What Is Ginkgo Biloba?

Ginkgo biloba (which goes by the scientific name Salisburia adiantifolia) is a natural extract derived from the leaf of the Chinese ginkgo tree, also called the maidenhair tree. EGb761 and GBE are the scientific terms for standardized extract of the green ginkgo biloba plant, which is often noted for its cerebral-enhancing effects.

Ginkgo has been studied for decades in France, Germany and China. And although Chinese herbal medicine has used both the dried ginkgo leaf and seed for thousands of years, today the focus in clinical studies is on the effectiveness of standardized ginkgo biloba liquid extract made from the plant’s dried green leaves.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine and current clinical studies, ginkgo biloba is safe, effective and benefits the body in numerous ways because it exerts protective effects against mitochondrial damage and oxidative stress. It’s been used in Chinese herbal medicine to treat a variety of medical conditions since ancient times, especially circulatory problems and those related to declining memory.

What makes ginkgo so powerful? Ginkgo biloba extract contains two constituents (flavonoids and terpenoids) that have strong antioxidant properties. It’s believed these may help slow down the progression of age-related diseases by combating oxidative stress that usually worsens as someone ages.

While people of all ages seem to benefit from taking ginkgo for various reasons, some results suggest that its cognitive-enhancing effects are more likely to be apparent in individuals aged 50–59 years. According to the University of Maryland,

Scientists have found more than 40 components in ginkgo. But only two are believed to act as medicine: flavonoids and terpenoids. Flavonoids are plant-based antioxidants. Laboratory and animal studies show that flavonoids protect the nerves, heart muscle, blood vessels, and retina from damage. Terpenoids (such as ginkgolides) improve blood flow by dilating blood vessels and reducing the stickiness of platelets.

For people of all ages, its ability to increase vascular dilation and improve health of blood vessels means it supports brain activity, development, detoxifying mechanisms and immune function. Many of ginkgo’s most prominent benefits are tied to brain function like focus and memory as well as mental performance. In fact, according to a report in the International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology, ginkgo biloba is “currently the most investigated and adopted herbal remedy for cognitive disorders and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).”

One theory is that because it can help increase uptake of glucose (broken down sugar) by brain cells, it has the potential to improve the transmission of nerve signals responsible for memory, mood, task completion, heartbeat regulation and eye health — in addition to many other vital functions.

Ginkgo Biloba Benefits

Increases Concentration
Research shows that ginkgo can help combat poor concentration, reverse cognitive decline and and heal fatigue. It’s even useful for helping to treat cerebral insufficiency — a condition characterized by chronically low concentration, confusion, decreased physical performance, fatigue, headaches and mood changes.

Many of the brain-boosting ginkgo biloba benefits that researchers have discovered rest on the fact that it’s an effective anti-inflammatory that increases antioxidant activity, lowers oxidative stress and improves circulation — all important factors for maintaining cognitive health.

When researchers from the Institute for Medical Psychology at the University of Munich tested the effects of ginkgo on healthy adults’ mental performance over a four-week period, they found significant differences in self-estimated mental health as well as self-estimated quality of life between those taking ginkgo and the placebo group. This is true even though there were no existing differences between the two groups in terms of general health.

The group taking ginkgo experienced better motor performance and emotional health, and reported no known drug-induced side effects or intolerance. No serious adverse events were observed during the study overall, which suggests that ginkgo is a safe and effective way to boost mental capabilities with little risk.

Memory enhancement, dementia and alzheimer’s

There is some evidence that ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 may assist with dementia, although more research is required.

There is some evidence indicating that people with dementia can benefit from taking ginkgo, although more studies are required. Some of its benefits can include:

Improved thinking
Improved memory
Better social behavior.

“The clinical efficacy of the ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in dementia of the Alzheimer type and multi-infarct dementia” was confirmed in a study published in the journal Pharmacopsychiatry

Another study, published in JAMA, similarly found that EGb 761 “was safe and appears capable of stabilizing and, in a substantial number of cases, improving the cognitive performance and the social functioning of demented patients for 6 months to 1 year.”

Healing properties

Recently, extensive research on the herb has been conducted on the healing properties of the leaf extract. Germany and France have run literally hundreds of studies on the leaf extract. These studies along with similar studies in America, have shown significant results. The extract of ginkgo biloba has been studied for its effectiveness in the treatment of acrocyanosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral atherosclerosis, cerebral insufficiencies, cochlear deafness, dementia, depression, menopause, peripheral and cerebral circulatory stimulation, peripheral vascular disease, Raynaud’s syndrome, retinopathy, senility, short-term memory loss, tinnitus, vascular diseases, and vertigo.

It is said to be effective in improving the blood flow to the hands and the feet as well as stimulating the brain and reducing short-term memory loss. It increases blood flow to the brain, the uptake of glucose by brain cells, and has been said to improve the transmission of nerve signals.

Cognition, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease

In a meta-analysis German researchers reviewed nine trials using the standardized Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761® which has become one of the most widely used herbal remedies for dementia and cognitive impairment.  They concluded that ginkgo biloba was more effective than a placebo for improving cognition in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It also improved activities of daily living for Alzheimer’s patients.  They researchers suggested that ginkgo biloba may be just as good or better than other treatment options for patients with mild or moderate dementia.

A more recent meta-analysis of 21 trials found that compared to conventional medicines alone, ginkgo biloba in combination with conventional drugs was superior in improving cognitive and activities of daily living scores for patients with Alzheimer’s disease in just 24 weeks. It also improved thinking in people with mild cognitive impairment.

Another meta-analysis published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that a daily dose of 240 mg of ginkgo biloba was effective to stabilize or slow the decline in cognition in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and mild cognitive impairment. A Japanese meta-analysis reached similar results and concluded that a 240-mg daily dose of Ginkgo biloba extract is effective and safe in the treatment of dementia.

And a series of studies have found that ginkgo biloba is just as good as the drug donepezil (Aricept) for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

In a randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind study Italian researchers divided a group of patients with Alzheimer’s type dementia into three groups.  One group received 160 mg per day of ginkgo biloba; another received 5 mg per day of donepezil; and the third group received a placebo.   After 24 weeks the researchers concluded that ginkgo biloba was clinically comparable to donepezil for Alzheimer’s dementia.  They suggested that doctors could justify using either treatment.

Similarly, a 2009 Austrian meta-analysis of 10 trials concluded that there are no statistically significant or clinically relevant differences between ginkgo biloba and donepezil for treating dementia.

Ginkgo biloba has the added benefit of safety.  In a randomized, double-blind exploratory trial of 96 patients with probable Alzheimer’s disease, Bulgarian researchers set up three groups.  One received 240 mg per day of ginkgo biloba; another group received five milligrams of donepezil per day for four weeks followed by 10 mg per day; and a third group received both ginkgo and the drug.  After 22 weeks improvements in all three groups were similar but the adverse events rates for the ginkgo group and the combination group were significantly lower than the drug group.

Intermittent Claudication

For people with intermittent claudication, it is very painful to walk. Published studies reveal that people taking ginkgo biloba can walk roughly 37 yards more than people taking a placebo.

Helps Fight Anxiety and Depression

If you suffer from chronically high stress that’s killing your quality of life, nervousness, depression or mood swings, ginkgo might be able to help. Research suggests ginkgo biloba benefits the body’s ability to handle stressors and counteracts the effects of high levels of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline.

Known as an adapotgen herb that naturally raises the body’s ability to cope with trouble and worry, it might be especially helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and possibly seasonal depression, panic attacks and social phobias, too.

Antioxidant Properties

Although oxygen is essential for life, it can have adverse effects on your body. Unstable oxygen molecules can often be created during our body’s normal break down and use of oxygen or can form in response to external factors and pollutants. These unstable molecules, called free radicals, can damage cells and structures within cells. If the genetic material in cells is affected and not repaired, it can replicate in new cells, contributing to cancer and other health problems. These free radicals may also weaken artery walls, allowing fatty deposits that can lead to hear disease. As an antioxidant, ginkgo biloba combats free radicals and repairs molecular damage. A great deal of research suggests that antioxidants such as GBE may play important roles in preventing or delaying heart disease, cancer and other ills. Antioxidants may even halt the damage to cells, thereby slowing the effects of aging.

Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a disorder in which melanocytes, cells that give skin its color, are destroyed.  It results in white patches of skin on different parts of the body. Oxidative stress is believed to be part of the cause of vitiligo.  Ginkgo biloba has antioxidant properties that may help halt progression and even reverse the condition.

In a double-blind placebo-controlled trial, 47 vitiligo patients were given either a placebo or 40 mg of a ginkgo extract three times daily.  The ginkgo group had a statistically significant cessation of active progression of depigmentation. Marked or complete repigmentation was seen in 10 patients in the ginkgo group, compared to only 2 in the placebo group.  The researchers concluded that ginkgo biloba is a simple, safe and fairly effective therapy for arresting the progression of vitiligo.

A more recent study of 11 patients found that 60 mg of ginkgo taken twice a day significantly improved vitiligo. The progression of vitiligo stopped in all participants and the average repigmentation of lesions was 15 percent.

Macular Degeneration

It is a progressive, degenerative eye disease that impairs the retina. It is one of the most common causes of blindness in the United States. The flavonoids found in ginkgo biloba may help cure or alleviate some retinal problems.

Fights Symptoms of PMS

Some early research has shown positive effects of taking ginkgo on reducing PMS symptoms, including mood swings, headaches, anxiety, fatigue and muscle pain. It also appears to have beneficial effects on mood and cognition in postmenopausal women and can help improve similar symptoms.

One 2008 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicinecompared the effects on ginkgo biloba in two groups of women that were similar in terms of demographic characteristics and baseline overall severity of PMS symptoms. After a six-month intervention with ginkgo, there was a significant decrease in the overall severity of physical and psychological symptoms in both the group taking 40 milligrams daily of ginkgo extract and the placebo group; however, a higher percentage of the ginkgo group (23.7 percent) had improvements compared to the placebo (8.7 percent).

Impotency

Another use for ginkgo biloba is in the treatment of impotency. The main cause of male impotence is poor circulation and impaired blood flow through the penis, which is often the result of atherosclerosis. Since ginkgo biloba increases blood flow, it’s been found to help up to fifty percent of patients after six months of use.

Migraines

An Italian study of 24 adolescents found that Ginkgolide B, a constituent of ginkgo biloba, was effective as a preventative treatment in reducing migraine frequency and lowered the need for migraine medications.

Another Italian study of 50 women showed that Ginkgolide B reduces migraine frequency and duration.  Patients taking 60 mg of ginkgo biloba twice a day for four months reduced the average number of migraines from 3.7 to 1.2, and reduced length of migraines on average from 40 minutes to 17.6 minutes.

Helps Prevent or Treat ADHD

Certain studies using combination therapies that include ginkgo have found relief and improved concentration for people with ADHD symptoms. And because it can improve concentration, memory and task performance, it can possibly also reduce symptoms in people with dyslexia.

While more research is still needed, there’s also some early evidence that ginkgo can help reduce behaviors and symptoms of autism, making it a potential autism natural treatment.

Strokes

Scientists continue to study the prevention and treatment benefits to stroke patients that are attributed to GBE. It’s believed that by preventing blood clots from developing and increasing the blood flow to the brain, ginkgo biloba may help stop strokes from occurring. It’s also believed that the herb inhibits free-radical damage of brain cells after a stroke.

Lowers Symptoms of Asthma

Some studies have found ginkgo extract can reduce asthma-related symptoms. Because it lowers inflammation, improves antioxidant activity and has positive effects on nerve functioning, people have reported less trouble breathing when taking ginkgo.