Ginkgo biloba is the oldest surviving tree species on earth, traced back by the scientists who trace such things back over 300 million years. It has also gotten a bit of a reputation as an herbal mental “cure all.” Is this super-tree's reputation well deserved, or is Ginkgo biloba all “bark” and no bite?
Ginkgo biloba, sometimes called “maidenhair,” is one of the top-selling herbs in the United States. In China, it has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. And in Germany, it's a prescription pharmaceutical. Ginkgo biloba has been used for a wide spectrum of treatments, but unfortunately it's not quite the panacea its press agent suggests.
Chemically, Ginkgo biloba has demonstrated anti-oxidant abilities with improvements of the platelet and nerve cell functions and blood flow to the brain and nervous system. The herb has also been reported as reducing blood viscosity.
Given this ability to increase vascular dilation, its tendency to improve the blood flow in small vessels, it is understandable how Ginkgo biloba may help reduce retinal damage due to macular degradation and may reverse deafness caused by reduced blood flow. For this same reason, it is also commonly used in Europe to treat the type of dementia that results from reduced blood flow. Note that the herb cannot help to prevent dementia. Gingko biloba may be useful against any ailment that results from insufficient blood flow to the brain.
Gingko biloba is also effective treating patients with generalized anxiety disorder. Further research is needed to confirm dosing and who may benefit most from ginkgo. Schizophrenia is also often treated with ginkgo, in combination with anti-psychotics. Note that additional research and testing is ongoing in both these areas.
However gingko biloba is often marketed as a “memory booster,” a supplement sold to increase concentration and stave off the early symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease. But a 2009 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that 120 mg twice daily of ginkgo biloba did not result in less cognitive decline in older adults with normal or only mild thinking impairment. For comparison, the herb is frequently sold in tea bags containing only 30 milligrams of ginkgo biloba extract.
Used without caution, ginkgo biloba can be quite dangerous as well. Because it is a blood-thinning agent, you should avoid it before surgery or any dental procedures. If you are already taking blood thinners such as aspirin, consult your doctor before adding ginkgo to the mix. Some studies have indicated that gingko biloba affects blood sugar or insulin, so diabetes and hypoglycemia sufferers should likewise proceed with caution.
In short, gingko biloba has its place in the treatment of varying conditions of vascular insufficiency, but its not the memory booster or Alzheimer's blocker it is often marketed as.