Chinese Club Moss For Alzheimer's Disease Treatment

Can a Moss Treat Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's patient with caregiver
Alzheimer's patient with caregiver. Getty Images/BSIP/UIG/Universal Images Group

Chinese club moss — an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine — is showing some promise in improving symptoms in Alzheimer's disease. However, it's far too early to conclude that this moss contains the magic bullet that scientists have been seeking for the devastating brain disorder.

Alzheimer's disease treatment is a tough subject because so little is known about how to manage the condition. At the same time, as people continue to live longer and longer, Alzheimer's disease becomes more and more common — some 16 million adults in the United States are expected to be living with Alzheimer's by 2050.

Many supplements are being explored to help either prevent or manage Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Most haven't been studied rigorously, and some have shown they aren't as effective as expected when they've been subjected to closer scrutiny.

Now, researchers are looking at Chinese club moss as a potential Alzheimer's disease treatment.

What the Heck is Chinese Club Moss?

Chinese club moss is a plant that is has traditionally been used in Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory treatment and to reduce your body's water retention.

But how would it work in Alzheimer's disease? Bear with me here, as this gets pretty technical.

Chinese club moss contains Huperzine A, an alkaloid (nitrogen-containing compound) that could help brain function in dementia and Alzheimer's disease by blocking an enzyme in the brain called cholinesterase. That enzyme breaks down a neurotransmitter (called acetylcholine).

Acetycholine helps with learning, memory and other functions often weakened during Alzheimer's disease. By taking an extract containing Huperzine A (from the Chinese club moss plant), this breakdown process can be slowed, potentially improving those mental functions.

Chinese Club Moss and Alzheimer's Disease

There aren't any good, solid medical trials on Chinese club moss and Alzheimer's disease/dementia management.

However, some 20 trials have been run, mostly in China, and researchers combined the results of these to look at the effects of Huperzine A on 1,823 patients with Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers concluded that Huperzine A does seem to benefit cognitive function in people with Alzheimer's disease. However, they also warned that the results should be taken with a bit of caution, since the medical studies included in their analysis weren't always well-designed.

What's the takeaway here? That Chinese club moss does show promise in treating the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, but that more research is needed.

Side Effects and Warnings

Studies have not been large enough to establish a reliable list of side effects and drug interactions, although the large analysis I describe above didn't find any serious adverse events associated with the use of Chinese club moss.

The recommendation at this time is to do more research and learn more about the effects of Huperzine A (Chinese club moss) on the brain.

People with a history of seizures should avoid Chinese club moss because of an increase in seizure risk. It can also make changes in the heart rate. So people with heart problems, especially arrhythmias, should avoid Chinese club moss. The herb can also increase mucous production, so people with asthma or other lung conditions should avoid it.

In short, not much is known about Chinese club moss. So you should definitely talk with your doctor about and decide together if it is a good choice for you.

Sources:

DurgDigest.com. Chinese Club Moss.

Li J, Wu HM, Zhou RL, Liu GJ, Dong BR. Huperzine A for Alzheimer’s disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD005592.

Yang G et al. Huperzine A for Alzheimer's disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. PLoS One. 2013 Sep 23;8(9):e74916.

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