Life, Liberty, and Vinpocetine

The periwinkle plant (Vinca minor) in bloom.
ife's "peak experiences" are rare - they certainly don't grow on trees. But something that could, in a manner of speaking, help you along the path toward the best that life can offer does grow on a humble shrub, called periwinkle.

The concept of self-actualization has a bad rap because of the airheads it often attracts. In its best sense, though, it represents the ultimate in human achievement: the maximal utilization of whatever intellectual, emotional, and physical capacities we have as a result of our life and liberty, directed toward the pursuit of happiness. However you may interpret the term, one thing is clear: self-actualization resides in your brain, the biochemical dynamo that determines everything you will ever think and feel and do.

If there were a potent, yet completely safe, natural substance that could nourish your brain's ability to function optimally - regardless of whether your keenest interest in life was nuclear physics or omphaloskepsis (the contemplation of one's navel) - wouldn't you want to try it?

Well, there is, and it's called vinpocetine (vin-PAW-seh-teen). This amazing compound is an extract from the seeds of periwinkle, Vinca minor, a perennial shrub indigenous to central and southern Europe and found also in the United States, with light blue to violet flowers. Periwinkle has been valued as a medicinal plant for at least two millennia.

Technically, vinpocetine is a cerebral vasodilator. Vinpocetine's myriad effects in the brain can be summed up by the term cognitive enhancer, i.e., it improves our ability to perform higher mental functions, both short-term and long-term. By optimizing cerebral blood flow, it maximizes the brain's access to vital nourishment, principally in the forms of oxygen and glucose. Vinpocetine thus opens the floodgates, so to speak, for a host of life-enhancing benefits.

Hundreds of scientific studies on vinpocetine have been published.1 First and foremost, they have shown that its effect is to sharpen mental acuity and memory, both of which tend to dull with age unless we constantly fight back. Vinpocetine can help you learn and think as clearly as your brain is capable of (it's almost like a boost in IQ). It improves both short-term and long-term memory. It enhances alertness and preparedness to handle life's exigencies. It is, to use an old-fashioned term, a mental tonic.

Vinpocetine helps prevent cerebral ischemia (impaired blood flow), and thus hypoxia (lack of oxygen), which can lead to dementia.2 It also has a neuroprotective effect, helping to prevent damage to the brain's delicate circuitry,3 and it facilitates cerebral metabolism and energy utilization.4 It thus affords protection against the spectrum of ills collectively called age-related cognitive impairment (ARCI), which can significantly diminish quality of life.

Vinpocetine's benefits do not stop at the brain. Elsewhere in the head, it can prevent or relieve hearing loss due to various causes, as well as tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) and vertigo (an illusion of movement).5 It can also improve night vision, prevent or relieve glaucoma, and prevent or improve age-related macular decline.6 Farther down, it improves cardiovascular function in a number of ways, including enhanced blood circulation and reduced atherosclerotic plaque.7 (But it does nothing for navel lint - sorry.)

At the typical recommended dosage of 30-40 mg/day, vinpocetine has no clinically significant side effects and no known interactions with drugs or other supplements.


  1. Kiss B, Karpati E. Mechanism of action of vinpocetine. Acta Pharm Hung 1996 Sep;66(5):213-24.
  2. Milanova D, Nikolov R, Nikolova M. Study on the anti-hypoxic effect of some drugs used in the pharmacotherapy of cerebrovascular disease. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol 1983 Nov;5(9):607-12.
  3. Tretter L, Adam-Vizi V. The neuroprotective drug vinpocetine prevents veratridine-induced [Na+]i and [Ca2+]i rise in synaptosomes. Neuroreport 1998 Jun 1;9(8):1849-53.
  4. Shibota M, Kakihana M, Nagaoka A. The effect of vinpocetine on brain glucose uptake in mice. Nippon Yakurigaku Zasshi 1982 Sep;80(3):221-4.
  5. Konopka W, Zalewski P, Olszewski J, Olszewska-Ziaber A, Pietkiewicz P. Treatment results of acoustic trauma. Otolaryngol Pol 1997;51 Suppl 25:281-4.
  6. Gerkowicz K, Toczolowski J, Jedrzejewski D, Jankowska I, Szponar B. Clinical trials of using Cavinton in the form of intravenous infusion in the treatment of macular degeneration. Klin Oczna 1987 Mar;89(3):95-6.
  7. Man'kovskii NB, Mints AIa, Karaban' IN, Litvinenko AA, Bachinskaia NIu. Experience with the use of Cavinton in the treatment of patients with incipient senile atherosclerotic encephalopathy. Vrach Delo 1987 Jan;(1):46-9.

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