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Updated 18 February 2013

Ginkgo biloba

Did you know that the Ginkgo tree is a living fossil and dates back to the time of the dinosaurs? This popular herb can improve memory and concentration.

1
  • Improves memory and concentration
  • Aids in the treatment of senile dementia
  • Relieves asthma and wheezing
  • Stimulates circulation
  • Anti-allergenic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Deactivates potentially dangerous free radicals that cause cancer and Alzheimer's
  • Helps impotence and erectile dysfunction

Interesting fact:
Famous eighteenth century German poet, botanist and philosopher, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, wrote a poem to his lover called "Ginkgo Biloba". The Gingko's leaf symbolised the theme of the poem, one and double.
The Ginkgo tree is a living fossil and dates back to the time of the dinosaurs.

Caution:
Do not take more than the recommended dose.
Toxic reactions may result if taken in excess.
People on anti-clotting drugs should not take ginkgo.

The remarkable effects on brain function and blood circulation have made this venerable tree one of the most extensively studied and widely used botanicals in the world. Millions of Americans and Europeans now use Ginkgo to benefit memory, cognitive function and circulation. The fan-shaped leaves of the tree as well as the nuts (seeds) inside the fruits of the tree are used medicinally.

The leaves of the tree are shaped like the two lobes of the brain, giving a subtle indication of its primary use as a medicinal plant! Throughout history there is a well documented belief that the universal/creative force signs plants in such a way as to indicate their therapeutic use to man. This concept is known as the “Doctrine of Signatures”. Ginkgo Biloba's signature is its very long life and amazing adaptability to any environment, signifying longevity. Its other signature is the shape of its leaves signifying the brain and nervous system health.

It is also known as the Maidenhair tree because the foliage resembles some of the Maidenhair ferns.

The Ginkgo Biloba tree is a living fossil that links the modern world with the prehistoric world roamed by dinosaurs. It used to grow in many parts of the world prior to the Ice Age. Ginkgo Biloba has been growing on earth for longer than 100 million years. It has survived in both Asia and China. The Chinese have used Ginkgo Biloba as a medicinal plant for as long as recorded history exists and call it the “fountain of youth” herb. Records of Ginkgo Biloba's use as a medicine in China date back to more than 5000 years and are found in many ancient texts, including the I Ching: The Book of Changes.

Nowadays Ginkgo Biloba trees are planted all over the world in cities with a subtropical climate as hardy shade providers able to protect themselves against pollution. The tree is also able to adapt to colder climates.

The Ginkgo Biloba tree is cultivated in many parts of the world for its use as a medicinal herb. The leaves are available commercially from countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Belgium, Holland, France and the United States of America.

Ginkgo Biloba is the subject of extensive global research and over 4 million prescriptions for its use are written every year in Europe alone. Sales in Europe exceed $500 million a year. It is the most frequently prescribed herb in Germany and France and ranks as one of the top five of all medicines prescribed in those countries.

There are 400 published studies and reports on Ginkgo Biloba's efficacy as well as several books. This makes it one of the best-researched herbal medicines in the world today.

Ginkgo Biloba: questions and answers

Question

Is Ginkgo Biloba only prescribed for older people, or can younger people also benefit from it?

Answer

The positive effects of Ginkgo Biloba in geriatric patients ensure that many health practitioners prescribe it for this age group. It should not, however, be limited to geriatric patients. Research has shown that Ginkgo Biloba improves brain function, concentration and memory in all age groups.

Ginkgo Biloba also protects the myelin sheaths around the nerve fibres against the wear and tear associated with relentless daily stress and diseases like multiple sclerosis, thereby ensuring more efficient transfer of messages along the peripheral and central nervous system.

Question

Can Ginkgo Biloba help with depression?

Answer

Yes, Ginkgo Biloba has been proven to be effective in treating mild to moderate depression.

The anti-depressive effects of Ginkgo Biloba have been studied since it was noted that when people with cerebrovascular insufficiency (insufficient blood flow to the brain) use Ginkgo Biloba, their mood also improved. A recent study with forty elderly patients using either 80mg of Ginkgo Biloba extract three times a day or a placebo (a non-active substance), showed a marked reduction in the total score measured by the Hamilton Depression Scale after only four weeks of using the Ginkgo Biloba compared to the placebo.

Question

What other effects do Ginkgo Biloba have on the brain and nervous system?

Answer

It has been shown in various studies that Ginkgo Biloba extract increases the ability of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, to bind more effectively to its receptor sites. Reduced receptor binding of acetylcholine has been reported in Alzheimer's disease.

In more than 80 double-blind placebo controlled clinical trials, patients with a chronic insufficiency of blood and oxygen to the brain as well as patients with a decreased blood flow to the extremities, showed a marked improvement after using Ginkgo Biloba extract (40-80mg three times a day) for four to eight weeks.

Symptoms of cerebrovascular insufficiency (decreased blood flow to the brain) include impaired mental performance, dizziness, headache, short-term memory loss, tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears), depression, carelessness, lack of alertness and lack of caution. More than 50 studies showed Ginkgo Biloba extract to be extremely effective in improving all the symptoms of cerebrovascular insufficiency. In double blind studies the improvement rate ranged between 44% and 92% for the people who took Ginkgo Biloba. In the placebo controlled group the rate was 14 - 44%.

Question

Would Ginkgo Biloba prevent me from sleeping if taken at night?

Answer

Not at all. The recommended usual dosage for Ginkgo Biloba, standardised to 24% ginkgoflavonglycosides, is 40mg three times a day – morning, afternoon and evening. It is important to have constant, steady blood levels of circulating Ginkgo Biloba in the blood at all times.

Question

Would Ginkgo Biloba help after a heart attack, stroke or cerebrovascular incident?

Answer

Yes, definitely.

Question

Would Ginkgo Biloba help for poor circulation elsewhere in the body?

Answer

Ginkgo Biloba improves circulation in the whole body, especially in the extremities (hands, feet, penis). It is therefore recommended in the treatment of varicose veins, Raynaud’s disease, intermittent claudication, winter hands and feet, varicose ulcers, diabetic ulcers, gangrene due to diabetes or end-arterial disease associated with smoking. It is also recommended for impotence due to erectile dysfunction.

Question

Is Ginkgo Biloba effective against high cholesterol?

Answer

The antioxidants in Ginkgo Biloba would prevent the bad LDL-cholesterol from entering the arterial wall from where it would lead to atherosclerosis (thickening of the arterial walls). Ginkgo Biloba has also been proven to be effective in reducing existing atherosclerosis by reducing plasma viscosity (making blood more fluid). The antioxidants would also prevent the free radical damage associated with atherosclerosis.

It would not, as such, reduce cholesterol levels. Essential fatty acids like evening primrose, starflower and salmon oil are very effective in doing so.

Question

Can Ginkgo Biloba help with sexual problems and PMS?

Answer

Ginkgo Biloba has been used with great success for the treatment of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) in women as well as for prostate and urinary problems in men.

Ginkgo Biloba is well known for its positive effect in the treatment of male impotence due to the increased blood flow to the penis. The Journal of Urology, Vol 141, 1989 published a study that showed that the long term use of Ginkgo Biloba leaf extract may be helpful in the treatment of impotence in cases of erectile dysfunction due to arterial insufficiency (poor blood flow).

Question

What are Gingko’s active ingredients?

Answer

Ginkgo Biloba has two main groups that have, up to now, been identified as having the most active ingredients: the flavonglycosides (containing flavones, a chemical substance, and glycosides, sugar containing compounds consisting of a sugar component and a nonsugar component) which include the bioflavonoids like quercetin, and the terpene lactones which include the ginkgolides and bilobalides.

It is the unique combination of all of its ingredients that gives Ginkgo Biloba its wide variety of healing abilities and not single ingredients that may be isolated and used as such.

Question

What makes Ginkgo Biloba an antioxidant?

Answer

The bioflavonoids are responsible for Ginkgo Biloba's potent antioxidant activity in the brain, cardiovascular and immune systems. They are also involved in reducing the platelet aggregation (platelets clumping together to form blood clots inside blood vessels or tissue) that leads to the formation of blood clots in the arteries. Blood clots often lead to deep vein thrombosis, stroke, lung embolism (blood clots moving from the deep veins like the femoral vein to the lung and cutting off the blood supply to areas of the lung) or heart attacks.

Conclusion
Ginkgo Biloba extract can play an important role in improving the quality of life in all age groups by improving circulation and mental function. For young people this may mean an enhanced learning ability and improved concentration and in the elderly a positively changed general perception of life and improved functioning in the world.

Gingko Biloba and Alzheimer’s disease

Question

What is Alzheimer’s disease and how does Gingko Biloba help?

Answer

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and degenerative brain disease. Alzheimer’s involves the gradual and permanent tangling of nerve fibres surrounding the memory centre in the brain. It starts as a simple, repeated memory loss, specifically for recent events, but then develops into confusion, ultimately causing personality changes and a total inability to communicate or survive independently.

Ginkgo Biloba has shown impressive results in preventing the disease, delaying symptoms and even reversing the mental deterioration associated with the disease. Ginkgo Biloba extract may help a patient to maintain a normal lifestyle.

Question

What can be used together with Ginkgo Biloba in the treatment of Alzeihmer’s?

Answer

Ginkgo Biloba, together with high dosages of the vitamin B-complex including choline and inositol as well as antioxidants (vitamin A, C, E, mixed carotenoids, pycnogenol, selenium, zinc), have proven to be very effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease. The recommended dosage of Ginkgo Biloba extract in treating Alzheimer’s is 80mg three times a day. Essential fatty acids such as evening primrose, salmon and starflower oils have also been proven effective in the natural treatment regime for Alzheimer’s. The amino acid Acetyl-L-carnitine (250mg a day) is recommended to improve memory and mental alertness and is often prescribed for Alzheimer's and senile dementia.

Gingko Biloba: Dosage and drug interactions

Question

What dosage of Ginkgo Biloba should I use?

Answer

The usual dosage is 40mg 3 times a day. Some studies used up to 80mg three times or even 120mg three times a day. Ginkgo Biloba extract should be taken continuously for at least 12 weeks before clinical improvement may be noted. Most people, however, report an improvement within two to three weeks.

A dosage of 80mg three times a day is recommended for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Considerable research has shown that the symptoms of Alzheimer's improve after only four weeks of treatment with Ginkgo Biloba.

Ginkgo Biloba is, like nature, slow in acting and it can take up to eight weeks before a marked improvement is noticed. So be patient if you do not notice an immediate improvement. Improvement may be gradual, but lasting. Once the disease is stabilised, a dosage of 60mg twice a day is recommended.

In resistant depression, 80mg three times a day seems to be the best dosage. Significant improvement in mood, motivation and memory were noted within only four weeks of Ginkgo Biloba treatment in elderly, depressed individuals who were not responding well to other anti-depressant drugs.

For impotence, a dosage of 80mg three times a day is recommended.

The recommended dosage to treat urinary problems and PMS is 40mg three times a day.

Question

Can one overdose on Ginkgo Biloba?

Answer

Ginkgo Biloba has a very low toxicity profile. I recommend, however, that you use the prescribed dosage for your condition.

Question

How safe is Ginkgo Biloba?

Answer

Ginkgo Biloba shows a remarkable lack of side effects in long term studies. There was also no decline in its effect over time. It is a very safe product to use. It has hardly any side effects or toxicity. In 44 studies involving 9800 patients taking Ginkgo Biloba leaf extract, the only side effects reported were gastrointestinal discomfort in 26 cases, headache in seven cases and dizziness in six cases. These were transient and lasted only for a few days.

People with cerebrovascular insufficiency sometimes get a slight headache which can last up to 48 hours. As this is ascribable to the increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain, most people welcome this side effect!

In Germany, a specially assigned commission compiled the Commission E monographs on herbal products. The herbal product is deemed safe if the manufacturer meets certain quality requirements set by the monograph or provides additional evidence of safety and efficacy gleaned from existing literature, anecdotal information from practising physicians as well as ongoing clinical trials.

The Commission E monograph for Ginkgo Biloba lists no contraindications for its use even during pregnancy or breast feeding. It is also safe for children to use as and when indicated.

Question

Can I use Ginkgo Biloba together with any other medication?

Answer

Yes, Ginkgo Biloba is a very safe herb to use. It shows no interaction with any other prescription drugs and has very few known side effects. One precaution, however, is that if you are taking prescription anti-clotting medication such as Warfarin, heparin or aspirin, inform your doctor of your decision to take Ginkgo Biloba. He/she can than decrease the dosage of your prescription medication. It is also advised that you don’t use Ginkgo biloba together with diuretics (prescribed to help the body get rid of excess water e.g. in patients with heart failure).

Question

Does Ginkgo Biloba have any effect on the contraceptive pill?

Answer

There is no known interaction of Ginkgo Biloba with the contraceptive pill. To err on the side of caution, however, I recommend that you don’t take the Ginkgo Biloba at the same time of day as the contraceptive pill.

Question

Does Ginkgo Biloba interact with anaesthetic drugs?

Answer

There is no known interaction of Ginkgo Biloba with anaesthetics at the recommended Ginkgo Biloba dosages.

Question

Can children use Ginkgo Biloba?

Answer

It is not recommended for children as a general tonic but Ginkgo Biloba can be used for children when it is indicated, for example, for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is important to realise, however, that ADHD is a multifactorial problem with many issues that have to be taken into consideration. Ginkgo Biloba can be added as assistance together with essential fatty acids, correct eating habits, supplements to support the nervous system and immune system and cognitive psychological support. It can help neurotransmitter function in children with dyslexia, concentration problems and learning disabilities. It is also useful in children with allergies (eczema, asthma, hayfever, sinusitis, etc.) and other immune system or circulation problems.

Question

Is Ginkgo Biloba safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Answer

Pregnant women can take the Ginkgo Biloba leaf extract with no known risk of side effects. It is useful for pregnant women suffering from high blood pressure, poor circulation and concentration problems. Ginkgo Biloba will also support the immune system and pregnant women would be less likely to suffer from all sorts of infections so prevalent during pregnancy. Ginkgo Biloba is safe for breastfeeding women. The Chinese herbalists suggest that Ginkgo Biloba encourages milk flow. It will also help for the inflammation associated with mastitis (inflammation/infection of the breasts) and congestion of the breast tissue.

Question

Can Ginkgo Biloba be used together with high blood pressure or high cholesterol medication?

Answer

Yes, definitely. Ginkgo Biloba is quite safe to use with any medication. You would notice, however, after a period of using the Ginkgo Biloba, that you might be able (under doctor’s supervision, of course!) to lower the dosage of your prescription medication, or even to stop taking it at all. Never stop your medication on your own.

(Image: Reinhard Kraasch)

This article was written by natural health expert Dr Arien van der Merwe (MBChB).

You can order her following books, published by Tafelberg, in English and Afrikaans online at Kalahari.net:
Health & Happiness
Geluk & Gesondheid
Herbal Remedies
Kruie met Geneeskrag

 
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