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Ingredient Explained: Huperzine-A

Every few months a new ingredient finds its way into the market, makes a bit of a splash, and then quickly disappears into the sunset, never to be seen again.

Which is why we take notice when a slightly newer supplement not only sticks around for a good chunk of time, but also gets some quality evidence to support its use.

Supplements like Huperzine-A, for example.

Step 1: What is it?

Huperzine-A is a naturally forming compound that is found in two types of moss, being:

1. Chinese club moss (latin name Huperzia serrata) and;
2. Fir club moss (latin name Huperzia selago).

The reason I have indicated that Huperzine-A is relatively new to the supplement game is because it was first identified for medical use by scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the early nineteen-eighties.

With this in mind, it is much younger than many of the other Chinese herbs commonly used in supplements today. 

Step 2: What does it do?

Huperzine-A is classified as an “acetylcholinesterase inhibitor.” 

Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme found in the body that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine into smaller components (that are then used in the production of other compounds). 

As such, the consumption of Huperzine-A can stop the breakdown of acetylcholine, leading to higher concentrations of acetylcholine in the body. This is important, because acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that delivers messages throughout the brain, while also impacting your neuromuscular system.

In the brain it plays a key role in the maintenance of motivation, increasing arousal and attention, enhancing learning and memory retention, and is even involved in facilitating deep sleep states.

Conversely, within the neuromuscular system, acetylcholine plays an important role in facilitating the contraction of muscles, as well as the dilation of blood vessels, by acting on neurons throughout the body.

With this in mind, the supplementation of Huperzine-A appears to have some unique benefits.

Firstly, there is evidence to suggest that its regular supplementation can reduce some of the more severe symptoms associated with Alzhimers and dementia, including memory loss and cognitive function [1].

Secondly, research has shown that supplementing with Huperzine-A for as little as 4 weeks can improve learning outcomes, as well as improve measures of memory and general mental function [2], suggesting it may have benefits for skill learning.

Lastly, Huperzine-A has also been shown to increase the power of muscular contractions [3]. This may have the potential to improve training performance in the gym, increasing long-term training outcomes.

Collectively, these results suggest that this unique supplement may have merit when taken before your workout. 

Improvements in cognition may improve workout quality, increases in learning capabilities may improve technique efficiency (via enhanced skill development), and boosts in muscular contraction may improve gym performance -- all of which could mean more gains.

Step 3: How do I take it?

In the research, Huperzine-A supplementation can range from 50 to 500 micrograms per day. As such, if you are interested in trying it out for yourself, we would suggest starting with a conservative dose of 100-200 micrograms per day and adjusting as needed.

Research thus far indicates that Huperzine-A does not require food to be taken with food, and can be taken in a fasted state without any issues.

Lastly, anecdotal reports suggest that there may be merit in cycling Huperzine-A, where it is taken for 4-5 weeks at time, and then broken up with 1-2 week periods where it is not taken at all. This is suggested to maintain tolerance to the compound, ensuring it does not become less effective over time. 

Step 4: What are the top products?

If you are keen on purchasing Huperzine-A, there are a couple of things you should look out for. 

Firstly, check the dosage. Although Huperzine-A is commonly found in pre-workout supplements, it is typically underdosed. As such, you should make sure that your pre-workout contains 100-200 micrograms of Huperzine-A per serve.

Secondly, stick with reputable brands. Although you might find an amazing deal on Huperzine-A on ebay, there is a genuine risk that it is heavily underdosed, or even contains a completely different (and undisclosed) compound. Stick with brands that provide regular lab tests on their website so you can be sure you are purchasing exactly what you should be.

Lastly, have a look at online reviews. Make sure that other people have had a good experience with the supplement -- because that means you probably will too.

And that is how you find the best Huperzine-A containing supplement on the market.

References:

  1. Li, Jun, et al. "Huperzine A for Alzheimer's disease." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2 (2008).
  2. Sun, Qing-Qi, et al. "Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students." Zhongguo yao li xue bao= Acta pharmacologica Sinica 20.7 (1999): 601-603.
  3. Tang, Xi Can, and Yi Fan Han. "Pharmacological profile of huperzine A, a novel acetylcholinesterase inhibitor from Chinese herb." CNS Drug Reviews 5.3 (1999): 281-300.
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