Ginkgo Biloba Health Benefits

 

What is Ginkgo biloba?

Ginkgo tree, Image from Wikimedia CommonsGinkgo biloba is one of the oldest trees in the world. Compared to other types of trees, Ginkgo has no close living relative. Its evolutionary history is still not clear among scientists because fossil records of the plant are lacking. Ginkgo biloba or simply ginkgo is known in many other names including fossil tree, Japanese silver apricot, maidenhair tree, baiguo, bi guo ye, yinhsing, and kew tree. The official scientific name of the plant is Ginkgo biloba which belongs to Order Ginkgoales of the Class Ginkgoopsida.

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Uses of Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba is one of the highly acclaimed herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. The Chinese people have been using Ginkgo as medicine (seed and leaves) and food (seeds only) for thousands of years. Ginkgo has been widely cultivated by the Chinese living in the Southern part of China since time immemorial. In fact, many live Ginkgo trees in China are believed to be over a thousand years old. The Japanese and Korean people have also been using Ginkgo for a very long time. Moreover, Ginkgo tree is a very popular ornamental tree in urban areas.

Ginkgo biloba is a very popular alternative medicine in many countries today. Ginkgo biloba fluid extract, powder, capsules, tea, and creams are marketed online and offline. Ginkgo biloba has many health benefits but also side effects. Over the years, claims on the health benefits of Ginkgo are becoming exaggerated as they are not backed by carefully designed experiments. Most of the claims are popularized by marketers to boost sales and to target a certain market: people with incurable conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s. This article discusses the health benefits of Ginkgo biloba.

Active Components

Over 40 chemical compounds have been isolated in Ginkgo leaves and seeds but only two compounds are found to be responsible in ginkgo’s medicinal effects: terpenoids and flavonoids. Terpenoids improve blood flow by reducing the stickiness of platelets and dilating blood vessels. Examples of terpenoids are ginkgolides. Flavonoids are antioxidants found in plants. Antioxidants are compounds that get rid of free radicals – compounds in the body that damage DNA, cell membranes, and even cause apoptosis (cell death). Free radicals are known to damage nerves, heart muscle, blood vessels, retina, and other body parts.

Health Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba

Following are the frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the beneficial effects of Ginkgo biloba extract.

Is Ginkgo biloba an effective memory enhancer?

With the sponsorship of National Institutes of Aging, William’s College conducted a study on the effects of ginkgo consumption on healthy volunteers older than 60. The paper was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and has the following conclusion:

“When taken following the manufacturer’s instructions, ginkgo provides no measurable benefit in memory or related cognitive function to adults with healthy cognitive function.”… The impact of this seemingly damning assessment, however, was ameliorated by the almost simultaneous publication of a Schwabe-sponsored study in the less prestigious journal Human Psychopharmacology. (Source)”

There are other studies that claim the effectiveness of ginkgo as memory enhancer though the integrity of these studies is questionable because they are sponsored by marketers of ginkgo products.

Is Ginkgo biloba effective for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

JAMA have published papers studying the effectiveness of Ginkgo in the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s diseases in elderly people. The papers have similar conclusions: Ginkgo has no effect on the prevention of cognitive decline or dementia. Other studies sponsored by marketers of ginkgo products provide the opposite conclusion as expected.

Is Ginkgo biloba an effective antioxidant?

Flavonoids found in ginkgo extract are effective antioxidants – substances that inhibit the destructive effects of oxidation. Antioxidants remove free radicals in the body. Free radicals damages DNA, cell membrane, and induces cell death. Free radicals are linked to cardiovascular diseases and degenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Antioxidants also boost the immune system resulting to faster recovery from infection and lower chance of getting infection.

Is Ginkgo biloba improves blood circulation?

Ginkgo biloba extract enhances blood circulation because of its blood-thinning effects. The extract contains terpenoids which work as blood vessel dilators and anticoagulants. Anticoagulants are substances that reduce the stickiness of platelets. Ginkgo biloba improves blood circulation throughout the body especially the brain. Ginkgo biloba is used to treat intermittent claudication or cramping pain caused by inadequate blood supply to affected muscles usually the calves.

Ginkgo biloba extract can be as effective as other blood-thinning synthetic drugs in the market.

What are other uses of Ginko biloba?

Ginkgo biloba is also being used to treat other conditions including tinnitus, macular degeneration, glaucoma, sexual dysfunction, multiple sclerosis, skin diseases and the like. More studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness of Ginkgo biloba in treating these illnesses.

Click here to learn the side effects of using Ginkgo biloba.[ad#afterpost]

References and Further Reading