If you have Vinca plants growing in your garden, you are already familiar with one ingredient found in many cognitive-enhancement supplements.
Vinca minor, also known as the lesser periwinkle plant, is a common flower for landscaping in the United States, and a natural derivative of the plant was isolated for its medicinal purposes in the 1960s. This synthetic ethyl ester is pulled from an alkaloid found naturally in the leaves of Vinca minor plants and is known as vinpocetine.
Researchers have studied vinpocetine for its effects on the brain, believing it may help improve cognitive functioning for dementia patients. It is also believed to help stroke patients recover some mental functioning and is used to treat seizure patients.
To deliver these benefits, it must pass the blood-brain barrier and distribute to key areas of the brain. Studies have shown that it does pass the barrier.
Enhanced Blood Flow
Vinpocetine is of great interest to medical researchers because it is believed to improve the flow of oxygen and nutrients throughout the brain. This is likely accomplished by inhibiting an enzyme known as phosphodiesterase type 1 or PDE1.
This inhibition is believed to improve the characteristics of red blood cells so that they flow easily through blood vessels even when they are constricted.
The brain cannot function without a constant supply of oxygen and glucose. When someone experiences a stroke, oxygen is cut off to certain areas of the brain temporarily. This can cause life-changing damage to brain cells.
While vinpocetine is not believed to heal or transform brain cells damaged by lack of oxygen flow, it is believed to help restore the flow of blood, possibly preventing the development of even greater damage from restricted blood flow over a longer period of time.
Enhanced Cognitive Functioning
Many studies have focused on vinpocetine’s ability to improve cognitive functioning, including memory and mental clarity. This is mainly of interest for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Scientists hope this natural plant derivative can prolong mental clarity in these patients, allowing them to enjoy their memories for a longer period of time.
Some studies conducted on patients living with various forms of dementia have shown some improvements in mental clarity with daily vinpocetine supplementation. This is promising, but professional overviews of all related research aren’t quite so conclusive. One review of the available science determined that the studies completed in the past were too small to suggest clinical use of vinpocetine for dementia patients.
While many medical professionals maintain hope that this natural plant derivative is a key to the solution for cognitive decline and brain damage, most agree there is a need for larger scientific studies to prove these benefits.
As more studies are completed, medical professionals will have more confidence in this ingredient’s ability to stimulate improved cognitive functioning in the human brain.
Vinpocetine and Supplements
What does all of this scientific research have to do with the supplement you may take to improve your memory or help you stay alert in the late afternoon? Since there is some reputable scientific evidence that this natural substance can improve the flow of blood to key areas of the brain for enhanced cognitive performance, it is routinely included in brain-enhancement supplements.
Even though there is no solid proof this ingredient can deliver all of the results claimed by manufacturers, there is a good chance at least some benefits are obtained.
While the studies showing enhanced mental alertness and clarity were small, they still provide some hope that vinpocetine can provide mental stimulation and enhanced performance.
Scientific studies may focus on the effects of vinpocetine for stroke victims or those suffering from dementia, but you can expect similar results even if you don’t have significant brain damage.
There is at least some reason to believe that this ingredient may contribute to improved brain functioning when included in a supplement with other high-quality ingredients.
Is Vinpocetine Safe?
There are some reports of stomach upset with doses of more than 60 mg of vinpocetine per day. This is considered a safe substance that comes with no other side effects.
This doesn’t mean you won’t potentially experience side effects from supplements that contain this substance. Other ingredients included in some supplements may cause side effects, so you have to consider every ingredient in the formula when determining the safety of any product.
How to Take Vinpocetine Safely
This natural plant substance is now sold as an individual supplement, or you can purchase supplements which combine it with other ingredients. It is believed you can safely consume up to 40 mg of the substance per day without any risk of negative side effects.
When using a supplement that combines vinpocetine with other ingredients, you may not know exactly how much of this ingredient is included.
Some supplements use proprietary blends, and they are not required to reveal the exact ingredients and dosages included in those blends. This prevents you from knowing with certainty that enough vinpocetine is included to deliver the results you expect to receive from the supplement.
The only way to know for sure how much vinpocetine you are consuming is to take a supplement which only contains this substance.
-  Halldin C, Sandell J, Karlsson P, Sóvágó J, Kárpáti E, Kiss B, Vas A, Cselényi Z, Farde L. “PET studies on the brain uptake and regional distribution of [11C]vinpocetine in human subjects.® ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
-  Life Extension Magazine February 2006 “VinpocetineBy promoting improved blood flow, vinpocetine benefits brain health“
-  Whitehouse PJ. “inpocetine for cognitive impairment and dementia.
-  “Almost Everything You Want to Know About Vinpocetine