My 88 year old mother-in-law takes an herb from a flower. It’s called Vinpocetine. She is as sharp as a tack and has the memory of a 20 year old. She credits this flower pill for it. I’m only 50 and I can’t remember certain words or events in my own life. Have you heard of this, and can it help everyone with memory loss?--S.S., Newark, NJ
Answer: Vinpocetine is one of my favorite memory boosters which may account for sharpness. It’s a semi-synthetic derivative of “vincamine” which comes from the beautiful periwinkle plant and increases blood flow to your brain. There are many ways to increase blood flow in the body, but not many that can get past the brain’s outerwear, termed the “blood brain barrier.” The fact that vinpocetine can penetrate that, helps it deliver more precious oxygen, glucose and nutrients to your brain.
Vinpocetine can improve attention and alertness, and it may have a positive effect on the damaged brain, like for people who have suffered a stroke. Vinpocetine helps drive production of ATP, an energy molecule. Who couldn’t use a bit more brain energy?! Some fairly well-designed studies show that vinpocetine can help with poor night vision, glaucoma or macular degeneration. I think it is worth a try for people with some types of hearing loss, vertigo and Reynaud’s.
Because vinpocetine is so adept at increasing circulation, it begs the question, “Can it improve blood flow to my ailing heart?” I think it can, but do approve this with your physician and cardiologist. Vinpocetine dilates blood vessels, and seems to decrease plaque formation.
I realize some of you will want to start vinpocetine, but please note that like all drugs, even the plant-based ones, there are risks. By increasing blood flow, vinpocetine will interact with all types of blood thinners including warfarin, clopidogrel (brand Plavix), Lovenox and heparin among others. I wouldn’t combine vinpocetine with natural blood thinners either, including ginkgo biloba or ginger. If you are scheduled for dental work, or surgery, please stop the herb two weeks before your visit. Vinpocetine is generally well tolerated at lower doses (like 10 mg per day), but when you get into higher doses (10 mg three or four times daily) then you may begin to experience any of the following: Nausea, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, hot flashes, dry mouth or headache. If you have any vascular or cardiac issues, please ask your doctor.
If your doctor approves of vinpocetine, buy it at any health food store. As I always say, “Start low!” So begin taking 5 or 10 mg daily. Effects are often noticed the first week. You can always titrate to higher doses if you want to, over a few weeks. Most clinical research trials use about 10 mg three times daily, but again, dosing is very individual and should be customized to your personal medical history and drug regimen.
Did You Know?
The FDA just approved a new prescription blood thinner that will compete against Plavix and Coumadin. It’s called Brilinta.