Is Vinpocetine the Answer to Memory Problems?

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It Vinpocetine might be the answer to memory problems, says Bernd Wollschlaeger, MD, a Florida-based board-certified family physician who specializes in the application of herbal remedies and nutritional supplements. Dr. Wollschlaeger is also the associate editor of the Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association (JANA).

Vinpocetine (pronounced vin-poe-ce-teen), is a nutritional supplement derived from the periwinkle plant. It has just recently become available in the U.S. through food, drug and mass market retailers as a nutritional supplement. The supplement is already very much in use in Europe, where physicians believe it is far more effective than other supplements — such as ginkgo biloba — used for memory and brain function. Vinpocetine actually contains many of the same cerebral-enhancing effects as ginkgo biloba, but has been shown to be more effective in much shorter time.

Clinical Studies

Vinpocetine has been extensively studied in Europe. These clinical studies have found it to provide several advantages for the human brain, including memory enhancement, increased cognitive performance, improved cerebral circulation and higher mental acuity and awareness.

In his book, Mind Boosters: A Guide to Natural Supplements that Enhance Your Mind, Memory, and Mood, Ray Sahelian, M.D. has written, "Experiments with vinpocetine indicate that it can dilate blood vessels, enhance circulation in the brain, improve oxygen utilization, make red blood cells more pliable, and inhibit aggregation of platelets."

According to Dr. Wollschlaeger, "All of the studies focus on improvement of cognitive function. Several peer-reviewed, double-blind studies looked at the cognitive performance of normal subjects, seeing how vinpocetine would improve their cognitive performance. The researchers found a significant improvement with vinpocetine. Until vinpocetine, we physicians have had nothing to prevent cognitive decline.

We only have drugs to treat after the fact."

No studies have been to date been performed specifically using Vinpocetine with thyroid patients — who frequently complain of memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and that particular fuzzy-thinking described as "brain fog." However, it's thought that the reduced metabolism of hypothyroidism may reduce blood flow to the brain, or slow down brain metabolism slightly, which may account for the cognitive and memory-related symptoms. Vinpocetine has been proven to increases brain blood flow and brain cell metabolism, so, by providing more oxygen to the brain, brain-cell energy increases and it is in that capacity that the supplement may be a help for some people with hypothyroidism.

"According to clinical data, consumers will see improvement in memory functions as well as enhancement of learning and recall and overall alertness," says Dr. Wollschlaeger.

Side Effects

Are there any side effects or interactions for Vinpocetine? According to Dr. Wollschlaeger, "a critical review of the literature has reported no adverse effects. Vinpocetine appears to be safe, without any adverse effects. The only reported side effect, in a very small number of cases, was a slightly upset stomach, which is almost always a side effect for some people taking herbs. We have not seen any adverse effects or drug-herb interactions, and it seems safe to take with other drugs, including diabetes drugs, and blood thinners like Coumadin.

How much vinpocetine would typically be a good dosage to help with brain fog and memory problems? The standard recommended dose is 1 tablet, 3 x a day (which is 15 mg a day total, taken as 3 5-mg tablets per day.) But, according to Dr. Wollschlaeger, some researchers have doubled the dose, but the extra dose did not make any difference in terms of results, or side effects.

If you started taking vinpocetine, how soon should you see results? "In seven to ten days," according to Dr. Wollschlaeger.

"We don't have to wait 4 or 6 or 8 weeks, like with gingko, to see results."

Some researchers also have found that vinpocetine has additional benefits, such as:​

  • Protecting the retina against the hepatitis B virus
  • Helping alcoholics recover from ethanol-induced toxicity
  • Dealing with space motion sickness

Dr. Wollschlaeger is a private practice family physician in North Miami Beach.