Huperzine A is a naturally-occurring chemical compound recently isolated from the fir clubmoss Shezushishan, identified as Huperzia serrata, which has long been in use as a memory enhancer in China. It has caught the attention of neuroscientists in the US, and randomized controlled trials in connection with its effects against neural degeneration are underway as two separate studies are conducted by the National Institute of Aging and Harvard Medical School. As a matter of fact, this compound is alleged to bring new advances in the war against Alzheimer’s disease.
Huperzine A is believed to be involved in two different mechanisms: (1) increasing Nerve Growth factor, and (2) inhibiting Acetylcholinesterase, both of which have been linked to memory enhancement.
Nerve Growth Factor
Huperzine A is suggested to elevate NGF levels. Discovered in the 1950’s, a protein called Nerve Growth Factor, abbreviated as NGF, is now fully understood to be responsible for the growth, development, and proper functions of nerve cells, which are the basic building blocks of the nervous system. Thus, NGF is vital to maintaining stable conditions of the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.
One study has tied NGF to the development of sensory neurons and the repair of damaged nerves in the eyes in adults, taking special note of its purported role against corneal ulcers. In fact, it has shown to induce nerve regeneration and also supervise the process. NGF also exhibits inflammatory activities, making it a significant substance in treating diseases associated with inflammation. Furthermore, it plays a role in metabolic syndrome, decreasing the risk of developing heart diseases and diabetes.
Huperzine A and Acetylcholine and Acetylcholinesterase
There are compounds produced in the body to act as messengers between nerve cells and other types of cells called neurotransmitters. Acetylcholine is one kind of neurotransmitter that is a part of two different networks: first, the network has an effect on visceral functions of the body such as the pumping of the heart, the breathing in and out, the release of saliva and sweat; and second, the network in control of voluntary movements by way of skeletal muscles as a reaction to outside stimuli. With that, acetylcholine is directly connected to chemical reactions that induce pleasurable effects in the body, enhancing sensory perceptions in the process. In addition, acetylcholine has been linked to the execution of cognitive and motor skills, that is, the retrieval of saved memories to facilitate actions involved in touch-typing, driving a car, and similar activities.
However, there is an enzyme that disintegrates acetylcholine into entirely different types of compounds, putting an end to acetylcholine’s activities as neurotransmitters. This enzyme, identified as acetylcholinesterase, has an effect on a massive number of acetylcholine molecules, erases each acetylcholine in an instant, and terminates the processes acetylcholine molecules are involved in. Huperzine A targets this enzyme, correcting unwanted imbalance between acetylcholine and acetylcholinesterase. By so doing, Huperzine A helps in achieving the desired levels of acetylcholine in the body to enhance memory and other acetylcholine functions.