Source: The Amazing Healing Powers of Nature, Reader’s Digest
What is ginkgo biloba a natural treatment for?
Ginkgo biloba is one of the world’s most popular herbal medicines. It is used to treat a range of ailments, notably dementia. Studies aimed at pinning down its active ingredients and precise effects are ongoing. It is also a potential treatment for Raynaud’s phenomenon, tinnitus and normal-tension glaucoma
Why take ginkgo biloba?
The enormous popularity of ginkgo biloba extract rests principally on widespread claims that it can slow or prevent the onset of dementia’and many elderly people take daily doses in the hope that it will work.
Some people take ginkgo biloba extract as treatment for tinnitus‘a ringing or swooshing in the ears’or to counter Raynaud’s phenomenon, a disorder in which circulation is cut off episodically in the fingers and toes, leading to pain, a feeling of cold and discolouration of the skin.
Others use it to treat ‘normal-tension’ glaucoma, a form of glaucoma in which there is no increased pressure in the eye but which still causes vision loss.
What is the connection between ginkgo biloba and dementia?
The connection between ginkgo biloba and dementia is based on hundreds of years of use in traditional Chinese medicine, where the seeds are associated with mental alertness and longevity. In the 1960s, German pharmacists introduced a standardized extract to the Western world, made from the tree’s leaves.
The main biologically active compounds in the extract are flavonoids, which can act as antioxidants, and a group of compounds called terpene trilactones, which have been shown to inhibit blood clotting and relax blood vessels, enhancing blood flow.
If you want to try ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba can be found in most pharmacies and health food stores, normally in the form of tablets or tinctures; you can even buy the dried leaves for making teas, or buy teas pre-made.
Risks and side effects associated with ginkgo biloba
Since the main pharmacological effects of ginkgo biloba extract are to increase blood flow and reduce clotting, health professionals warn against using it if you are taking blood-thinning medications. If you are taking ginkgo biloba and are due to undergo a surgical procedure, make sure you tell your surgeon. You should also speak to your doctor if you are taking antidepressants, as these may interact adversely with the extract.
Medical studies and modern research on ginkgo biloba
A large number of studies have been carried out into the effectiveness of ginkgo biloba extract on dementia, with mixed results. An 8-year US study, published in 2008 and involving more than 3000 elderly volunteers, found that a twice-daily dose of the extract had no effect on the incidence of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Another 2008 study, in the United Kingdom, also found that the extract had no positive effect on early-stage dementia patients.
To the contrary, a major review of evidence, published in 2002, found that there is a real, if small, benefit’and a 24-week study at the University of Cologne, Germany, involving over 400 patients with early-stage dementia, published in 2012, found that ginkgo biloba produced significant and clinically relevant improvement in cognition, psychopathology, functional measures and quality of life.
Studies of the effectiveness of ginkgo biloba extract on patients with tinnitus have also provided conflicting conclusions. A German review of existing well-conducted studies, published in 2011, found plenty of evidence in favour. But a 2012 South Korean study, involving 38 people and lasting 2 months, compared ginkgo biloba extract with a standard treatment (clonazepam) and found that the extract had no significant effect.
There has been only one controlled study of the use of ginkgo biloba extract for treating Raynaud’s phenomenon, but it did supply a positive result: in the 10-week study, volunteers (blindly) taking the extract had fewer than half the attacks they did normally. Several studies have also indicated that ginkgo biloba extract might help in treating normal-tension glaucoma.