Health Benefits of Vinpocetine

Popular fat burner and memory booster stirs controversy

Periwinkle
Lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor). Joseph Chin/EyeEm/Getty Images

Vinpocetine is a synthetic compound derived from vincamine, a substance found naturally in the leaves of the lesser periwinkle plant (Vinca minor). Vinpocetine was developed in the late 1960s and is available as a prescription drug in Europe and Japan under the brand names Cavinton, Cavinton Forte, Intelectol, and others.

Although vinpocetine is sold in the United States as a dietary supplement, it is currently banned in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Vinpocetine is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after receiving complaints from consumers, health advocates, and Congress about potential health risks and false advertising claims.

In the United States, vinpocetine is marketed as a sports supplement, brain enhancer, and weight loss supplement. It is sometimes co-formulated with gingko biloba and sold as a "memory booster."

Health Benefits

Vinpocetine initially gained notice because it was said to increase blood flow to the brain, an effect some believed could improve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Others have ascribed it with thermogenic properties, suggesting that it could "burn fat" or enhance exercise performance.

To date, the evidence supporting these claims is lacking.

A 2003 review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews evaluated the results of three controlled trials involving 583 people with dementia and could not find any benefit in vinpocetine treatment compared to a placebo.

These results were supported by a 2013 study in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement in which vinpocetine and other so-called "nootropic" supplements (a.k.a. "smart pills") prove no more effective than caffeine in enhancing mental function.

Similar results have been seen when evaluating the vinpocetine as a weight loss or sports supplement.

One such study, conducted at the University of South Florida in 2016, reported that a fat-burning supplement containing vinpocetine increase the resting metabolic rate (RMR) in 10 male athletes but did nothing to decrease their body fat.

In terms of athletic performance, a 2009 study from the College of New Jersey concluded that a sports drink containing vinpocetine improved the reaction time in 12 male athletes but had no impact on their anaerobic performance.

Possible Side Effects

Side effects of vinpocetine may include indigestion, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, facial flushing, insomnia, headache, drowsiness, and dry mouth. Vinpocetine may also cause a temporary drop in blood pressure (hypotension).

Vinpocetine has raised concerns in recent years following reports that the drug may cause immune suppression. One such case resulted in agranulocytosis, a potentially dangerous drop in white blood cells that leaves you at high risk of serious infections.

Because of this, vinpocetine should never be used in organ recipients, people with advanced HIV infection, or those on immune suppressive drugs (including chemotherapy).

Vinpocetine may slow blood clotting and should be avoided in people with bleeding disorders or who take anticoagulants like Coumadin (warfarin) or anti-platelet drugs like Plavix (clopidogrel). Vinpocetine should not be taken two weeks before or after surgery to reduce the risk of excessive bleeding.

Due to the lack of long-term safety research, vinpocetine should not be used in children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers.

Dosage and Preparation

There are no prescribed guidelines for the appropriate use of vinpocetine in the United States. Generally speaking, doses under 60 milligrams per day are considered safe. The supplements are easily sourced online or found in natural food stores or dietary supplements shops.

In Europe, where it is sometimes used to treat cognitive problems following a stroke, vinpocetine is typically prescribed in 10- to 15-milligram doses, taken thrice daily with food.

In the United States, vinpocetine is usually sold in 10-milligram capsules or tablets. It is also available as a powder or included as an ingredient in sports supplements.

What to Look For

Dietary supplements like vinpocetine are largely unregulated in the United States and are not required to undergo the rigorous testing and research that pharmaceutical drugs do. Because of this, the quality can vary, sometimes significantly.

If you decide to try vinpocetine, opt for brands produced by reputable manufacturers with an established market presence. This can help ensure that the supplement was produced safely and contains what it says it contains.

Other Questions

Why is vinpocetine banned elsewhere but not here?

Vinpocetine has long raised concerns among medical ethicists who contend that drug, which was subject to clinical trials in the 1980s, is being inappropriately sold as a dietary supplement.

Although vinpocetine is classified by the FDA as a botanical extract, it is actually synthesized from vincamine, an actual botanical extract. To detractors, this qualifies vinpocetine as a pharmaceutical drug. The fact that vinpocetine is registered elsewhere as such only adds to the veracity of the claims.

The lack of regulations has led to abuses among manufacturers both here and abroad.

According to a 201t study published in Drug Testing and Analysis, only six of 26 supplements tested in the United States contained the amount of vinpocetine listed on the product label.

The results of the study led to calls from Senator Claire McCaskill to suspend the sales of vinpocetine in the United States. The FDA responded in September 2016 by tentatively concluding that vinpocetine did not, in fact, qualify as a dietary supplement.

Despite this, vinpocetine is still found on drugstore shelves. For its part, the FDA promises stricter enforcement of regulations but not yet taken any steps to ban the drug.

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