The brain is undoubtedly one of the more important organs in our body. It allows us to feel emotions, move our bodies, make important choices and communicate with others. As we grow older in age our brain size begins to shrink. Cognitive decline and other brain disorders are common in the aging population. Of course, our genes play a role in brain health but what about modifiable risk factors. Lifestyle factors
Brain and memory health are important and the supplement industry is taking note of this need. Nootropic supplements are intended to enhance memory, focus, mental energy and even cognitive performance. Research has identified numerous supplements or ingredients that are safe and effective for use in brain health. The market is overflowing with brain-boosting supplements or combinations of ingredients meant to support brain health.
Despite the availability of well researched supplements, lesser known ingredients or products can make it to the market. Some of these are great and others not so much. Vinpocetine is one of those ingredients. Vinpocetine is a synthetic compound that is similar to alkaloids found in periwinkle plants. Interestingly, it was originally developed in Europe as a drug to treat cognitive and cerebrovascular disorders such as stroke, neurodegenerative diseases, dementia and cognitive deficits. It is sold as a drug in other countries such as Japan, Europe, Mexico and Russia as well. Interestingly, Vinpocetine is available over-the-counter as a dietary supplement in the United States and Canada. Being categorized as both a drug and a dietary supplement is a bit confusing. Let’s take a deeper look at this ingredient’s benefits, risks and if it should be added into your lineup of brain boosting supplements.
Vinpocetine has different effects in the body but two are most noted for brain boosting benefits. First, vinpocetine increases blood flow to the brain. This occurs because vinpocetine inhibits the enzyme PDE1 resulting in widening of blood vessels which increases blood flow. Increased blood allows for greater oxygen and glucose uptake in the brain. This is thought to have both a cognitive boosting and cardioprotective benefits. Vinpocetine also inhibits IKKβ, a protein that plays a role in the inflammatory process. Decreasing inflammation Numerous clinical research studies involving Vinpocetine have been conducted. The results of these studies demonstrate the effectiveness of vinpocetine improving both short-term and long-term memory when compared to the placebo.
There are some risks associated with vinpocetine. One contraindications of this drug/supplement is for those on blood thinners or with an upcoming surgery. The FDA released a warning that women who may be pregnant or breastfeeding should not take vinpocetine. Although the FDA tentatively concluded that vinpocetine does not meet the definition of a dietary ingredient, it is still available as a dietary supplement in the United States. Despite the evidence on the effectiveness of vinpocetine, I would pass on including this in your daily routine unless under the supervision of a medical professional. There are plenty of other brain-enhancing nootropics such as caffeine, L-theanine and creatine that are safe and available over the counter.
Cassie Evans is a registered dietitian and a published researcher. She has studied sports nutrition and completed an internship with the University of Miami Sports Nutrition Team and Nova Southeastern University’s sports performance team. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Sports Science and received her CISSN in 2018. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Human and Sports Performance from the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions.
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