Vinpocetine At The Peak
By Will Block

sychologist Abraham Maslow altered the minds of his contemporaries, and the course of 20th Century thinking, when he declared that the proper model for the study of the mind was not at the bottom of human endeavor, but at the top. As the founder of humanistic psychology, Maslow shifted his energy away from psychological pathology as the primary source of understanding how the mind works. Instead he concentrated on the best examples of human evolution -- those individuals who grasped what he referred to as The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. In this book and throughout his other writings, Maslow developed such psychological concepts as the needs hierarchy, self-actualization, and peak experience. Using these ideas as tools of thought, Professor Maslow mapped out a path to the peak of maximum potential for those of us who want to go beyond the ordinary; ascend to all that we can be; and take charge of our own evolutionary processes. These endeavors are also the common goals of the current day's life enhancement community.

Figure 1: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. "At once other (and higher) needs emerge, and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still higher) needs emerge, and so on. As one desire is satisfied, another pops up to take its place." (Motivation and Personality. 2nd ed., Harper & Row, 1970).
In Maslow's system, the path to the peak starts at the foundation of a pyramid-like structure that is built on layers of needs which must be filled before one can journey to a higher level. He calls this the hierarchy of needs. [See Figure 1.] By applying this model to nutrition, the science and art of improving the human body and mind by refining and supplementing the diet, we can examine those needs starting at the base level of the foundation. First would be a diet that has ample levels of nutrients, and the correct balance of the right fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Given our knowledge of optimal needs, high levels of dietary supplements of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, hormones, herbs and other compounds are necessary; however, not all are required at the foundation level. More about this later ...

The goal at the foundation level is to meet the physiological needs of nutrition in order to help maintain health and help prevent disease. Physiological needs as well as safety needs - also in the lower levels of the pyramid - concern survival strategies. Dietary needs, for example, are accompanied and proceeded, in part by other physiological needs such as air, water, sleep, sex, and so on. If these needs are not satisfied, there are direct consequences: we may feel sick, become irritated, experience pain and discomfort, and so on. We are motivated, first and foremost, to alleviate the physiological needs as soon as possible and to establish homeostasis, the equilibrium between deficiency and excess. Only after physiological needs are alleviated, can we sustain constructive thought and action about other important hierarchical needs.

Vinpocetine appears to improve a person's
ability to acquire new memories and to
restore memories that have been disrupted.

Often, problems arise that prevent satisfaction and passage to the next level. Regulatory agencies such as the FDA are constantly thinking up new schemes to block the free exchange of nutritional information or even to prevent access to various nutrients. Ironically, the only effective way to deal with the "safety" issue - for example, "How can we be safe if the FDA is constantly threatening to prevent us from meeting our physiological needs?" - is to acquire knowledge about political philosophy which is a higher need. Yet this higher need entails acquiring higher levels of nutritional information, such as those factors involved in memory enhancement. Without understanding some of these issues - "Can regulators know what's good for us?" "What is the proper role of government?" - many people are bewildered, learn to be helpless [see the Self Esteem section below], and don't achieve the proper attitudes to fight for their physiological needs; e.g., nutrition at the foundation level.

Yet as we all now know, the successes of the nutritional approach are making a significant beachhead on the shores of the old paradigm, meaning traditional or allopathic medicine. Just witness the wave of nutritional successes reported with near-weekly frequency in the major medical "establishment" publications such as The New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, Lancet, and the British Medical Journal. While the hierarchical foundation of nutritional medicine is still in the process of "concretizing," we are finally able to see the edifice of a structure rising up from the informationally fertile ground. What shape it will take, as of yet, is unknown. The pharmaceutical industry is beginning to emulate the nutritional industry just as traditional medicine is being infiltrated by (and emulating) alternative medicine.

What many ardent nutrient users do not realize, however, is that public acceptance of health maintenance and disease prevention is a fading milestone. A new paradigm is in the making and things will never be the same, although progress is not a certainty. For this reason, now is not the time to lower our shields [see Raise Your Antioxidant Shield - Part I - August 1998] but to raise them higher and protect our physiological gains.

A true neurotropic must deal with cortical
events or those systems events that
have a direct impact on consciousness.

At the same time, we should not put off what we can do today to move to higher ground. As Maslow suggests, we should reach farther into the core of human nature and build more rigorously complex structures higher up the pyramid. Upon meeting our lower foundational requirements - mainly our physiological and safety needs - higher, more complex needs emerge. To satisfy these, we must accelerate the attention we give to our minds.

As you are aware, there has been an enormous surge of interest in hormones such as melatonin, DHEA, pregnenolone, thyroid, estrogen and progesterone. Attributable benefits include improvement of sleep, pain, PMS symptoms, and the elevation of energy, libido and memory. While the hormones undoubtedly have mood altering consequences, the principle rationale for their use is still foundational and lower hierarchy; having to do with basic physiological functions. "Use these if you want a better functioning machine; if you want to stay well" is the message. Nonetheless, with hormone supplementation we see a span of benefits reaching from the physiological through to safety, sex, and love. All hierarchical levels have roots that travel up the pyramid as well as down.

Vinpocetine can help to move you up the
pyramid of your needs fulfillment hierarchy
so that you may be better positioned to
achieve all that you can and - who knows? -
perhaps the peak experience of
getting the most out of your life.

In sculpting the human personality, the judicious use of amino acids such as tryptophan, 5-hydroxytryptophan, phenylalanine, tyrosine and carnitine, places one much higher on the pyramid. The important neuromodulating, neurotransmitting, neuroenergizing molecules and processes which these amino acids can help produce in our bodies, allows us to see the possibilities of more than a brain encased in a machine. As we see the upper half of the pyramid sharpen in our view, we experience a mind that directs the machine. This self-directing brain is like the engine of an extraordinary car capable of getting us from here to there, faster than we ever thought, and more safely than the compact and other low-output vehicles we've accepted or imposed on ourselves. By taking control of the extraordinary performance along the road, our superb vehicle can give us a sense of excitement, a sense of vitality, control and productivity - "I can do anything I want to" - that makes it all worthwhile. The experience of driving the enhanced vehicle allows us to shift into reverse and lose our learned helplessness [see Freedom and the Zek's Ant - May 1998] and shift again into high gear to develop self-esteem.

When we unlearn helplessness, we overthrow the "poor me," "I can't do anything right," "I couldn't do it because," "It's-hopeless" syndrome and mentality. Self-esteem is the reputation you have with yourself; the knowledge that you are a can-do person, that you get things done, and you keep your word to others and yourself. Self-esteem allows you believe in yourself. Both of these achievement outcomes - getting up after being "down" and staying "up" on top of your life - are much more likely if you're not deficient in any of the important neurotransmitters, especially noradrenaline, the brain's version of adrenaline. With the right precursors and cofactors, taken in the right amounts and at the right times, your brain can make enough extra noradrenaline to compensate for age-related declines or deficiencies due to stress resulting from learned hopelessness. Maslow would call this self-actualization. A program of regular supplementation, containing neurotransmitter precursors and cofactors, can provide all the difference and help raise you further up the pyramid to achieve a higher sense of worth and self-esteem.



Nootropics are compounds which enhance the functional "plasticity" of the CNS, by acting at the telencephalic level through a series of bioenergetic, hemorheological, microcirculatory and neurochemical mechanisms.1 What this means is that the brain can expand its capacity to coordinate a multitude of activities via a variety of energy transmission and reception systems. Another researcher sees the nootropic effect as the increase and improvement of the basic activity in the brain and an increased level of distant (spatial) synchronization.2 This refers to the telecommunications aspect of brain control. The researcher who more than anyone else is associated with nootropics, C. E. Giurgea, lists three characteristics of the nootropic effect:

1) The direct functional activation of the higher integrative brain mechanisms that enhance cortical vigilance;
2) a telencephalic functional selectivity; and
3) a particular efficiency in restoring deficient higher nervous system activity.3

By this, Giurgea means that for a substance to be a true neurotropic, it must not deal with subcortical events (such as those of the reticular or the limbic system), but rather with cortical events or those systems events that have a direct impact on consciousness.

It's useful to remember that the central nervous system (CNS), the proper functioning of which is dependent on the neurotransmitter-producing nutrient amino acids, is telencephalic. This means the control your brain exercises extends throughout your entire body. The CNS merges body and mind. It reaches up from the levels of sensation and perception to awareness and conceptualization. Thus, it is an integrating system that brings everything together: learning, memory and heightened physicality.

Nootropics are compounds that serve to bolster and elevate central nervous activity, by simultaneously increasing regional functionality in the body (e.g., improves hemodynamics of the fine capillaries involved in hearing or sight) and in the brain (e.g., improving vigilance or neuronal readiness). [See sidebar.] Yet while the neurochemistry of nootropic mechanisms are not clearly understood, we do know that nootropic activity involves enhanced membrane characteristics such as: membrane stability, permeability, strength, stress resistance, and assimilability. Serotonin mechanisms [see 5-HTP Interest Explodes - August 1998] are also presumed to be involved.

To arrive at the top of Maslow's hierarchical pyramid is to find and to use those more selective nootropics agents that can elevate consciousness into selective cognitive efficiency and more general overall efficacy. Among the compounds that have been identified to provide the nootropic edge are vinpocetine, vincamine, apovincaminic acid, vinconate, aniracetam, hydergine, and pemoline. In one study, designed to measure the ability of rats to enhance recall while attempting to avoid an unpleasant experience, only vinpocetine proved itself.4 When vinpocetine was given 60 minutes before test time, there was a significant increase in retention and the rats remembered how to avoid receiving a mild shock (even many days after the initial avoidance training). None of the other nootropics succeeded in this task, supporting the view that vinpocetine has survival- and cognition-activating properties within this animal model of testing. According to researcher Dr. DeNoble, similar studies to those published on rats have been performed on humans and vinpocetine appears to improve a person's ability to acquire new memories and to restore memories that have been disrupted.5 Vinpocetine is unique and more potent than other cognitive enhancers studied.

Vinpocetine possesses all of the nootropic performance capabilities that Giurgea [see sidebar] spells out: It enhances cortical vigilance [see Vigilance - July 1998], while it selectively enhances brain function; such as, the ability to acquire new memories; and protects and restores brain function through its ability to prevent hypoxia/reperfusion damage and to reconstruct memories that have been previously inaccessible. The fundamental mechanism appears to be its ability to increase oxygen and glucose availability in the brain.

As we travel to the peak of the hierarchy of needs, there are benefits to be gained at the top that literally leave the boards behind. Professor Maslow refers to these as Peak Experiences or Oceanic Experiences. If you've even experienced a moment in time when you seemed totally united with the world, when you felt you were everything you wanted to be, when everything was so utterly perfect that all you saw and felt was beauty and love, you have had a peak (or oceanic) experience.

Nootropics, such as vinpocetine, are not currently capable of delivering a peak experience of that degree because they are not drugs, but rather life enhancing supplements. However, vinpocetine can help you to move up the pyramid of your needs fulfillment hierarchy so that you may be better positioned to achieve all that you can and - who knows? - perhaps the peak experience of getting the most out of your life.


  1. Voronina TA, Krapivin SV. New aspects of the neurophysiological mechanism of the action of nootropic preparations. Biull Eksp Biol Med 1986;102:721-724.
  2. Molnar P, Gaal L, Horvath C. The impairment of long-term potentiation in rats with medial septal lesion and its restoration by cognition enhancers. Neurobiology 1994;2:255-266.
  3. Giurgea CE. The nootropic concept and its prospective implications. Drug Dev Res. 1982;2:441-446.
  4. DeNoble VJ. Vinpocetine enhances retrieval of a step-through passive avoidance response in rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1987;26:183-186.
  5. Anon. Chemical Marketing Reporter 1986;229:7.

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