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Ginkgo biloba is an antioxidant-rich herb used to enhance brain health and treat a variety of conditions. Although dietary supplements typically contain extracts from the plant's leaves, ginkgo biloba seeds are commonly used for healing purposes in traditional Chinese medicine.
Ginkgo contains numerous flavonoids, compounds that proponents suggest can protect against aging-related issues such as dementia by improving blood flow to the brain, among other benefits.
Health Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is said to aid in the treatment or prevention of the following health problems:
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Alzheimer's disease
- Erectile dysfunction
- High blood pressure
- Insulin resistance
- Multiple sclerosis
- Peripheral artery disease
- Sexual dysfunction in women
Scientific studies support some, but not all ginkgo benefits. Here's a look at the science behind the potential health benefits of ginkgo biloba:
Age-Related Cognitive Decline
Ginkgo bilobo is often touted as a beneficial supplement for improving memory, combating Alzheimer's symptoms, and reducing age-related cognitive decline. Some research suggests that when used in conjunction with other treatments, people with mild symptoms of Alzheimer's disease may see some improvements in function.
However, there is not currently enough evidence to support its use for the prevention or treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
While some smaller studies have suggested that ginkgo biloba might improve memory in healthy individuals, one large review concluded that taking the supplement did not cause any significant improvements in memory, attention, or executive functioning.
Some studies suggest that ginkgo biloba may be helpful for relieving symptoms of anxiety. One study found that people who took 480 mg of ginkgo biloba each day experienced a 45% greater reduction in their anxiety symptoms than those taking a placebo. Such results may be due to increased antioxidant levels. However, there is not yet enough evidence to conclusively say that the supplement may be useful for treating anxiety.
Ginkgo biloba shows promise in the treatment of glaucoma and other eye diseases. Ginkgo biloba contains natural properties that act as antioxidants and improve blood flow. This effect has been shown to reduce retinal degeneration. There's also evidence of Ginkgo biloba producing color vision improvements for patients with diabetic retinopathy.
It's too soon to tell whether ginkgo biloba can help treat high blood pressure, according to a research review published in Phytomedicine in 2014.2 Although six of the nine reviewed clinical trials found that gingko biloba may help reduce blood pressure, the herb did not appear to have significant effects on blood pressure in the other three trials.
Since most of the reviewed studies were considerably flawed, the review's authors state that more rigorous research is needed before ginkgo biloba can be recommended for blood pressure control.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that ginkgo biloba is helpful for any condition.
Ginkgo Biloba Side Effects
Ginkgo biloba may trigger the following side effects: allergic skin reactions, diarrhea, digestive problems, dizziness, headaches, muscle weakness, and nausea.
Since ginkgo biloba may affect blood clotting, it shouldn't be used by people with bleeding disorders or those who are taking medication or supplements that affect blood clotting, such as warfarin, aspirin, garlic, vitamin E and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Some cases of bleeding have occurred in individuals who were not on another blood thinner. Individuals with epilepsy or diabetes should also avoid use of ginkgo biloba, unless the herb is taken under the supervision of a medical professional. Pregnant women shouldn't take ginkgo.
Given the number of medications and supplements that may interact with ginkgo, it's a good idea to consult your primary care provider before taking ginkgo.
Ginkgo contains a compound called ginkgotoxin. Although ginkgotoxin is found in the largest amounts in ginkgo nuts, it's also present in small quantities in the leaves. Structurally similar to vitamin B6, it has been found to block vitamin B6 activity.
According to one case report, a woman developed generalized tonic-clonic seizure after eating large amounts of ginkgo nuts and had lowered blood vitamin B6 levels. After treatment, which included vitamin B6 medication, her symptoms resolved and no seizures recurred.
If you are considering taking ginkgo biloba, talk to your doctor about any medications or supplements you are currently taking. Ginkgo biloba may interact with a number of substances, including:
- Antidepressants, including Prozac (fluoxetine) and Tofranil (imipramine) (may decrease the effectiveness of these medications)
- Anticoagulants (may reduce clotting and increase the risk of bleeding)
- Diabetes medications (may alter the body's response to these medications)
- Ibruprofen (increased risk of bleeding)
- Statins, including Zocor (simvastatin) and Lipitor (atr
- Xanax (alprazolam) (may decrease the efficacy of this medication)
Dosage and Preparation
There is no established standard dose for gingko biloba. Different formulations and doses have been used in research studies investigating the herb's effect on various conditions. The right dose for you may depend on several factors, including your age, gender, medical history, and formulation used.
As always, speak with your healthcare provider to get personalized advice regarding the right dose for you.
Warnings and Precautions
While ginkgo biloba is generally considered safe when taken in moderate amounts, there are times when you should not take it. Some minor side effects are possible, so watch for symptoms such as headache, dizziness, or stomach upset. Allergic reactions are also possible, so be on the watch for possible skin reactions.
There is a concern of an increased risk of bleeding and seizures from case reports. Raw or roasted ginkgo seeds can be poisonous and have serious side effects, so they should not be consumed.
If you have an elevated risk of bleeding, are older, or are pregnant, it is important to be aware that taking ginkgo biloba may increase your risk of bleeding.
What to Look For
Gingko is known by many other names, including bai guo ye, yinhsing, and fossil tree. But the supplement is most popularly known as gingko biloba and you will most likely see it on store shelves labeled as such. Many health food markets and vitamin shops sell this product.
To make sure that you get the proper dose, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label on the product that you buy. This label will contain vital information including the amount of active ingredients per serving. You can also find out if other ingredients have been added to the product such as fillers, binders, and flavorings.
Lastly, the organization suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third-party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International.
A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.