuticals used in the treatment of Alzheimers, tacrine and physostigmine, both of which unfortunately bind to receptors in the central nervous system, causing adverse effects. Also, the two orthodox drugs work on the AChE everywhere in the body instead of just in the brain, so their effect is severely limited. Huperzine A specifically targets the AChE in the brain, does much better in improving memory, does not bind to CNS receptors, and lasts more than ten times longer. Huperzine A is not known to have any toxicity at all, even at doses 100 times the therapeutic dose
Dosages - Human research on huperzine A has used 100–200 mcg taken two to three times per day.11
Contraindications of toxity - The plant itself contains lycopodine, which is poisonous by paralysing the motor nerves. It also contains clavatine which is toxic to many mammals. The spores, however, are not toxic. Medications that prevent acetylcholine breakdown often produce side effects, including nausea, vomiting, excess saliva and tear production, and sweating. However, while dizziness was reported in a few people in one study, no severe side effects have been reported in human trials using huperzine A. Further studies are needed to determine the long-term safety of huperzine A.
Hepatitis C - Some herbs are dangerous to the Hepatitis C infected liver. Do not self-treat with herbs without the support of a health care practitioner educated on the topic of herbal therapies. Herbs are natural combinations of chemicals. Some of them are completely safe for the liver. Others actually protect and support the liver. However, as with any chemicals, some of them have the power to harm the liver, especially the liver that is challenged with a Hepatitis C infection. This is one of the many reasons that I would encourage anyone, which is self-medicating with natural substances, to enlist the help of a trained professional. Natural substances are potent. That is why they work. If they are potent to help then conversely they may be potent to harm. Check every supplement that you are currently taking for the following herbs. They are known to be harmful to the liver of a person with Hepatitis C: Atractylis gummifera, Azadirachza indica, Berberis vulgaris (an antimicrobial herb), Calliepsis laureola, Cassia angustifolia (senna - used for constipation), Crotaiaria, Corydalis, Hedeoma pulegoides, Heliotropium, Larrea tridentate (chaparral or Creosote) Lycopodium serratum (herb is dangerous also known as Chinese Jin Bu Huan, homeopathic is safe), Mentha pulegoides, Sassafras albidum, Scuteileria (Skullcap), Stephania, Symphytum officinale (Comfrey herb is dangerous, homeopathic is safe) Teucrium chamaedrys (mint) Tusilago farfara (Peppermint) Valeriana officinalis (Valerian, Hops, Gentian - sleep and digestive herbs), Viscum alba (Mistletoe - cancer herb) and Pennyroyal. If you are diagnosed with Hepatitis C and taking contains any of these herbs, discontinue it immediately.
1. Kozikowski AP, Tückmantel W. Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Clinical Efficacy of the Chinese Nootropic Agent Huperzine A. www.huperzine.net/invent.htm, 26 June 2000.
2. Ashani Y, Peggins JO, Doctor BP. Mechanism of inhibition of cholinesterases by huperzine A. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 1992;184:719–26.
3. Cheng DH, Tang XC. Comparative studies of huperzine A, E2020, and tacrine on behavior and cholinesterase activities. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 1998;60:377–86.
4. Cheng DH, Ren H, Tang XC. Huperzine A, a novel promising acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. Neuroreport 1996;8:97–101.
5. Ved HS, Koenig ML, Dave JR, et al. Huperzine A, a potential therapeutic agent for dementia, reduces neuronal cell death caused by glutamate. Neuroreport 1997;8:963–8.
6. Skolnick AA. Old Chinese herbal medicine used for fever yields possible new Alzheimer’s disease therapy [news item]. JAMA 1997;277:776.
7. Xu SS, Gao ZX, Weng Z, et al. Efficacy of tablet huperzine-A on memory, cognition, and behavior in Alzheimer’s disease. Chung Kuo Yao Li Hsueh Pao 1995;16:391–5.
8. Zhang RW, Tang XC, Han YY, et al. Drug evaluation of huperzine A in the treatment of senile memory disorders. Chung Kuo Yao Li Hsueh Pao 1991;12:250–2 [in Chinese].
9. Wang Z, Ren G, Zhao Y, et al. A double-blind study of huperzine A and piracetam in patients with age-associated memory impairment and dementia. In: Kanba S, Richelson E (eds). Herbal Medicines for Nonpsychiatric Diseases. Tokyo: Seiwa Shoten Publishers, 1999, 39–50.
10. Sun QQ, Xu SS, Pan JL, et al. Huperizine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students. Acta Pharmacol Sin 1999;20:601–3.
11. Qian BC, Wang M, Zhou ZF, et al. Pharmacokinetics of tablet huperzine A in six volunteers. Chung Kuo Yao Li Hsueh Pao 1995;16:396–8.
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