Can Ginkgo Biloba Boost Your Brain Health?

Ginko Branch
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Ginkgo biloba is an antioxidant-rich herb used to enhance brain health and treat a variety of conditions. Although dietary supplements typically contain extracts of the plant's leaves, its seeds are commonly used for healing purposes in traditional Chinese medicine. Proponents suggest that ginkgo biloba can protect against aging-related issues such as dementia by improving blood flow to the brain.

Uses for Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba is said to aid in the treatment or prevention of the following health problems:

In addition, ginkgo biloba is said to preserve memory, as well as promote recovery from stroke.

The Health Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba

Here's a look at the science behind the potential health benefits of ginkgo biloba:

1)  Brain Health

So far, studies testing ginkgo biloba's effects against aging-related declines in brain health have yielded mixed results.

In a research review published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease in 2015, for instance, scientists analyzed nine previously published clinical trials focusing on ginkgo biloba's possible role in the treatment of cognitive impairment and dementia.

All of the trials focused on a ginkgo biloba extract called EGb761.

In their conclusion, the review's authors state that taking 240 mg of EGb761 per day for at least 22 weeks may stabilize or slow decline in cognition, function, and behavior in patients with cognitive impairment or dementia.

However, an earlier report (published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2009) concluded that evidence for ginkgo biloba's effects against dementia and cognitive impairment is "inconsistent and unreliable." In their review of 36 clinical trials assessing ginkgo biloba's efficacy and safety as a treatment for dementia or cognitive decline, the report's authors found that the herb appears to be safer than placebo [link: http://altmedicine.about.com/od/alternativemedicinebasics/g/placebo.htm] but that most of the reviewed studies were significantly flawed.

2)  Eye Health

Ginkgo biloba shows promise in the treatment of glaucoma, suggests a small study published in the Journal of Glaucoma in 2013. In tests on 42 patients, researchers determined that treatment with ginkgo biloba extract may help slow the progression of glaucoma-related damage to the visual field.

What's more, a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2013 found some evidence that ginkgo biloba may be of possible benefit in the treatment of age-related macular degeneration.

3)  Blood Pressure

It's too soon to tell whether ginkgo biloba can help treat high blood pressure, according to a research review published in Phytomedicine in 2014. Although six of the nine reviewed clinical trials found that gingko biloba may help reduce blood pressure, the herb did not appear to have significant effects on blood pressure in the other three trials.

Since most of the reviewed studies were considerably flawed, the review's authors state that more rigorous research is needed before ginkgo biloba can be recommended for blood pressure control.

 

4)  Stroke Recovery

Ginkgo biloba might not be beneficial to individuals recovering from stroke, according to a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2005. In their analysis of 10 clinical trials, the report's authors found no convincing evidence that ginkgo biloba can improve neurological function in patients who have experienced acute ischemic stroke (the most common stroke type).

Side Effects & Safety Concerns

Ginkgo biloba may trigger the following side effects: allergic skin reactions, diarrhea, digestive problems, dizziness, headaches, muscle weakness, and nausea.

Since ginkgo biloba may affect blood clotting, it shouldn't be used by people with bleeding disorders or those who are taking medication or supplements that affect blood clotting, such as warfarin, aspirin, garlic and vitamin E. Individuals with epilepsy or diabetes should also avoid use of ginkgo biloba, unless the herb is taken under the supervision of a medical professional. Pregnant women shouldn't take ginkgo.

Given the number of medications and supplements that may interact with ginkgo, it's a good idea to consult your primary care provider before taking ginkgo.

Ginkgo contains a compound called ginkgotoxin. Although ginkgotoxin is found in the largest amounts in ginkgo nuts, it's also present in small quantities in the leaves. Structurally similar to vitamin B6, it has been found to block vitamin B6 activity. According to one case report, a woman developed generalized tonic clonic seizure after eating large amounts of ginkgo nuts and had lowered blood vitamin B6 levels. (After treatment, which included vitamin B6 medication, her symptoms resolved and no seizures recurred).

Where to Find Ginkgo Biloba

Dietary supplements and teas containing ginkgo biloba extract are sold in many natural-food stores, grocery stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in herbal products. You can also purchase ginkgo biloba products online.

Sources

Birks J1, Grimley Evans J. "Ginkgo biloba for cognitive impairment and dementia." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Jan 21;(1):CD003120.

Evans JR1. "Ginkgo biloba extract for age-related macular degeneration." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 31;1:CD001775.

Lee J1, Sohn SW, Kee C. "Effect of Ginkgo biloba extract on visual field progression in normal tension glaucoma." J Glaucoma. 2013 Dec;22(9):780-4.

Tan MS1, Yu JT2, Tan CC3, Wang HF4, Meng XF3, Wang C3, Jiang T4, Zhu XC4, Tan L5. "Efficacy and adverse effects of ginkgo biloba for cognitive impairment and dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis." J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;43(2):589-603.

Weinmann S1, Roll S, Schwarzbach C, Vauth C, Willich SN. "Effects of Ginkgo biloba in dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis." BMC Geriatr. 2010 Mar 17;10:14.

Xiong XJ1, Liu W2, Yang XC2, Feng B2, Zhang YQ3, Li SJ4, Li XK5, Wang J2. "Ginkgo biloba extract for essential hypertension: a systemic review." Phytomedicine. 2014 Sep 15;21(10):1131-6.

Yang M1, Xu DD, Zhang Y, Liu X, Hoeven R, Cho WC. "A systematic review on natural medicines for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease with meta-analyses of intervention effect of ginkgo." Am J Chin Med. 2014;42(3):505-21.

Zeng X1, Liu M, Yang Y, Li Y, Asplund K. "Ginkgo biloba for acute ischaemic stroke." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Oct 19;(4):CD003691.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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