Since I spent the last post questioning the validity of an herbal supplement, I wanted to balance my blog by sharing another herb with some evidence-based potential.
One of my friends is very into nutrition...and his questions for me challenge me to keep up-to-date and be cutting edge. One day he wrote to ask if I'd ever heard of an herb called "vinpocetine." He'd heard it was like Viagra for the brain, in that it increased brain blood flow and circulation of vital nutrients, while making it easier for the brain to remove toxic waste products.
I rolled my eyes as I read his email, thinking I'd heard it all. But, curious, I went to PubMed. Sure enough, there were 23 pages of titles about vinpocetine and the hopeful actions it seemed to have on the brain and nervous system; the first one was published way back in 1979!
If you happen to be reading this, Michael, I greatly appreciate your voracious curiosity and your generosity in sharing things you learn with me. You get credit for this "find" and I want to thank you for giving me a great opportunity to help a lot of people who may benefit from this information. :)
Vinpocetine, also known as Caviton, is a derivative of a plant in the periwinkle family. In the brain, some of the effects of vinpocetine appear to be: (1) protecting the brain against ischemic cell damage (the kind of damage that occurs when there is insufficient oxygen). Improved glucose utilization and blood flow in damaged areas has been shown when vinpocetine was administered even a week or two after the ischemic damage occurred; (2) acting as a vasodilator (as my friend suggested, improves blood flow), which has been shown to be beneficial in treating vascular dementia and stroke; (3) reducing seizure activity and potentially helping to manage epilepsy; (4) improving the flexibility of red blood cells, making it easier for them to move through constricted spaces and therefore improving blood flow; (5) preventing death to neurons that have been overstimulated by excitatory substances such as glutamate; (6) protecting cells from the damage created by amyloid beta peptides, making it a potential treatment for Alzheimer's disease; (7) improving the function of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter important to memory function; (8) enhancing the neuroprotective activity of other compounds such as adenosine; (9) improving the uptake of glucose through the blood-brain barrier (glucose is the brain's primary energy source); (10)acting as an antioxidant, protecting neurons from stress-related damage; and (11) protecting astrocytes, another type of brain cell that supports the blood-brain barrier, nourishes other brain cells, and repairs brain tissue.
Vinpocetine appears to be particularly effective in the hippocampus, the brain's factual memory center. Learning and memory have actually been shown to improve in individuals who have been given vinpocetine.
Vinpocetine may also promote health outside of the brain and nervous system. It has been shown to lessen menopausal symptoms, prevent the development of gastric lesions created on exposure to substances such as alcohol, and help with urinary incontinence. It reduces gallbladder motility and, potentially, gallstone formation. It has been used to treat tumoral calcinosis, (calcium-based masses). And it shows potential in controlling pain.
One small nutritional note: vinpocetine appears to be better absorbed when taken after a meal than it does when taken on an empty stomach.
Many of the articles about vinpocetine are in Russian, Chinese, and Hungarian. On the chance that anyone reading this may wish to read some of the references, I only cited studies written in English. But if you go to Pub Med (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez)and key in "vinpocetine", you can see for yourself just how much this herb has been studied.
I will note, there are also studies refuting the effectiveness of vinpocetine, but the results seem to vary depending on study design. My guess is that, just like with medications, different people will respond to different treatments in a variety of ways. The one thing I DID like about what I found, was that there were no studies suggesting any dangers to using vinpocetine. If it can't hurt...and it might help...why not try it?
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Founder of the inCYST Institute for Hormone Health, Director of Marketing for Chow Locally. I have a passion for sustainable living initiatives that involve good food, beautiful art, and warm, genuine people. I am blessed that this blog has connected me with people from all around the world and made it feel a whole lot smaller!