James Dixon examines Huperzia Serrata as a possible nootropic or cognition enhancing supplement. He delves in to the science, the studies, the benefits and the potential side effects of this natural ingredient otherwise known as Chinese Club Moss.
Written by James Dixon – fact checked by Jason M & the editorial team
James Dixon is one of the key players in the SOMA Analytics’ team. He is a personal trainer and is educated to Masters level in Philosophy. He is a published author and is a keen advocate of high quality nootropic supplements.
This article complies with the SOMA Analytics editorial policy. Full details of which can be found here
Huperzia serrata, also known as Chinese club moss, is a type of fir moss. A seemingly un-noteworthy ingredient, certainly not obviously a prime candidate for dietary inclusion or health management, it has nevertheless been used extensively as a component in traditional Chinese herbal medicine for centuries.
Modern clinical analysis has begun to underpin some of its potential benefits.
It’s a purified alkaloid extract thought to aid blood circulation, offer a mild form of pain relief, and, importantly in a modern context, deliver extensive neuro-protective effects.
It has begun to be used in parts of Asia as a complementary treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other forms of neurodegenerative diseases, though clinical studies have been thus far inconclusive on these benefits.
It’s also widely available in the Western world as a formidable dietary supplement, quite often seen as part of a wider formula in some of the world’s leading nootropics, or smart drugs. Some cancer patients also use it to good effect as a way to both relieve pain and overcome neurological dysfunction brought on by chemotherapy.
Most of the available literature focuses on the extract huperzine A, which we see most commonly in the supplement market. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be using the two names interchangeably.
What can huperzine A do for you?
Huperzine A can do a lot for you. There are, in fact, quite a few uses for it; people turn to it for a wide variety of reasons. As with any supplement of its kind – natural, alternative-style healthcare – more research is always welcome and generally needed. However, preliminary clinical work points to some promising benefits.
As above, it is sometimes used as part of a treatment plan for Alzheimer’s disease. There have to date been a couple of large-scale systemic reviews and meta-analyses looking into its use here.
Both concluded that, though more research was needed, there were several key ways in which it might benefit somebody suffering with Alzheimer’s. Primarily, it can improve brain function a little, which in turn can mitigate the worst symptoms. It can in addition help to create more space for independence and self-care. There has also been a marked general ability improvement noted with Huperzine A use.
An additional meta-analysis conducted on Huperzine A in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine backed up these findings. It showed that those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease performed better on standard brain function exams when taking Huperzine A. They were also able to better perform activities of daily living, including self-care, eating, and so on.
This is promising. It isn’t definitive, however. We need high-quality, more extensive research into the longer-term effects on larger groups of people so that we might more properly be able to gauge Huperzine A’s potential for those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.
In a similar vein, Huperzine A is often thought to have possible medical applications for those suffering with vascular dementia.
It is certainly touted by many adherents as having great benefits in this regard. Vascular dementia is a medical condition affecting the brain’s blood vessels, essentially starving the brain over a period of time of an adequate blood supply. This can result in problems with memory, alongside behavioral changes and changes to thinking and personality.
A fairly outdated review from 2009 looked into the potential use of Huperzine A in treating vascular dementia. One small clinical trial was decisive. The results were not promising. Those taking Huperzine A performed the same as a control group taking a placebo on a common brain function exam. However, those who took Huperzine A did seem to find activities of daily living more manageable in the longer-term – after about six months of continuous use.
This is shaky, though there may be something to it. As ever, more conclusive, extensive clinical data are needed and would be welcome before we can make a call on Huperzine A’s efficacy for treating vascular dementia.
Huperzine A works as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. This means that it inhibits acetylcholine breakdown, meaning net increases in overall acetylcholine levels.
As acetylcholine is a key neurotransmitter, fundamental for learning ability, this may spell some broader benefits for the population as a whole. The theory runs that it can aid cognitive health and function. As such, it is often used in common nootropic supplements designed for boosting cognitive function, mood, and long-term brain health. More clinical data are needed before we can say for sure that there are any notable benefits for anybody not suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, however.
Acetylcholine is also intrinsically involved in muscular contractions. Therefore, the theory also runs that it may have athletic benefits. Many athletes use it in a bid to optimize muscular strength, power, and control. Again, however, this is far from sure.
As above, then, Huperzine A may be able to do a lot for you, depending on your medical circumstances, though you should be careful going into supplementation. Use should be personalized, and you would be best speaking to your healthcare provider before beginning. Also, a lot of the claims surrounding it sound, and can be, a little too good to be true.
It is not a replacement for proper, appropriate medical care. It is, rather, a supplement, to be used in conjunction with your current dietary and medical regimes.
Risks of huperzia seratta use
Huperzia seratta (and thus Huperzine A) is largely safe to use. However, this isn’t the case across the board, especially in a few specific circumstances. There may be some side effects and interactions at play that you should be aware of.
There are some common side effects that you may experience when taking Huperzine A. These can include vomiting and nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, dizziness, anorexia, insomnia, drowsiness and fatigue, excessive thirst, excessive sweating, over excitability, hyperactivity, and mood swings/changes, constipation, bradycardia, abdominal pain, nasal obstruction, and oedema.
Many of these may come from Huperzine A’s anticholinesterase activity.
There are several medications with which huperzine A can interact to cause unwanted side effects.
This can include CYP450 substrates and drugs metabolized by this enzyme, though clinical relevance is as yet not firmly determined.
Huperzine A can also interfere with acetylcholinesterase inhibitors such as galantamine, donepezil, and rivastigmine. It may make adverse events more likely for these kinds of drugs. It does potentially work, after all, by manipulating acetylcholine levels within the body.
Dopamine D2 receptor blockers may also be adversely affected by Huperzine A, especially when taken together with acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. The balance between dopamine and acetylcholine within the striatum can be upset. In turn, this can lead to, or exacerbate existing, Parkinsonian symptoms.
Finally, you may find Huperzine A interfering with calcium channel blockers. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors can typically create bradycardia by themselves. Add Huperzine A to calcium channel blockers and this may go too far, potentially resulting in severe bradycardia.
Dosing Huperzia Serrata
We don’t really know for sure what an effective huperzia seratta dose might look like, if indeed there is one. Quite simply, we don’t have the data. More clinical trials are needed before any appropriate dosing guidelines can be arrived at.
We do have something of a rough range for Alzheimer’s use, however. Most clinical studies have used daily doses totaling between 0.2 to 0.8 mg. The upper end of this scale has been found to be well tolerated for periods up to 24 weeks.
It’s always best to consult your healthcare provider before beginning any course of huperzia serrata, as above. They will be able to better guide you towards an appropriate dosing.
You will be able to source Huperzine A as a supplement in various forms, all readily available over the counter. It can come as a tablet, capsule, or even powder or liquid (though these latter two will be harder to track down). Plenty will not be vegetarian or vegan friendly, so do check if this applies to you.
You will often be able to find Huperzine A in common nootropic supplements. NooCube, one of the better nootropics in today’s market, uses 20 mg of it per serving, for instance.
My final thoughts
Huperzine A shows some promise in some specific instances. This unassuming Chinese herb may hold the key to increased healthy longevity for those suffering with Alzheimer’s. This, at least, is where the clinical evidence is at its most robust.
If we’re willing to run with theory devoid of such robust evidence, we can also see promise in other areas. For instance, its use in common, high-quality nootropics makes a kind of sense. Nootropics often work in large part by boosting acetylcholine levels in the body. Anything that can inhibit their breakdown may therefore be beneficial, though more data are needed before we can say for sure.
I would like to keep my eye on huperzine A as more data come in. I certainly use it often enough, if only when rolled into other formulas. I have made extensive enough use of various nootropics over the years, including NooCube, that I’ve potentially benefitted from it.
There are too many variables at stake to know for sure, however – was it huperzia serrata or any of the many other ingredients giving me the benefits I experienced?
Only time will tell.
This article was written by: James Dixon – SOMA Analytics PT, Nutritionalist & Published Author
James Dixon is one of the key players in the SOMA Analytics’ team. He is a personal trainer and is educated to Masters level. He is a published author and is a keen advocate of high quality nootropic supplements. James enjoys helping others to reach their peak both physically and mentally and believes that expressing his knowledge through his writing is an effective way to positively impact the wellbeing of others on a larger scale.