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
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM), “Gingko is widely used in Europe for treating dementia.” Doctors started to use it because they thought it improved blood flow to the brain, but more recent studies indicate that it may protect nerve cells from damage in 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, sup>5, published in JAMA, similarly concluded that EGb 761 was safe to use and possibly effective in stabilizing and 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. A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research7, found that people with generalized anxiety disorder who took ginkgo experienced better anxiety relief than those who took a placebo. 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.
People with Raynaud’s disease who took gingko for 10 weeks experienced fewer symptoms than those who took a placebo.
Dosage and form
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.
Safety and side effects
When used orally in moderate amounts, ginkgo appears to be safe for most healthy adults.
Ginkgo can cause:
Allergic skin reactions
Don’t eat raw or roasted ginkgo seeds, which can be poisonous.
If you are epileptic or prone to seizures, avoid ginkgo. Large amounts of ginkgotoxin can cause seizures. Ginkgotoxin is found in ginkgo seeds and, to a lesser extent, ginkgo leaves.
If you are older, have a bleeding disorder or are pregnant, don’t take ginkgo. The supplement might increase your risk of bleeding. If you’re planning to have surgery, stop taking ginkgo two weeks beforehand.
Ginkgo might interfere with the management of diabetes. If you take ginkgo and have diabetes, closely monitor your blood sugar levels.
Some research has shown that rodents given ginkgo had an increased risk of developing liver and thyroid cancers.
Possible interactions include:
Alprazolam (Xanax). Taking ginkgo with this drug used to relieve symptoms of anxiety might reduce the drug’s effectiveness.
Anticoagulants and anti-platelet drugs, herbs and supplements. These types of drugs, herbs and supplements reduce blood clotting. Taking ginkgo with them might increase your risk of bleeding.
Anticonvulsants and seizure threshold lowering drugs, herbs and supplements. Large amounts of ginkgotoxin can cause seizures.
Ginkgotoxin is found in ginkgo seeds and, to a lesser extent, ginkgo leaves. It’s possible that taking ginkgo could reduce the effectiveness of an anticonvulsant drug.
Antidepressants. Taking ginkgo with certain antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem) and imipramine (Tofranil), might decrease their effectiveness.
Certain statins. Taking ginkgo with simvastatin (Zocor) might reduce the drug’s effects. Ginkgo also appears to reduce the effects of atorvastatin (Lipitor).
Diabetes drugs. Ginkgo might alter your response to these drugs.
Ibuprofen. It’s possible that combining ginkgo with ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) might increase your risk of bleeding.
Consult with your doctor before taking Ginkgo.