Ginkgo: the Herb to aid the Brain

Ginkgo Biloba has been used in traditional medicine to treat circulatory disorders and enhance memory.

Ginkgo is perhaps the most widely currently used herbal treatment aimed at augmenting cognitive functions–that is, improving memory, learning, alertness, mood and so on. Germany recently approved the extract for treating dementia.

Modern studies have also demonstrated the significant effect that Ginkgo biloba has on the cardiovascular system, relaxing blood vessels, acting as a circulatory stimulant and anti-inflammatory. One of the most important active ingredients, ginkgolide, has been clinically shown to be just as effective as standard pharmaceutical drugs in treating irregular heart beats. Improving blood flow throughout the body, Ginkgo biloba can also reduce blood ‘stickiness’, which lowers the risk of blood clots.

Studies have showed that the Alzheimer’s patients who received ginkgo performed better on various cognitive tests than did patients who received a placebo. Improvements were evident in standardized tests measuring attention, short-term memory and reaction time; the average extent of improvement resulting from ginkgo treatment was 10 to 20 percent

It was reported that ginkgo’s effect was comparable to that of the drug donepezil, which is currently the pharmaceutical drug of choice for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.

A large clinical trial of ginkgo with more than 3,000 volunteers is being carried out by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine . The aim is to see if the herb prevents the onset of dementia and, specifically, Alzheimer’s disease; whether it slows slows cognitive decline and functional disability (for example, inability to prepare meals); reduces the incidence of cardiovascular disease; and decreases the rate of premature death.

NCCAM is also studying Ginkgo as possible treatment sfor asthma, symptoms of multiple sclerosis, vascular function (intermittent claudication), cognitive decline, sexual dysfunction due to antidepressants, and insulin resistance. NCCAM is also looking at potential interactions between ginkgo and prescription drugs.

In a study in France a small group of elderly people with mild, age-related memory impairment were given a fairly high dose of Ginkgo. An hour after the treatment, the subjects’ memories were tested by rapidly presenting short lists of words or drawings and then asking the patients to recall the lists immediately afterward. Their ability to recall the rapidly presented material increased significantly after ingestion of ginkgo.

This finding raises the possibility that short-term, rather than long-term, biological actions provide the basis for ginkgo’s reported effects on cognition

Ginkgo should only be taken under the guidance of a knowledgeable medical professional. Taken with anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs, Ginkgo can increase the risk of bleeding. It is also possible that ginkgo might interact with certain psychiatric drugs and with certain drugs that affect blood sugar levels.