Herb used in weight loss and memory supplements is linked to miscarriages and birth defects, FDA warns

  • Vinpocetine is a man-made chemical derived from the periwinkle plant, and used in various over-the-counter dietary supplements sold in US vitamin stores
  • New animal studies have linked it to miscarriages and low birth weights
  • It has previously been linked to low blood pressure and headaches
  • In China, Russia and Germany, it is a controlled ingredient used in prescriptions 

Herbal supplements promoted for memory boosts and weight loss may cause miscarriages and birth defects, US health officials warn.

Vinpocetine is a man-made chemical derived from the periwinkle plant, and used in various over-the-counter dietary supplements sold in vitamin stores, like GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe.

But new animal studies found even small doses of the herb were linked to smaller birth weights and miscarriages.

In a statement issued on Monday, the FDA urged women who are pregnant or plan to have children to avoid the ingredient.

Vinpocetine is a man-made chemical derived from the periwinkle plant, sold as a prescription substance in China and Germany, but allowed in unregulated supplements in the US

Vinpocetine is a man-made chemical derived from the periwinkle plant, sold as a prescription substance in China and Germany, but allowed in unregulated supplements in the US

‘These findings are particularly concerning since products containing vinpocetine are widely available for use by women of childbearing age,’ a spokesperson said. 

‘That’s why today we’re advising pregnant women and women who could become pregnant not to take vinpocetine.’ 

Vinpocetine has fallen in a grey area of regulation, regulated in some markets (China, Germany, Russia) as a prescription product to treat cognitive issues after a stroke. 

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But it is allowed by others (including the US) to be treated as low-risk herbal fare. 

The FDA, crucially, has yet to deliver its own verdict on the matter, for now allowing the ingredient on shelves. 

In October 2015, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill called for an investigation into vinpocetine, among other ingredients being touted as brain boosters. 

It came after a study in the journal Wiley, analyzing 23 dietary supplements at GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe, found high levels of vinpocetine in 17 of the products. 

For example, China’s prescriptions are capped at 40mg concentration. Some of the supplements studied in this research contained 32mg vinpocetine. 

In the new statement, the FDA vows to starting to clamp down. 

‘Today’s safety warning is just one of many steps the FDA is taking to adapt to the realities of the evolving dietary supplement industry,’ the statement said.  

‘Protecting the public from unsafe dietary supplements remains a top priority for the FDA.’ 



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