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Posted: June 10, 2008

Chinese Report Success in Treating Alzheimer's with Plant

Research scientists are weighing a report from China that the extract from a plant known commonly as Chinese club moss showed promise in treating Alzheimer’s patients in multiple trials.

Chinese researchers reported that Huperzine A, an extract of Huperzia serrata, which is a traditional Chinese medicine plant commonly referred to as Chinese club moss, showed promise as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease after a series of small trails.

However, the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research, said that while the results were promising, there is insufficient evidence to currently support routine use of the extract with Alzheimer’s patients. Cochrane issued its report in its publication The Cochrane Library after analyzing the combined data from several Chinese trials.

Previous research has suggested Huperzine A may help with the management of Alzheimer's disease, but the previous multiple-study reviews involved only English-language research, Cochrane said. This limited the range of data analyzed.

To gain a better understanding of the effects of the club moss extract on Alzheimer's, Hongmei Wu, of Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, and colleagues undertook an all-language multiple-study review. They analyzed six randomized controlled trials that assessed the efficacy and safety of Huperzine A in a total of 454 patients who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

At the review’s conclusion, the researchers said that based solely on the Chinese study data, the data suggest that Huperzine A may improve thinking and memory, behavior disturbances, and daily functioning in Alzheimer's patients, when compared with typical Alzheimer’s care.

However, the Cochrane team also stressed that the reviewed trials were of low "methodological" quality. For example, while the reviewers did not identify any obvious adverse effects among patients treated with Huperzine A, they pointed out that many of the studies they reviewed did not sufficiently report or emphasize adverse effects in their process.

Cochrane reported that while data from studies to date do not support adaptation of Huperzine A for Alzheimer's disease today, their findings warrant further research through large randomized, controlled trials of longer duration and that it will be important to sufficiently follow patient groups for adverse events and outcomes.

"These findings are based on a small number of trials, but the data indicate that it would be well worth setting up some more high quality assessments of this interesting drug," Wu added in a statement issued by The Cochrane Library.

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