Now that Americans have been opening up more to natural brain-boosters, along comes another one that could have some astonishing effects.

Vinpocetine, derived from the common periwinkle plant, is touted as an booster of both cerebral circulation and memory.  In the United States, vinpocetine is an ingredient in dietary supplements for brain and mind enhancement.

Studies with vinpocetine show that it works in the brain in the following four ways: enhancing blood circulation in the brain, increasing the production of stored energy in brain cells, improving the brain's utilization of oxygen, and improving the brain's metabolism of glucose.

While the causes of common brain disorders are diverse and complex, any agent that can enhance cerebral efficiency overall enhance cognitive function. In the case of vinpocetine, this definitely seems to be the case.

One of the first questions that researchers set out to answer is whether vinpocetine crosses the blood-brain barrier- meaning it acts directly upon the brain. A study published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis reported that chemical analysis of Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) shows the presence of vinpocetine shortly after administration, proving that vinpocetine does indeed cross that barrier.  

One especially exciting finding is that vinpocetine may play a valuable role in preventing stroke. In a study conducted at the  Nagoya University School of Medicine in Japan, vinpocetine demonstrated the ability to enhance red blood cell deformability in the brain. The reduction of red blood cell deformability, which leads to the rigidifying of red blood cells, is a well known contributing factor in stroke.  

Researchers have been eager to determine whether vinpocetine has any value in memory enhancement. The answer is a definitive yes. In an Italian study of 22 elderly patients suffering from central nervous system degenerative disorders, 87 percent experienced improvement in cognitive function after taking 10 mg of vinpocetine daily for 30 days, followed by 5 mg three times daily for 60 days. No significant side effects were noted.

What about the possible value of vinpocetine in treating brain damage? A four week study conducted at Japan's Yokufukai Geriatric Hospital examined the effects of vinpocetine on patients recovering from stroke, cerebral hemorrhage, cerebral arteriosclerosis and transient ischemic attacks.  Of the 207 patients studied, 67 percent of patients taking 5 mg of vinpocetine three times daily experienced slight to marked improvement, without notable side effects. Given the severity of the conditions the patients suffered, their improvements were highly encouraging.

While many studies focus on the effects of vinpocetine for patients suffering from various degenerative conditions, researchers have also inquired into the effects of this agent in healthy individuals. In a German study, 40 healthy volunteers were given 40 mg of vinpocetine daily for two days. This brief course resulted in a significant improvement in memory as assessed by the Sternberg Memory Scanning Test. This study suggests that in normal, healthy people, vinpocetine can enhance memory quickly.

Vinpocetine may not be a cure-all, but it clearly demonstrates value in enhancing brain function and cognitive ability in many cases. As we strive to slow the aging process and fight back the deterioration of the brain and mind, vinpocetine stands to be one of the valuable agents we use for wellness as we grow older.

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide.  Chris is the author of 14 books, including Hot Plants, Tales from the Medicine Trail, Kava: Medicine Hunting in Paradise, The Whole Food Bible, Psyche Delicacies, and the international best-selling yoga book, The Five Tibetans. Richard Branson features Chris in his new book, Screw Business as Usual. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies, is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide, and is the author of fifteen books. Read more at MedicineHunter.com.