Almost Everything You Want
to Know About Vinpocetine
Figure 1. The periwinkle plant
(Vinca minor) in bloom.
What is vinpocetine?
Vinpocetine is an extract from the seeds of the periwinkle plant (Vinca minor), a common, vinelike evergreen ground cover (see Figure 1). The roots creep along, blooming abundantly in the spring and sporadically throughout the rest of the growing season. Known by its typically violet color, Vinca has been planted in gardens for hundreds of years. It has a long history of use as a traditional tonic to alleviate weariness, especially the type associated with advanced age, and also as an astringent for excessive menses, bleeding gums, mouth sores, and more.
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There are many ingredients in Vinca minor, but vinpocetine is the one about which the most interesting and promising research has been conducted; there are many hundreds of studies with lab animals and human subjects, especially in recent European literature.
Vinpocetine is a derivative of the alkaloid vincamine. Like vincamine, it is found in small amounts in the seeds of periwinkle as well as other plants, such as voaconga and Crioceras longiflorus. Throughout the world, vincamine has been used to treat senile dementia with significant success. Studies have found vinpocetine to demonstrate many of the same functions as those of vincamine, but without the side effects. Moreover, it has been shown to be at least two times (and up to three or four times) more potent than vincamine for improving cerebral circulation, memory, and other functions in humans. No interactions with pharmaceutical drugs have been reported.
How does vinpocetine work?
Numerous scientific studies have shown vinpocetine to be of benefit for the prevention and improvement of many different kinds of ailments. It enhances cognitive functions, including those involving long- and short-term memory, and it has also been shown to be valuable in protecting heart, visual, and hearing functions, among other benefits.
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In broadest terms, vinpocetine is a powerful memory enhancer. It achieves this principally by facilitating cerebral metabolism and improving blood flow in the brain. It works by causing mild dilation of blood vessels, thereby allowing for increased cerebral blood flow, which results in increased oxygenation and glucose utilization.
This makes vinpocetine an ideal candidate not only for the improvement and prevention of certain disease processes in need of increased blood flow and oxygenation, but also for athletes who want to enhance their performance by increasing brain oxygenation, such as skiers, mountain climbers, and high-altitude hikers.
In addition to more efficient brain circulation, vinpocetine has been found to increase brain-cell energy through its effect on the production of ATP (the cellular energy molecule).
Since many brain disorders have been found to be caused by poor circulation or by neuronal damage due to inadequate oxygen and inadequate amounts of energy, it makes sense to consider vinpocetine in one's daily cognitive supplement program.
What benefits can I expect?
Acclaim for vinpocetine's use is widespread throughout the world - in Europe, Japan, Korea, China, and elsewhere. Unequivocally, vinpocetine has some extraordinary characteristics. There is strong evidence that vinpocetine can help:
Improve Hearing Function
- Improve memory, long- and short-term
- Enhance alertness, awareness, and preparedness
- Act as a neuroprotector
- Prevent or reverse ischemic (lack of oxygen) damage to brain, muscle, liver, and elsewhere
- Diminish senile cerebral dysfunction
Improve Visual Function
- Prevent or relieve hearing loss due to various causes
- Prevent or relieve tinnitus (ringing/buzzing in the ears)
- Prevent or relieve vertigo (dizziness)
Improve Cardiovascular Function
- Improve night vision
- Improve wound healing of eyes due to burns
- Prevent or relieve glaucoma
- Prevent or improve age-related macular decline
- Diminish atherosclerotic plaque
- Improve cardiac output and nutritive blood flow to various organs
- Improve dilation of blood vessels
- Increase the flexibility of red blood cells
- Scavenge toxic metals in the body, such as aluminum and lead
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What is the right amount of vinpocetine for me?
This depends on your personal needs, goals, body chemistry, and so forth. Depending on whether your goals are more cognitive-oriented, visual- or hearing-oriented, or athletic performance-oriented, you may prefer either a vinpocetine formulation or vinpocetine alone. Generally a formulation is designed to provide optimal attainment of a particular goal. I tend to recommend formulations over single ingredients alone.
Some guidelines: Most studies showing positive benefits from vinpocetine have been done at amounts of 10 to 30 mg/day, and some at 40 mg/day. All studies done at 30 mg/day showed additional benefits compared with lesser daily amounts. Depending on your body chemistry, you could start with 10 mg/day and work up, or you could start with 30 mg/day. My suggestion for most people is work up to 30 or 40 mg/day over a couple of weeks or more. Too much, too soon of many supplements can disrupt normal intestinal flora (bacteria) and most commonly cause gastrointestinal upset or diarrhea.*
*Individuals with medical conditions should seek guidance from their health care providers.
Will I get more benefits if I take more vinpocetine?
Most nootropics (supplements that positively affect cognitive function) have ideal levels for positive effects. These may vary slightly from person to person, but they generally follow what is known as a dose-response curve. The desirable effects may decline if too much of the supplement is taken. Many of the studies done with vinpocetine show the dose-response curve leveling off or declining above 40 mg/day or more. Although everyone's body chemistry is different, I would not advise taking more than the recommended amount, as a general rule.
Should I cut back on vinpocetine after a while?
There is evidence that when vinpocetine is maintained at higher levels (10 mg three to four times per day), maximum benefits are seen. And when lower levels of vinpocetine are implemented, benefits decline. Thus, vinpocetine is dose-related, but only up to about 40 mg/day. Taking significantly more than this may result in a loss of efficacy. Taking too much vinpocetine can be like taking too little.
There are other cognitive-enhancing supplements where a loading dose (an initially higher amount) is appropriate. Then after a time period, cutting back to a lower maintenance dose is appropriate, such as with phosphatidylserine. However, there is no evidence that this is true for vinpocetine. The data support regularly maintaining the higher levels of vinpocetine.
Is vinpocetine OK to use with other supplements?
All the studies that have been done on vinpocetine and its effects when used with other compounds have shown it to be innocuous. Many individuals are taking multiple cognitive supplements and other nutrient supplements along with vinpocetine without any untoward effects.
Is vinpocetine safe? Does it have any side effects?
Vinpocetine is extracted as a single specific substance from the periwinkle plant and is not the whole of the plant. Vinpocetine in some studies has been found to have fewer side effects than placebo, making it essentially side-effect-free. There are some reports in the literature, however, of mild gastrointestinal upset at 60 and 180 mg/day. However, I cannot find any studies that implicate vinpocetine with any clinically relevant side effects at 30 or 40 mg/day.
Is vinpocetine natural?
If natural means produced by nature, safe, and without side effects, then vinpocetine is as natural a substance as can be obtained.
How soon will I notice the effects of vinpocetine?
This is extremely variable and may be associated with an individual's body chemistry and self-awareness. Some people have reported noticing an improvement in only hours. The improvement may be subtle, and it is more commonly noticed over weeks or months. Some people report feeling a mild excitation, improvement in remembering things related to daily living, or better performance at mental tasks or mental games. Dr. Ward Dean, a cognitive expert and life extension physician, says about vinpocetine, "It's one of the few cognitive enhancers with which I can actually notice a difference." Additionally, it can be difficult to ascertain how much vinpocetine is helping when we are in a progressively declining state with regard to memory, vision, and hearing, for example, since these functions diminish with age.
If I am already taking hesperidin, quercetin, or bilberry for vision, will plain vinpocetine help?
Again, yes. You can obtain the benefits of vinpocetine whether you take it alone, as a formulation, or as a supplement with items you are already taking. Vinpocetine will be of benefit even if you add it to your already established supplement program of cognitive enhancers or visual and hearing enhancers, for example. If you have an additional, specific goal for protecting or improving vision, I usually recommend the formulation, because highly trained biomedical experts design formulations in scientifically justified amounts and combinations to provide optimal bioavailability and benefits to the user. Formulations are much easier, and usually more affordable, than taking multiple individual ingredients and trying to figure out how to combine them properly.
Will other nutrients help with my tinnitus?
There are several studies showing vinpocetine to be effective for improving hearing function, including the symptoms of tinnitus. A few studies indicate ginkgo biloba can provide some improvement for tinnitus, although the results are much less dramatic than for vinpocetine. There are at least two solid studies showing that magnesium aspartate is effective for preventing and reversing hearing damage; however, there was no indication of the effects of magnesium on tinnitus.
Can vinpocetine help with memory loss in cases of Alzheimer's disease?
There is some scientific literature available regarding the use of vinpocetine in Alzheimer subjects, indicating its possible future use.
Vinpocetine: an intelligent choice for age-related cognitive impairment (or decline)
There is a great fear, with advancing age, of falling prey to some highly degenerative cognitive disease such as Alzheimer's. But there are other, lesser cognitive concerns, the ultimate severity of which cannot be dismissed, that have been termed age-related cognitive impairments (ARCI) or age-related cognitive decline (ARCD). These conditions may mean no more than gradually losing, year after year, one's edge of mental acuity. Some researchers argue that ARCI or ARCD begins quite early in life and that we don't notice it until we get on in years. Whatever the case, vinpocetine may be of help in preserving and possibly even recapturing mental acuity. It is certainly worth seriously considering adding it to one's cognitive supplement program, not only for relief of, but also for protection from, ARCI or ARCD.