Ginkgo biloba, also known as the maidenhair tree, is one of the oldest species of trees on the planet. The tree is considered to be a "living fossil", meaning that it has continued to survive even after major extinction events.
Ginkgo trees have very unique properties - they are capable of growing more than 130 feet and can live for over one thousand years. In fact, there are some trees in China are said to be over 2,500 years old.1
The plant has a number of therapeutic properties and contains high levels of flavonoids and terpenoids, these are antioxidants that provide protection against oxidative cell damage from harmful free radicals.
Over recent years, ginkgo supplements have become increasingly popular - they are currently among the top-selling herbal medications. Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) is collected from the dried green leaves of the plant and is available as liquid extracts, capsules, and tablets.
The dried leaves of the plant can also be used to make tea.
Possible health benefits of ginkgo biloba
The possible medicinal uses and health benefits of ginkgo biloba are featured below.
Memory enhancement, dementia and alzheimer's
There is some evidence that ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 may assist with dementia, although more research is required.
There is some evidence indicating that people with dementia can benefit from taking ginkgo, although more studies are required. Some of its benefits can include:
- Improved thinking
- Improved memory
- Better social behavior.
"The clinical efficacy of the ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in dementia of the Alzheimer type and multi-infarct dementia" was confirmed in a study published in the journal Pharmacopsychiatry4
Another study5, published in JAMA, similarly found that EGb 761 "was safe and appears capable of stabilizing and, in a substantial number of cases, improving the cognitive performance and the social functioning of demented patients for 6 months to 1 year."
Researchers believe that ginkgo improves cognitive function because it promotes good blood circulation in the brain and protects it from neuronal damage.
However, ginkgo may not improve memory among people who are healthy.
A meta-analysis, published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental in 20126, found that there was zero effect of ginkgo on attention and memory in healthy individuals.
Ginkgo may help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.
One study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research7, found that people with generalized anxiety disorder who took ginkgo experienced better anxiety relief than those on placebo.
History of ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo Biloba trees can live for thousands
Courtesy: Missouri Botanical Garden
The Missouri Botanical Garden says that ginkgo biloba is "the only member of a group of ancient plants believed to have inhabited the earth up to 150 million years ago."2
Introduced very early to human history, the trees were originally cultivated for consumption and as a traditional medicine.
Ginkgo biloba was first used for its medicinal properties in Ancient China. The Chinese took ginkgo for its claimed cognitive benefits and to alleviate symptoms of asthma, they also ate ginkgo nuts because of their "strengthening" properties.
According to the Institute for Natural Products Research3, other traditional uses of ginkgo biloba include:
- Preventing bed wetting
- Increasing sexual energy
- Soothe bladder irritation.
- Treating intestinal worms
- Treating gonorrhea.
Ginkgo biloba's introduction to the western world
Engelbert Kaempfer was the first European to discover ginkgo, in the late 1600s. By 1771 Linnaeus finally named the tree Ginkgo Biloba which translates into "silver plume with two lobes."
In 1784 ginkgo was brought over to America to the garden of William Hamilton.
Possible side effects of ginkgo biloba
Patients with blood circulation disorders or individuals on anticoagulants, such as aspirin, are at risk of experiencing undesirable effects after taking ginkgo.
In addition, if you are on antidepressants you are strongly advised not to take ginkgo as it inhibits monoamine oxidase, reducing the effectiveness of the medications (such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and monoamine oxidase inhibitors).
Possible side effects of ginkgo biloba include:
Ginkgo biloba precautions
Ginkgo leaves contain long-chain alkylphenols, which are highly allergenic. Therefore, people who are allergic to poison ivy and other plants with alkylphenols, are advised to completely avoid taking ginkgo.