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Could a plant help treat Alzheimer's?

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MSNBC.com
The Associated Press
October 20, 2006

National trial is one of a growing number to look at natural treatments

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - A plant used widely in China is the focus of a national clinical trial that aims to see if it could help treat Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

The University of North Carolina Hospitals are participating in the national clinical trial on Chinese club moss, which is already being sold in stores with nutritional supplements and is used in China as a treatment for cognitive disorders.

The study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, is one of a growing number of federally funded research studies focused on natural and alternative therapies. The centers of the National Institutes of Health expect to spend $300.5 million in complementary and alternative medicine research in the 2007 budget year.

Even with the recent financial commitment, research in that area is limited, making it difficult for doctors to get information that is essential to understanding the risks and benefits of certain treatments.

"That kind of data is completely missing today from most nutraceuticals," said Dr. Daniel Kaufer, a neurologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is one of the trial's investigators.

Patients in the trial receive either a placebo or dose of Huperzine A — an alkaloid extracted from the plant — that is larger than what's currently available in stores. After the placebo-controlled phase, all patients take doses of Huperzine A for eight weeks and have the option to continue taking it if they believe it's helping.

Investigators test patients' cognitive functions throughout the trial, Kaufer said.

Marion Hinsdale, 83, decided with help from her daughter, Marjorie, to participate in the trial to see if the treatment could help with her memory and cognitive problems.

"Both my mother and I are interested in anything that would be considered homeopathic," said Marjorie Hinsdale, who lives with her mother in Chapel Hill. "The fact that this is a Chinese herb was intriguing to both of us."

While some studies involving natural therapies have been unsuccessful, trials that prove certain therapies work have credibility with consumers and doctors.

"It gets their attention and provides evidence that botanical medicine is very powerful," said Christie Yerby, a Chapel Hill specialist in botanical medicine.

The Hinsdales aren't sure if Huperzine A helped Marion, who decided to keep taking the supplement after completing the first part of the trial.

"We just wanted to contribute in what small way we can," Marjorie Hinsdale said.

Chinese Moss The Focus of Alzheimer's Research
AHN All Headline News
October 21, 2006
By Russell McSpadden

Chapel Hill, NC (AHN) - A plant used in traditional Chinese medicine is now part of new U.S. clinical trial to see if it could provide help in treating Alzheimer's patients.

The plant called Chinese club moss, which is already sold in health food stores in the U.S. as a nutritional supplement, is the focus of a University of North Carolina clinical trial. In China, the plant is used to treat cognitive disorders.

The study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, is federally funded and is part of a wider program of research into natural and alternative medicine.

According to health experts, funding for alternative medicine is limited, and few doctors are kept abreast of findings.

"That kind of data is completely missing today from most nutraceuticals," said Dr. Daniel Kaufer, a neurologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Patients participating in the trial are given a placebo or a dose of Huperzine A, an alkaloid derived from the plant. The dosage is much higher than that provided by supplements in health food stores.

The clinical investigators test the cognitive responses of the patients.

Final results from the investigation have yet to be announced.



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