Ginkgo biloba: Benefits, Risks, and More
Ginkgo biloba is a supplement that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine and currently it is one of the most popular dietary supplements in the world.
It is claimed to offer a wide range of health benefits, including improved cognitive function and reduced symptoms of dementia with a wide variety of others too.
However, there is sometimes conflicting or inadequate evidence to support these claims.
In this article, we will take a closer look at ginkgo biloba and its potential benefits, risks, and whether its health benefits are backed by any scientific evidence.
What is ginkgo biloba?
Ginkgo biloba, also called ginkgo, is one of the oldest tree species in the world and it has been used medicinally for thousands of years.
The tree is native to Japan, China, and Korea, and is thought to be a living fossil tree that is now seen all over the world.
Its fan-shaped leaves are used to make supplements and extracts that come in the form of capsules, oral tablets, extracts, and even dried leaves for tea that have become popular in alternative medicine.
It is thought to boost cognitive function and protect against age-related decline and is also sometimes used to treat conditions like anxiety, high blood pressure, and memory problems.
Please note that the seeds of the ginkgo biloba tree are not to be ingested because they are poisonous.
What are the benefits of taking ginkgo biloba?
Ginkgo biloba is used to help treat many health conditions. The most common health benefits that ginkgo is used for include:
One of the most common health benefits claimed by advocates of ginkgo biloba is improved memory, focus, and attention span.
For these reasons, ginkgo supplements are often marketed as a "memory booster" or "brain tonic."
There have been small studies that may have shown incremental improvement in these areas; however, a much larger study has concluded that most of these claims are unfounded and that there is no memory enhancement.
Ginkgo biloba has also been traditionally used to treat anxiety. A specific extract called ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 has been shown in some studies to be effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) by slightly reducing its effects.
Alzheimer's and dementia
Ginkgo is sometimes used as a natural treatment for Alzheimer's disease and people with dementia.
Early research suggested that ginkgo supplements could improve symptoms of these conditions by increasing blood flow to the brain and aid in the treatment of dementia, in particular vascular dementia.
However, more recent studies have found little evidence that when taking ginkgo biloba for dementia that it actually reduces cognitive impairment in people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
The efficacy of ginkgo biloba in the prevention of dementia is also unfounded too.
Hearing loss and tinnitus
Another claimed benefit of ginkgo is improved hearing and decreased ringing in the ears, also called tinnitus.
There is some evidence that ginkgo may help reduce symptoms of age-related hearing loss, but it's unclear if ginkgo is more effective than other treatments.
As for tinnitus, one study showed that ginkgo does not have the ability to reduce the ringing in your ears when taken orally.
The treatment of dizziness, also known as the balance disorder vertigo, has been linked with ginkgo in some studies.
It is thought that ginkgo may help improve blood circulation to your inner ear, which could help reduce symptoms of dizziness.
There has been some research into whether ginkgo can help improve symptoms of schizophrenia and the results showed that when taken in conjunction with antipsychotic medications, it could help improve some symptoms.
It may even help reduces some of the side effects of the other medications too.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can cause a number of health problems including cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
It is thought that ginkgo may help to lower blood pressure by dilating your blood vessels and increasing blood flow and, for this reason, it may help with high blood pressure.
Unfortunately, the results of studies have shown that long-term use of ginkgo does not reduce blood pressure levels.
Despite its inability to help with high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for strokes, ginkgo has been shown to help people who are recovering from strokes.
Specifically, it has been shown in studies to help improve cognitive abilities such as memory, thinking, and also completion of daily tasks.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a group of symptoms that women may experience during the second half of their menstrual cycle.
These symptoms can include irritability, mood swings, depression, and anxiety.
Some studies have shown that ginkgo may help to relieve some of these symptoms and breast tenderness when taken during particular parts of a menstrual cycle.
Sexual dysfunction is a common problem that can affect both men and women and its symptoms are varied.
In men, sexual dysfunction can manifest as erectile dysfunction (ED) and in women, it can cause a loss of libido or difficulty becoming aroused.
Sexual dysfunction can also be caused by taking antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
There is thought to be some evidence that ginkgo may help with sexual dysfunction by improving blood circulation but when given to patients with antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction, there were no noticeable improvements.
Other conditions with no basis in scientific research
As an alternative medicine, there are claims that ginkgo can help with numerous other conditions but many have been studied and show no noticeable improvements in the conditions. These include:
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Heart disease
Are these health benefits backed by scientific research?
As noted above, some of these conditions have shown ginkgo to be beneficial to improving their symptoms while others have not. Until further research is done, ginkgo is not a reliable cure for any of these conditions. If you plan on starting to take ginkgo biloba please consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first.
From around the web: ginkgo biloba.
Are there any risks to taking ginkgo biloba?
Taking ginkgo biloba supplements is regarded as safe although there can be some side effects of ginkgo biloba usage and these adverse effects include:
- Upset stomach
- Allergic reactions on your skin
- Heart palpitations
If you experience any of these symptoms while taking ginkgo please talk to your doctor.
Ginkgo may interact with a number of medications and can cause some side effects including:
- Talinolol, which is used as a beta-blocker
- Efavirenz, which is used to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Medications that undergo changes in the liver such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and diazepam (Valium)
- Anticoagulants also called blood thinners which are medicines that help with blood clotting
- Alprazolam also called Xanax
- Diabetes medications
- Anticonvulsants, or drugs that prevent seizures
- Some statin drugs or drugs used to lower blood pressure and prevent heart attack and strokes such as Lipitor or Zocor
- Antidepressants such as Prozac and Sarafem
If you are taking any of these medications, please consult your doctor first before starting any ginkgo biloba supplements.
Due to a lack of research, do not take ginkgo biloba supplements if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and do not give it to children either.
Again, do not eat ginkgo biloba seeds as they are poisonous and when eaten fresh, can cause death.
What is the dosing information for ginkgo biloba?
There are several forms of ginkgo available including ginkgo extracts, capsules, tablets, and dried leaves that are used in tea.
Most studies use oral doses of anywhere from 60-240 mg taken daily and most often in the form of a ginkgo biloba extract.
It is important to note that there are no standardized extracts, capsules, and tablets or any ginkgo product in general and they can vary greatly in their quality and the doses can range from as low as 50 mg to as high as 600 mg.
It is best to talk with your doctor about what dose is appropriate for you.
Ginkgo biloba is an herbal supplement that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese herbal medicine and is one of the most popular supplements today taken for a variety of reasons.
The reasons vary for taking ginkgo from improving cognitive function to reducing the symptoms of conditions such as anxiety or sexual dysfunction although there are many other purported uses for it.
The scientific evidence for ginkgo’s effectiveness is mixed with some studies showing benefits while others do not.
Although ginkgo is generally regarded as safe, there are some potential side effects and drug interactions to be aware of which are listed above.
If you are thinking about taking ginkgo biloba supplements or have more questions, please consult your doctor or health care provider first.