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When one goes down the path of optimizing the brain, they discover that there are many options and remedies from all over the world to approach this task.  We become amateur neurologists trying to hack our own minds.  Nature, however offers some of the most amazing and interesting enhancements.  One of the more well studied and interesting plants is an innocent fir moss called Huperzia Serrata. This little plant is a wonder.

Huperzia Serrata is grown natively in East Asia.  It is here that its reputation was forged.  In China it is called Qiancengta and has an extended history of use. The Chinese used this plant to heal a large number of ailments from reducing swelling, healing bruises, to treating Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.  The Western world has recently latched on to this ancient knowledge and given it some attention through modern research into its nootropic properties.

This plant owes its magic to an active chemical called Huperzine A.  This molecule has a very interesting effect on the human brain by influencing a key neurotransmitter called Acetylcholine.  Acetylcholine is responsible for physical and mental arousal and is heavily involved in learning and memory.  As we age and undergo external and internal stresses in life, acetylcholine is increasingly attacked in the body by a competing chemical known as cholinesterase. The more cholinesterase we have, the less circulating acetylcholine our minds and bodies have access to. This is the fight that Huperzine A engages in.  The nootropic properties of Huperzine A (HupA) lie in its ability to block the effects of cholinesterase. So what are Huperzine A benefits as a nootropic and what other benefits can this supplement provide?

1. Huperzine A protects the health of brain cells

As we age, our neurons lose the ability to regenerate at the same rate as when we are young. The cognitive decline we associate with age is due to this eventual net loss of neurons, and the reduction of the body’s ability to produce adequate neurotransmitters that aid in cognition and learning. Huperzine A not only aids in the maintenance of acetylcholine, but it also fights to protect our brain cells against damage.  Free radicals are generated in the body as we age and they are principally responsible for the oxidation and destruction of those cells.  Research into Huperzine A has shown that it protects the brain against this type of damage by serving as an antioxidant in the brain.  Effectively Huperzine A reduces the impact of neurotoxic damage to our brains, keeping our minds active and young no matter what our age. 

2. Huperzine A is a true brain booster

Acetylcholine is an essential factor in how our brains work. It controls focus, memory, cognitive power, attention and interest.  Beyond all of these responsibilities, it also regulates other neurotransmitters in the brain.  Huperzine A provides the brain with defense against the decline of circulating acetylcholine in the brain.  It has been beneficial in improving dementia in the elderly and also improving cognitive outcomes in young people. One study found that adolescent students who had been given Huperzine A had enhanced memory and cognition during testing.  All of these benefits to brain function came with very little side effects and limited counter indications with other medications. 

3. ADHD can improve with Huperzine A supplementation

Now I know what we are thinking. Lack of dopamine is driver of the issues associated with ADHD.  What would a cholinesterase inhibitor have to do with increasing dopamine in the brain? Well, this is where it gets interesting.  Huperzine A has been shown to increase dopamine and norepinephrine in the brains of rats.  This is just the direct effect.  It should also be recognized that acetylcholine and dopamine are tied together in the brain. Acetylcholine is what allows one to focus for extended periods of time, and can allow the brain to get the maximum benefit from what are otherwise short bursts of attention and learning. This benefit applies to neurotypical people as well.  Huperzine A has been shown to successfully enhance studying and memory efforts in college age students.

4. Huperzine A is shown to enhance physical performance

There is another interesting link between focus and performance.  Acetylcholine is not only used by the brain.  It also holds some responsibility for the smooth muscle contraction.  One of the older, original uses for Huperzine A was as a treatment for a disease called myasthenia gravis.  This ailment causes a communication breakdown between nerves and muscles and leads to weakness and fatigue of the muscles, most commonly in the facial muscles like the eyelids and can even impact chewing and swallowing.  Huperzine A sends acetylcholine to the muscles and energizes them, allowing the muscles to operate longer and at a higher intensity.  This benefit is not limited to treatment of myasthenia gravis.  Huperzine A is used by athletes to improve focus and concentration during workouts and event. The mind and the body are inextricably connected and Huperzine A helps people keep their head in the game and work with less fatigue.  It is a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements.

5. Treating Alzheimer’s disease with Huperzine A has shown promising results

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease of the mind.  There are two possible explanations for the damage that this illness does; one is the decline in cognitive function caused by an increase of cholinesterase, and the other hypothesis is the destruction of brain cells through the development of amyloid plaques.  Now we know at this point that Huperzine A will definitely address the cholinesterase problem.  Huperzine A is very effective at increasing and maintaining acetylcholine by acting as a cholinesterase inhibitor. The amyloid theory suggests that a buildup of protein in the brain can lead to the oxidation of brain cells and therefore contribute to the death of neurons.  Huperzine A has been shown to be protective specifically against oxidative stress to neurons caused by amyloid beta. This means that Huperzine A has more than one attack against this deadly and destructive disease.  This compound has shown very promising results when applied to improving the symptoms and slowing the advancement of Alzheimer’s.

6. Huperzine A has been linked with lucid dreaming

Would you like to be able to control the setting and outcomes of your dreams? Lucid dreaming can be an amazing, empowering experience.  This unexpected ability has also been associated with the use of Huperzine A.  Obtaining the experience of lucid dreaming has been tied to a chemical called NMDA.  N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) is a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep and may regulate sleep cycles.  Lucid dreaming occurs during REM sleep, and NMDA works to send the body past REM sleep into deeper sleep, and this limits the dreaming phase. Huperzine A may acts as a down regulator to NMDA, giving lucid dreaming practitioners more space to dream.  If lucid dreaming is not your cup of tea, you can easily avoid this effect by taking Huperzine in the morning as it has a relatively short time of action in the body.

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