NutraIngredients reports that US Senator Claire McCaskill, the ranking member of the US Senate Special Committee on Aging, recently petitioned the FDA to halt sales of supplements containing vinpocetine and picamilon until their safety can be investigated. These ingredients are found in supplements in the US, while in other countries they are classified as prescription drugs used to treat a variety of cerebrovascular disorders (conditions that affect the circulation of blood to the brain). The petition follows a new analysis, published in Drug Testing and Analysis, which tested a number of vinpocetine and picamilon supplements and found that the supplements had varying levels of potency. Out of 23 supplements labeled as containing vinopocetine, 17 contained between 0.3 to 32 mg per recommended daily serving and 6 contained none. Out of 31 supplements labeled as containing picamilon, 30 contained between 2.7 and 721.5 mg per recommended daily serving and 1 contained none. In other countries, some of these levels are considered prescription-level doses. Here are some facts about these ingredients:
Vinpocetine. Found in some supplements for cognitive support, vinpocetine is synthesized from vincamine, an alkaloid from the plant Vinca minor L. Some research has found that vinpocetine may increase blood flow to the brain. The FDA acknowledged vinpocetine as a new dietary ingredient in the 1990s; however, Senator McCaskill posits that the FDA didn’t subject it to enough scrutiny, and that it needs to be reexamined. There are no known side effects of Vinca minor L., according to the American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook.
Picamilon. Picamilon is a synthetic compound made by combining two nutrients: niacin (vitamin B3) and gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). Few supplements contain picamilon; those that do are mostly within the sports nutrition/bodybuilding category. The FDA does not consider picamilon a dietary ingredient and therefore supplements that contain it are considered adulterated.
While more research is required to understand potential side effects of taking these ingredients, this story does highlight the importance of buying supplements produced by reputable manufacturers that follow the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), a comprehensive set of rules that manufacturers are required by law to follow (although not all manufacturers do). The ingredients contained within supplements produced following GMPs have gone through testing during key stages in the manufacturing process and the finished product has been tested for identity, purity, and strength.