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Huperzine: Supplement makers turn over a new Chinese leaf

Huperzine: Supplement makers turn over a new Chinese leaf

Rob Eder

In search of the next hot natural cognitive enhancer, supplement makers are tapping into the leaves of another Chinese plant. Derived from Chinese club moss, huperzine could well be in position to duplicate at least some of the success of its botanical cousin, gingko biloba, extracted from the leaf of the ancient Chinese shade tree.

While no one has dared to call huperzine the next gingko, the two supplements share some very positive characteristics, which have already proven critical to gingko’s success and could very likely work to huperzine’s advantage, as well.

First, huperzine is, like gingko, an herbal, which seems to be a real plus with consumers in the context of natural health care sales. None of the naturally occurring substances and wonder hormones (namely, DHEA, melatonin and pregnenolene) have yet matched the success of any of the top 10 herbal supplements. Consumers seem to be less cautious of-and so, more willing to try-herbals than other classes of dietary supplements.

Second, there is strong scientific evidence to suggest that huperzine supplementation has very significant, disease-oriented health benefits. In 1996, a round of double-blind, placebo-controlled studies conducted in China established a link between huperzine supplementation and improved cognitive function in patients suffering from dementia. And, perhaps more applicable to U.S. markets, a team of clinicians at the Walter Reed Army Institute in Washington, D.C., recently determined that huperzine decreases neuronal cell death-a condition commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The consumer media has already demonstrated how far a little science can go in arousing their attention. And, for its part, the consumer public has already demonstrated what happens when the news talks up a natural health care remedy. Anyone who questions this theory should remember what TV’s “20120” and “Prime time Live” did for sales of gingko and St. John’s Wort.

And, although the media hasn’t broken the story just yet, one company seeking to cash in on huperzine was just beginning to crank up the heat on promotional efforts as Drug Store News went to press. Nutrapharm-maker of Cerebra, a nutraceutical that blends huperzine with the antioxidant vitamin E-just kicked off a rather aggressive public relations campaign targeting both print and broadcast news organizations, and was gearing up for TV and radio ad spots scheduled to begin late in the first quarter.

But, perhaps the best news of all about huperzine is that, while it shares several key characteristics with gingko-including its indication as a cognitive-boosting agent-it should help to augment gingko sales as opposed to cannibalizing them. That’s because huperzine works entirely different from gingko-yet to similar effect-so there is significant opportunity for add-on sales in touting the synergistic benefits of daily supplementation with both.

“We’re not trying to take away business from gingko,” said Nutrapharm president Ruben Seltzer.

“Gingko enhances microcirculation in the brain,” explained William Seroy, president and founder of InterHealth, maker of Memorzine, a proprietary huperzine extract the company markets to supplement manufacturers. “Huperzine is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, working to regulate acetyl choline levels in the brain.”

Translation: While gingko and huperzine are similar enough to make a positive difference in the latter’s sales, they are also different enough not to negatively impact the former’s.

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