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Is Long-Term Use of Ginkgo Biloba Effective for Alzheimer’s Disease?

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An estimated 5.1 million adults in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institute on Aging. A common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease affects cognitive and behavioral function.

In the later stages of the disease, Alzheimer’s disease significantly affects memory and cognition, resulting in patients being unable to recognize their family members and understand language.

Because of the serious effects of the disease, research has investigated new treatment possibilities. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration have approved four medications for Alzheimer’s disease: donepezil, rivastigmine, galantamine and memantine.

Rivastigmine and galantamine are for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, while memantine is for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. Donepezil is used for mild to moderate as well as severe Alzheimer’s.

Some patients have looked into alternative treatments to help with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. One such alternative treatment is ginkgo biloba. The herb contains two components thought to have medicinal effects: flavonoids and terpenoids.

The University of Maryland Medical Center noted that in Europe, ginkgo biloba is used for the treatment of dementia, with the original rationale being that the herbal medicine improved flow of blood to the brain. Currently, it is thought that it protects cells in the brain that are damaged by Alzheimer’s disease.

Possible benefits of ginkgo biloba include improvements in cognitive function, social behavior and activities of daily living, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

However, long-term use of ginkgo biloba may not protect users’ Alzheimer’s disease from progressing. A randomized double-blind study investigated the effects of gingko biloba on Alzheimer’s disease progression over five years.

The study included 2,854 participants, who were divided into two groups: a group that received at least one ginkgo biloba extract dose (1,406 individuals), and a group that received at least one placebo dose (1,414 participants).

The results showed that after five years, 61 individuals in the ginkgo biloba group developed probable Alzheimer’s disease, compared to 73 participants in the control group.

The authors found that in terms of death, 76 participants in the gingko biloba group and 82 participants in the control group passed away. In addition, 65 participants in the gingko biloba group and 60 participants in the placebo group had a stroke.

The authors noted that when comparing the effects of gingko biloba to the placebo, they did not see gingko biloba reduce patients’ risks of Alzheimer’s disease progression.


MayoClinic.com. Alzheimer’s Disease. Web. 26 September 2012

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Alzheimer’s Disease. Web. 26 September 2012

National Institute on Aging. Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet. Web. 26 September 2012

University of Maryland Medical Center. Ginkgo Biloba. Web. 26 September 2012

Vellas, B. et al. “Long-term use of standardised ginkgo biloba extract for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease (GuidAge): a randomised placebo-controlled trial.” The Lancet Neurology. Web. 26 September 2012

Reviewed September 27, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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