Mind Your Head
Vinpocetine as an Antioxidant: 
Another Good Reason to Take It  

ind-enhancing vinpocetine is an antioxidant, you may be surprised to learn. But when we review some of what we know about vinpocetine - it selectively dilates the arteries and capillaries in the head, thereby improving circulation to the brain and alleviating cerebral glucose and oxygen insufficiency - its ability to take on the free radicals generated in your head is an added advantage. Because the brain has such a high content of fat susceptible to oxidative damage, and because it uses such an extraordinary amount of the energy, it is imperative that we gain every iota of protection possible. Our brain holds the precious chalice of life.

For 25 years, vinpocetine has been used for the treatment of cerebral circulatory dysfunctions such as memory impairment, stroke, aphasia (inability to speak), apraxia (movement disjunction), and other motor disorders. Vinpocetine has also been found to alleviate vertigo, tinnitus, and other inner-ear problems, as well as headache. And it has been of value in helping to relieve and treat disorders of the eyes; one study showed an improvement in visual acuity in 70% of the subjects.1 Aspects of all of these afflictions have been associated with free radical damage.

One decade ago, a study at Takeda Chemical in Japan found that vinpocetine could help inhibit oxidative damage to lipids (fatty molecules) in brain tissue.2 Another study has shown it to be capable of making "headway" against the hydroxyl radical, a free radical so destructive that it is like a bull in a china shop, especially within the neurons of your brain.3 More recently, a Czech study found that vinpocetine could prevent oxidative damage to hyaluronic acid, a major component of synovial fluid in the joints and of the extracellular matrix in the brain.4 In the laboratory, vinpocetine has been shown to be effective in arresting the oxidation of lipids in blood drawn from premature babies.5 It may be able to bolster the antioxidant defense systems in their brains.

Vinpocetine acts by improving blood flow and increasing metabolism, thus enhancing the efficiency of cellular energy production. At the same time, both glucose and oxygen get used more efficiently by the brain. The antiplatelet activity of vinpocetine, which results in a thinning of the blood in the cerebral arteries, is also thought to be a factor in its beneficial effects.6

Primary neurotransmitters involved in crucial aspects of memory function are enhanced by vinpocetine. These include noradrenaline (the brain's version of adrenaline), dopamine (for motor function, reward-seeking behavior, and spatial working memory tasks),7 acetylcholine (for focus, increased attention span, and foundation memory functions),8,9 and serotonin (for inhibitory or sedative action associated with mood regulation and sleep). Without enough serotonin, we are susceptible to depression, sleep disorders, addiction disorders, and appetite disturbances.10 The enhanced releasability of some neurotransmitters by vinpocetine is thought to involve the repair of phospholipids damaged by free radical-triggered oxidation.11

Vinpocetine has been shown to stimulate an area of the brain known as the locus coeruleus (LC), which is known to be involved with the sleep-wake cycle, anxiety, stress, and the autonomic control of behavior and mental function. The long, noradenaline-mediated neurons of the LC play a role in regulating learning and memory.12 Unfortunately, these neurons decline in number with age, resulting in loss of concentration, alertness, and information-processing ability.

Animal studies conducted in Hungary have shown that vinpocetine increases the firing ability of noradenaline-mediated neurons in LC and therefore improves cognition and related memory functions.11 Thus, vinpocetine improves overall cerebral efficiency, resulting in brain cells that can better retain information, so we can remember more.

Research performed recently at Coimbra University's Center for Neurosciences in Portugal suggests that the antioxidant properties of vinpocetine can actually help protect us from neuronal damage that occurs in ischemic (oxygen-deprivation) injury and that may even result in neurodegenerative disorders.13 The researchers concluded that the antioxidant effects of vinpocetine probably contribute to its protective role reported in other studies, especially with regard to reducing neuronal damage in pathological conditions.

Both animal and human studies have shown that vinpocetine is able to help restore age-related impairment of the brain's energy metabolism.14 Also, vinpocetine increases the synthesis of the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP),15 and is especially beneficial for individuals with vascular insufficiency caused by age-related cognitive decline.16 Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study with eight normal, healthy volunteers (all women between the ages of 25 and 40) found highly significant short-term memory improvement one hour after taking 40 mg of vinpocetine. A computer test was given in which the women were asked to recall strings of digits. The vinpocetine also reduced the response time by more than a third.17 When the effects of 40 mg of vinpocetine were studied in eight normal volunteers in whom memory impairment was induced before they received the treatment, there was less impairment seen in the vinpocetine group than in the control group, and improvements in short-term memory processes were found.18

Most vinpocetine research - there have been well over 100 clinical studies, involving more than 20,000 subjects - have examined the effects of vinpocetine on the elderly, including those considered to be healthy for their age. Other research, however, has dealt with healthy middle-aged subjects.19-21 Consistently, the results have shown improvement in memory function. The use of vinpocetine as a supplement can thus be understood as "matter over mind," in the sense that it can put our mind into a form of overdrive.


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