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Ginkgo biloba is a popular supplement and one of the top-selling herbal medicines. Ginkgo biloba extract is collected from the dried green leaves of the plant and is available as liquid extracts, capsules, and tablets. People use it for a variety of reasons.
The therapeutic properties of the ginkgo plant are said to include treatment for blood disorders and memory problems, enhancement of cardiovascular function and to improve eye health.
Gingko contains high levels of flavonoids and terpenoids, antioxidants that provide protection against oxidative cell damage from harmful free radicals. In this way, antioxidants are believed to help reduce the risk of cancer.
Also known as the maidenhair tree, ginkgo is one of the oldest species of tree in the world. The trees can grow more than 130 feet tall and can live for over 1,000 years. Some trees in China are said to be over 2,500 years old.
The tree is considered to be a “living fossil,” meaning that it has continued to survive even after major extinction events.
The extract can be taken as a supplement, and the dried leaves of the plant can be used to make tea.
Ginkgo biloba may offer a range of health benefits, including improving cognitive function. Traditional uses are wide-ranging, but not all of them have been confirmed by research.
Memory enhancement, dementia, and Alzheimer’s
There is some evidence indicating that ginkgo can help people with dementia, although more studies are required to confirm this.
The benefits may include:
- improved thinking and memory
- better social behavior
- better ability to perform everyday tasks
One study found that an extract of ginkgo biloba, known as EGb 761, was clinically effective in treating Alzheimer’s dementia.
Other research, published in JAMA, similarly concluded that EGb 761 was safe to use and possibly effective in stabilizing and possibly improving cognitive and the social functioning patients with dementia for between 6 and 12 months.
Researchers believe that ginkgo improves cognitive function because it promotes good blood circulation in the brain and protects the brain and other parts from neuronal damage.
However, other research suggests that ginkgo may not improve memory among people who are healthy.
Ginkgo may help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.
However, people who take Xanax for anxiety should not use ginkgo, because ginkgo may reduce the drug’s effectiveness.
One small study observed improvements in the vision of people with glaucoma who took 120 milligrams a day of gingko over a period of 8 weeks. Some studies have also suggested that gingko may help people with macular degeneration to keep their sight for longer.
Ginkgo is available in capsule form, as tablets, liquid extracts, and dried leaf for teas.
In studies, adults have used between 120 and 240 milligrams a day in divided doses. It appears to take 4 to 6 weeks before improvements are noticed.
People who should not take gingko biloba include:
- pregnant or breastfeeding women
- those with epilepsy
- people taking blood thinners
Patients with diabetes should not use gingko without first checking with a physician.
Possible side effects of ginkgo biloba include:
Ginkgo and other supplements should only be used following discussion with a physician.
As with any medication, care is needed to prevent interactions with other drugs and other risks. Even ibuprofen combined with Gingko can increase the risk of internal bleeding.
Patients with blood circulation disorders or individuals on anticoagulants, such as aspirin, are at risk of experiencing undesirable effects after taking ginkgo.
Those taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) as antidepressants should not take ginkgo as it inhibits monoamine oxidase, reducing the effectiveness of the medications.
Combining the two may also increase the risk of a potentially fatal condition known as serotonin syndrome. Examples of SSRIs are Prozac, or fluoxetine, and sertraline, also known as Zoloft.
Gingko can also exaggerate both the good and bad effects of another type of antidepressant, known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
Ginkgo leaves contain long-chain alkylphenols, which are highly allergenic. People who are allergic to poison ivy and other plants with alkylphenols should completely avoid taking ginkgo.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health state that eating raw or roasted ginkgo seeds can be poisonous and may lead to serious side effects.
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.”
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 Research, other traditional uses of ginkgo biloba include:
- preventing bed wetting
- increasing sexual energy
- soothing bladder irritation
- treating intestinal worms
- treating gonorrhea
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.
Ginkgo biloba supplements are available to purchase in many health food stores and online.