Is Vinpocetine Really Such A Good Nootropic?
Let’s Take A Look At The Science
Vinpocetine is one of the most interesting substances we come across during the course of our product reviews. While vinpocetine has been used in brain supplements for a very long time, it seems to have recently fallen out of favor somewhat. A few years ago, vinpocetine was one of the most commonly used ingredients in daily nootropic stacks. Today, we very rarely see it.
We have no idea why this has happened. It isn’t like there’s been a big, breakthrough study which has shown vinpocetine to be bunk. On the contrary, we now have more support for the use of vinpocetine as a nooropic than ever before.
It is probably just the result of changing fashions; vinpocetine just isn’t an ‘in’ nootropic right now. The big manufacturers are using it less, which means that new manufacturers are less likely to use it, which means that bloggers are less likely to write about it, and the cycle reinforces itself.
After all, the big supplement manufacturers don’t choose ingredients based on what is going to give you the best results. They create formulas based on what will be the most popular and the most profitable (not every manufacturer, but most of the big brands operate this way).
In this article, we’re going to try to turn the tide a little bit.
We think that vinpocetine is a great nootropic.
It has a lot of scientific proof behind it; there are plenty of clinical trials proving that it has significant, positive effects in humans. It is well tolerated. It’s extremely predictable.
Above all, it’s effective.
Below you will find a thorough explanation of what vinpocetine is, what it does, and how it works. We’re going to go through some of the most convincing studies showing that vinpocetine improves cognitive function. We’ll discuss the risks involved with vinpocetine supplementation. Then we’ll compare it to some other substances that do similar things to vinpocetine to see if it’s worth adding to your stack.
So let’s get to it!
If you’ve used vinpocetine in the past, we’d love to hear what you thought. Please share your experiences in the comments section at the end. If you have any questions, post them in the comments section too and we’ll get back to you asap.
What Is Vinpocetine?
Vinpocetine is actually a synthetic derivative of a naturally-occurring alkaloid called vincamine. Vincamine is found in very large concentrations in the leaves of vinca minor, which is better known as Lesser Periwinkle. Vinpocetine was first isolated from vinca minor in the 1970’s, and it has been in mass production since about 1978.
You will therefore often see Vinpocetine listed as Periwinkle Extract, although this is not strictly correct. While vinpocetine can be said to be a natural nootropic, most of the vinpocetine in use today has been synthetically produced in laboratory conditions.
If a supplement explicitly lists vinpocetine as “Periwinkle Extract”, then it may well be a natural plant extract. But if you just see “vinpocetine”, then it is probably a synthetic derivative of vincamine.
Vincamine is itself treated as a drug. In parts of the EU it is a prescription medicine, while in the US it can be obtained as a dietary supplement.
However, vincamine doesn’t have anywhere near the kind of scientific pedigree that vinpocetine has, and it doesn’t necessarily seem to work in exactly the same way. Or to put that another way, it doesn’t seem to have as many observable effects in humans.
So what are these effects?
Why do people use vinpocetine?
What Does Vinpocetine Does?
The reason we find vinpocetine is so interesting is because it seems to have multiple different mechanisms of action. These mechanisms are distinct, they have different end results, and yet they are complimentary of one another.
This isn’t normally the case with natural nootropic substances. So vinpocetine really is an exciting substance for us to look at!
The main reason why people use vinpocetine as a nootropic is the fact that it seems to improve blood flow in the brain.
Multiple studies have proven that vinpocetine supplementation directly improves cerebral circulation.
In this paper, originally published in a Hungarian journal in 2007, researchers looked at vinpocetine as a potential treatment for cerebrovascular diseases. The researchers gave participants vinpocetine and then looked at how their brain activity changed using things like positron emission tomography, SPECT and and TCD scans.
The researchers concluded: “The cited studies showed the potential multi-pharmacological effects of vinpocetine and its beneficial hemorheological potential. The drug also improves the blood flow and the metabolism of the affected brain areas.”
The effect was enough for the authors to state that “vinpocetine improves the quality of life in chronic cerebrovascular patients.”
These results concur with the findings of several other studies looking at vinpocetine and its effect on blood flow. This trial, published in 2002, also found that vinpocetine improves brain blood flow. Likewise with this study.
Another reason why people use vinpocetine as a nootropic is the fact that it seems to have potent anti-inflammatory properties.
This is actually the reason why vinpocetine first started appearing in natural brain supplements. Manufacturers at the time made a big deal out of its anti-inflammatory abilities. Rightly so too. Reducing inflammation would definitely help protect brain health and functionality over the long-term. Chronic brain inflammation has been linked to multiple diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and systemic lupus.
So it isn’t that they were wrong to celebrate this property of vinpocetine. It is just that the blood flow-boosting properties now seem to be much more significant, not to mention relevant to short-term cognitive performance.
Vinpocetine seems to be an extremely powerful anti-inflammatory agent.
Our main source for this is a 2010 paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the U.S.A. This paper discusses vinpocetine’s anti-inflammatory properties in some detail. the researchers cite several studies showing that vinpocetine supplementation does indeed reduce inflammation in different parts of the body. They discuss several other aspects of vinpocetine, but they are quite emphatic about its ability to reduce systemic inflammation.
We strongly recommend that you check out this study – it is probably the most conclusive study on this topic, and it is heavily cited by the authors of the study mentioned above. It was originally published in an earlier version of the same journal.
The conclusions drawn by these researchers are pretty unequivocal: “Interestingly, vinpocetine inhibits NF-κB–dependent inflammatory responses by directly targeting IKK, independent of its well-known inhibitory effects on phosphodiesterase and Ca2+regulation. These studies thus identify vinpocetine as a unique antiinflammatory agent that may be repositioned for the treatment of many inflammatory diseases.”
So not only do we have multiple studies all pointing to vinpocetine being a potent, systemic anti-inflammatory, but we have a mechanistic explanation for that action. You can’t really ask for much more than that!
Finally, we come to the least cited but perhaps one of the most compelling reasons why vinpocetine is often included in natural nootropic supplements; it is an anti-oxidant. A powerful anti-oxidant.
As you know, this is an important nootropic function, but it isn’t particularly impressive.
Reducing oxidation protects brain cells from cumulative damage; it helps keep them healthy and functional over time. Reactive oxidative species (ROS) are a natural by-product of oxygen metabolism. But when we’re exposed to environmental stress or pollutants, ROS levels can quickly skyrocket, causing excessive damage to your cells.
While this is great for ensuring good overall mental and physical health throughout life, it doesn’t have a very big effect on cognitive function in the short or medium term.
It doesn’t improve cognition above baseline (except by preventing decline and making you cognitively enhanced relative to your peers).
That’s why few people talk about this aspect of vinpocetine supplementation – the othe rproperties are just far more interesting!
However, it is still true that vinpocetine is a potent anti-oxidant. It is thought to even potentially “exert neuroprotective properties which might be of importance and contribute to its clinical efficacy in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease or other neurodegenerative disorders in which oxidative stress is involved.”
Any stack containing vinpocetine – enough of it – can therefore be said to have a powerful anti-oxidant profile.
How Does Vinpocetine Affect Cognitive Function?
That’s all well and good, but how does vinpocetine help you?
What does improved blood flow or reduced inflammation actually mean for your day-to-day cognitive function?
Thankfully, there are lots of studies showing exactly what vinpocetine supplementation can do in humans! We’re going to just breeze through some of the better studies. This section is not exhaustive. We’re hoping you’ll use this section as a springboard for your own research. Look at the bibliographies of the studies we cite and go from there!
Right, let’s get into it!
First off, vinpocetine supplementation seems to significantly improve memory function.
A study published in a 1985 edition of the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology showed that 40mg of vinpocetine per day was able to dramatically improve performance in a “barrage” of cognitive tests. To quote the researchers: “memory as assessed using the Sternberg technique was found to be significantly improved following treatment with vinpocetine 40 mg when compared to placebo”.
Another fascinating trial, published in the Annals of Medical & Health Sciences Research found that vinpocetine supplementation improves memory and concentration in people with epilepsy and dementia. Their conclusion is quite emphatic: “Vinpocetine was effective in improving memory and concentration of patients with epilepsy and dementia”.
However, it must be stressed that the authors found the effects to be minimal in the dementia-affected group.
You don’t need to use very much vinpocetine to see benefits. The above studies have all used doses in the range of 20-40mg. But you can significantly improve brain blood flow using far less.
This study gave participants just 15mg of vinpocetine per day for 6 days. The researchers found that “increase of blood flow was recognizable after a single oral dose of 5 mg vinpocetine and was more conspicuous after multiple oral doses”.
That’s why we recommend using 5-10mg as a minimum effective dose. The benefits in memory function seen in the studies above stem from improved blood flow, and you can achieve that with just 5mg, although 15mg per day produces effects that are “more conspicuous”.
Vinpocetine or Ginkgo Biloba?
Some of the more experienced nootropic users among you will have noticed that vinpocetine seems to work in a very similar way to ginkgo biloba.
The precise mechanisms involved here are different of course; they promote blood flow through the delivery of different substances, and in different ways.
Is one better than the other?
Should you use Ginkgo Biloba or Vinpocetine?
In our opinion, this very much depends on where your priorities lie.
If you want to use fewer ingredients overall and hit the most possible areas of cognitive enhancement, then vinpocetine is probably the way to go. It just has more active properties and mechanisms of action than Ginkgo Biloba.
However, of the two popular nootropics, Ginkgo Biloba seems to be the more effective blood flow enhancer and ultimately the more effective cognitive enhancer.
As we explain in this article, Ginkgo Biloba enhances blood flow by both vasodilation and by manipulating blood viscosity.
There is a lot more research showing that Ginkgo Biloba improves cognitive performance in humans.
We put a high premium on clinical studies actually showing real cognitive enhancements in practice. In our opinion, Ginkgo wins in that area hands down.
Is Vinpocetine Safe? – A Look At The Side Effects
In our opinion, vinpocetine is a very safe nootropic substance when used properly – that is, when taken in reasonable quantities by people who have no pre-existing conditions which make vinpocetine use unsuitable.
Vinpocetine is not known to cause side effects under normal circumstances.
The studies we have cited above do not report serious adverse health effects in large numbers.
Vinpocetine is widely used today, and few users seem to experience serious side effects when consuming between 5mg and 40mg per day.
However, this is all speaking very generally. There are lots of people out there for whom vinpocetine supplementation may not be suitable, even in the short-term.
We’re referring to anybody who might be adversely affected by manipulating cerebral blood flow.
If you have a history or higher risk of stroke, circulatory diseases, serious headaches, or anything related to cerebral circulation, then vinpocetine supplementation might not be safe for you.
We cannot possibly tell you whether or not vinpocetine is going to be safe for you. We don’t know your medical history, state of health, diet, or how you intend to take vinpocetine. We can only speak generally based on our experience and research.
Do your own research, and talk to a doctor!
You must be conscious of the following facts here:
- We ARE NOT doctors
- This is NOT intended to be medical advice
You must do your own research and talk to a qualified medical doctor before using any nootropic substances. These natural extracts are not meant to be a quick fix for cognitive decline. They are not a cure for anything. If you are suffering with serious cognitive decline then you MUST talk to a medical professional as soon as possible.
If you’ve tried vinpocetine in the past and you’ve found it causes side effects, please share your experiences in the comments!
Is Vinpocetine For You? Should You Add It To Your Stack?
So you’ve seen the studies, you know how vinpocetine works, and you’re aware of the general risks.
Should you add vinpocetine to your daily nootropic stack?
That depends what you want to achieve. There is no such thing as a one size fits all nootropic stack. You need to carefully evaluate your needs and desires, and then go on to find a nootropic stack suited to your needs.
Of course, there is such a thing as a full-spectrum, all boxes ticked brain supplement. But again, these can be tailored to your needs.
If you think you could use enhanced cerebral blood flow, reduced systemic inflammation, and a better anti-oxidant profile, vinpocetine could benefit you.