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What is Vinpocetine?

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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Jay Garcia
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Vinpocetine is a drug synthesized from vincamine, an extract of the leaf of Vinca Minor L, or the periwinkle plant. It is identified by the chemical name of vinpocetine-ethyl apovincaminate and sold under a variety of trade names, such as Intelectol and Cavinton. It has been used to treat cerebrovascular disorders for decades in Japan, Hungary, Germany, Poland, and Russia. While it is still largely a prescription-based medication in Europe, it is available as a dietary supplement in the US and Canada.

This medication improves cerebral functioning by a variety of mechanisms. For one thing, it increases blood circulation in the brain by inhibiting an enzyme called phosphodiesterase. It also stimulates adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production, the substance that provides energy in neural cells. This is significant since ATP availability tends to decrease with age and is a major cause of neural cell death. Vinpocetine is also valued for its nootropic effects, which means that it is considered to be a memory enhancer.

It also improves oxygen and glucose utilization in the brain. It is also credited with increasing the hormones, noradrenaline and dopamine. As a result, there is an increase in serotonin and acetylcholine concentration. The latter are neuromodulators found in virtually all autonomic ganglia, the clusters of brain cells that serve as bridges between the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.

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In addition to increasing blood flow and neurotransmission in the brain, vinpocetine also exhibits antioxidant and neuroprotective activity. Studies have shown that its presence in the brain deters the formation of free radicals and lipid peroxidation. It also appears to protect brain cells from the toxic effects of glutamate and N-methyl-d-aspartate. While studies on the therapeutic benefits of this medication are still preliminary, researchers are hopeful that it may have the potential to treat or prevent ischemic stroke and Alzheimer's disease.

Oral doses of vinpocetine usually enter the blood stream within an hour, but are not generally well absorbed. When taken with food, though, bioavailability increases 60-100 percent. However, studies have shown that it is best delivered intravenously and absorbed via the central nervous system. More importantly, these studies have shown that it is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. Once its in the right neighborhood, the medicine is readily taken up by the thalamus as well as the putamen and caudate nucleus, the middle section of the brain.

Vinpocetine may produce side effects in some people. The most commonly reported are stomach upset, nausea, dizziness, headache, and dry mouth. In addition, it should not be taken while pregnant or nursing, by people with seizure disorders, low blood pressure, or those with a history of liver or kidney disease. Since vinpocetine has vasodilating qualities, it should not be taken with blood-thinning or antiplatelet medications, including Coumadin (warfarin), aspirin therapy, garlic, or ginkgo.

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