An ingredient found in dietary supplements targeted at increasing cognitive performance, weight loss, and increased energy may cause miscarriage or other harmful effects to a fetus, the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) announced earlier this week.
A report conducted by the National Institute of Health's Toxicology Program found that consuming vinpocetine was associated with adverse reproductive effects. Such products containing vinpocetine may do so under another name such as "Vinca minor extract", "lesser periwinkle extract", or "common periwinkle extract".
“These findings are particularly concerning since products containing vinpocetine are widely available for use by women of childbearing age. That’s why today we’re advising pregnant women and women who could become pregnant not to take vinpocetine,” wrote the FDA in a statement released Monday. “We are also advising firms marketing dietary supplements containing vinpocetine to evaluate their product labeling to ensure that it provides safety warnings against use by pregnant women and women who could become pregnant.”
There is nothing natural about vinpocetine, according to the FDA. The synthetic compound is either derived from vincamine, an alkaloid found in periwinkle (Vinca minor L.) plants invasive to much of North America, or from tabersonine, an alkaloid found in African Voacanga tree seeds. An analysis of the effects of vinpocetine on pregnant rats and rabbits found that it decreased the weight of fetuses and increased the risk of a miscarriage. Furthermore, blood levels of vinpocetine measured in the animals experiencing such negative effects were around the same in people who had taken just one dose, meaning pregnant women could have similar experiences. Officials note that these findings present “clear evidence of developmental toxicity in vinpocetine.”
In 2016, the FDA wrote that “vinpocetine (1) does not meet the definition of a dietary ingredient, and (2) is excluded from the definition of a dietary supplement in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).”
An analysis of vinpocetine levels in various supplements found that a “significant number of products” had different amounts from what was stated on the label, which could result in higher, unsafe doses being unintentionally consumed.
An estimated three-quarters of American adults take some form of dietary supplement, according to a 2018 survey conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, an increase of 10 percent in less than a decade.