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Huperzine-A and Alzheimer’s: reinventing the wheel

Huperzine-A (HupA), a substance found in the club moss Huperzia serrata, has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. In the 1980s Chinese researchers began investigating HupA as a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease, and in 2003 it was approved for this purpose by China’s State Pharmaceutical Administration.

HupA has been available as a supplement in the U.S. since at least the 1990s, being promoted as a cognitive enhancer. But outside of China, the medical research establishment blissfully ignored the research being done in China and took no interest in HupA until several years ago when a company called Neuro-Hitech persuaded the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to collaborate in a clinical trial of HupA as an Alzheimer’s treatment. The trial was supposed to have been completed in 2006,1 but has apparently been delayed by a decision to enroll more participants.2

Considering the fact that Chinese scientists already performed this research work at least 15 years ago, and considering the crying need of Alzheimer’s patients for better therapies, the belated, plodding efforts of the NIH can only be seen as pathetic and contemptible.

Fortunately, we don’t need to wait for Western institutions to ‘reinvent the wheel’ — huperzine-A is available as a dietary supplement (for example, LifeLink’s Knoitol™. We can buy it now, use it now, and benefit from it now, at a fraction of the price that a prescription version will cost if it ever gets approved in the West.

But beware… When pharmaceutical companies take an interest in dietary supplements or herbal medicines, they usually attempt, at some point, to gain monopolistic control over these substances by urging government regulatory agencies to declare them to be prescription drugs, not supplements. Agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration often go along with such ploys by banning the substances from the supplement market. Perhaps Neuro-Hitech will not use this approach with HupA; but we shouldn’t be surprised if it does. And if it does, there will likely be a nasty fight in the media and perhaps in the courts.

For a brief overview of huperzine-A, including dosing information, see LifeLink’s product monograph about Knoitol3 and Dr. Zarkov’s article on Alzheimer’s.4 PDR Health’s concise review of HupA is also interesting because it illustrates the haughty attitude of the Western medical establishment toward research done outside its control. The haughtiness is revealed in this dismissive sentence from the review: “Huperzine A may prove superior to tacrine (dose-limited due to its hepatotoxicity) if long-range studies, yet to be conducted, demonstrate its safety.”5 As if Chinese researchers had not already conducted these safety studies years and years ago!

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