A Common Ingredient in Many Supplements Is Dangerous for Pregnant Women

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Contents of some herbal supplements sold across the country in vitamin and nutrition stores may pose a significant danger to some people. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that pregnant women are particularly at risk.

The FDA warning is based on data from the National Institute of Health’s National Toxicology Program. The ingredient is called vinpocetine and is primarily found in dietary supplements. WebMD calls vinpocetine “a man-made chemical resembling a substance found in the periwinkle plant Vinca minor.” It is used in supplements that claim to treat a number of maladies from memory problems to fatigue to motion sickness to hearing loss.

Specifically, the FDA warned pregnant women that taking products with vinpocetine can harm fetal development and increase the chances of miscarriages. The warning was for both pregnant women and women who may become pregnant. The FDA additionally pointed out that vinpocetine is regulated as a prescription drug in some countries.

The warning is the result of a number of studies of the effects of vinpocetine on animals. In the official statement about the ingredient, FDA experts wrote: “The blood levels of vinpocetine measured in the pregnant animals were similar to those reported in people after taking a single dose of vinpocetine, indicating that pregnant women may experience adverse effects from vinpocetine similar to those seen in the pregnant animals.”

Vinpocetine-based products are easily available online. A bottle of 100 tablets of 10 milligrams each is sold under several labels for as little as $13.50. Some of these are promoted as “good for brain health” or “better memory.”  Vinpocetine is also an ingredient often found in supplements that have been promoted as the the best ways to keep weight off.

This move is part of the introduction of new consumer-friendly tools from the FDA under a program called Dietary Supplement Ingredient Advisory List. Vinpocetine is not on the list of the 25 most dangerous drugs.

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