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Huperzine A (LifeLink brand: Knoitol™) is used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s

Q:Huperzine A (LifeLink brand: Knoitol™) is used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease and other degenerative diseases of the brain. Is it also useful for improving memory or other mental skills in people with normal brain function?

A:Nearly all huperzine research has been focused on its potential for treating Alzheimer’s Disease, but there have been a small number of studies of its effects on the ‘normal’ brain — that is, in people1,10 and laboratory animals without degenerative neurological diseases.2,3,4 We should also bear in mind that a large amount of informal data has been collected through the traditional use of the herb in which huperzine is found — Chinese Club Moss has been used for centuries as a medical remedy for such ailments as rheumatism, colds, and circulation problems.2

The first scientific clinical study of huperzine in people whose only illness was ordinary aging took place in China in 1986.2 A second such study was reported in 19995, and a third in 2002.2,10 More recently, the cognitive effects of huperzine have been studied in rats recovering from anesthesia,3 in aging mice,4 in mice that have suffered stroke-like injuries,6 and in humans with vascular dementia.1,10

The overall conclusions that can be drawn from these studies are:

  • Huperzine has significant protective effects on nerve cells in general — not just nerve cells affected by degenerative diseases.7
  • These protective effects include protection against peroxide injury, glutamate overstimulation, oxygen deprivation, and certain toxic substances.7
  • Huperzine promotes the production of Nerve Growth Factor and stimulates expression of the gene for Nerve Growth Factor Receptor.7,6,8,10 This helps explain Huperzine’s observed ability to improve cognition in Alzheimer’s patients, and suggests that it stimulates replacement of nervous tissue damaged by other degenerative conditions, such as aging.

Therefore, I would answer the question about huperzine’s usefulness in improving the mental skills of people with normal brain function as follows: Judging by the evidence, both scientific and informal, this supplement can significantly improve learning and memory in anyone. And what about other cognitive abilities — such as coordination, perception, spatial and temporal manipulation, verbal and math skills, etc.? Huperzine’s effects on these has not been studied, but my impression is that huperzine’s neuro-protective and -repair abilities improves these abilities, too, since it improves cognition in general.

Huperzine A is a substance extracted from the Chinese Club Moss, Huperzia serrata.9 LifeLink’s huperzine product is called ‘Knoitol™’. A good semi-technical review of the subject is that by Wang and Tang.11 A very concise summary of huperzine’s cognitive benefits is the one in the Delano archive: Huperzine A: Protecting our brain, one neuron at a time.12


Disclaimer: The information provided in this “Ask Dr. Zarkov” article contains no medical advice whatsoever — it contains biological information. Nothing in the article constitutes an effort to persuade readers to use, or not to use, this biological information as a basis for action.

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