Ginkgo biloba has a long history in traditional as well as modern medicine. The Ginkgo tree is one of the oldest living trees and one of the most studied. Ginkgo trees can live as long as 1,000 years and grow up to 120 feet tall. Ginkgo biloba supplements are among the most popular herbal medications in the United States as well as in Europe.
Why ginkgo biloba is used
In traditional medicine, ginkgo is recommended to treat circulatory disorders and to improve memory. Ginkgo is believed to improve blood circulation by helping blood vessels dilate. This allows more blood to flow through the vessels. In the brain, this additional blood flow may help improve memory. Ginkgo is also sometimes believed to help relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. These results are not conclusive and other studies indicate that ginkgo is not effective in treating these conditions.
Some people believe ginkgo can also improve vision loss caused by specific conditions. Some studies show that ginkgo may improve vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and some types of glaucoma. Other studies indicate ginkgo decrease loss of color vision in patients with diabetes.
Ginkgo is also sometimes used to treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS), especially breast tenderness. Gingko has also been studied as a treatment for high blood pressure, and to prevent cancer. There is a long list of other conditions that ginkgo has been used to treat. Further study is needed to determine whether ginkgo is effective in treating any of them.
Ginkgo leaves also contain chemicals that appear to be strong antioxidants. Antioxidants work to counteract free radicals in the body that can cause damage to cells. Free radicals occur naturally in the body. They can damage cells by altering DNA which can contribute to a variety of health problems including heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Smoking, radiation, air pollution and other toxins can increase the activity of free radicals. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals in the body which can stop them from causing damage to cells.
How ginkgo biloba is used
Chinese herbal medicine has long used the leaves and seeds of the ginkgo fruit. Modern herbal use concentrates on an extract made from the leaves of the plant. Ginkgo seeds contain a toxin that can act as a poison if eaten. Ginkgo supplements are available as liquid extracts, capsules, tablets, and dried leaves used to make tea.
Cautions for ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo extract is generally considered to be safe for adults. Ginkgo is not recommended for children. The fruit and seeds of the plant can be poisonous and should not be eaten. Other cautions for ginkgo include:
• Reactions – Side effects are rare but may include gastrointestinal problems, headaches, dizziness, and reactions on the skin.
• Bleeding– Some people who have used ginkgo experienced internal bleeding. Ginkgo appears to react with certain blood thinners to increase their effectiveness, which can cause excessive bleeding. But ginkgo does not appear to cause prolonged bleeding when taken along with warfarin (Coumadin).
• Surgery– Stop taking ginkgo prior to surgery and tell your doctor that you have used ginkgo supplements prior to scheduling surgery due to the possibility of problems with bleeding.
• Pregnancy– Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding should not take ginkgo.
• Epilepsy– Ginkgo may cause seizures and should not be used by people who have epilepsy.
Be sure to talk to your health care providers about all supplements you chose to take, including ginkgo biloba.
University of Maryland Medical Center
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
National Institutes of Health: Medline Plus
Research Spotlight: Gingko Does Not Reduce Cancer Risk
Research Spotlight: Ginkgko Does Not Slow Cognitive Decline
Research Spotlight: Ginkgo Ineffective Against High Blood Pressure