Ginkgo can treat depression, poor circulation, memory, concentration and more

ginkgo leavesKate Fraser, one of Australia’s leading medical herbalists, writes in her book Positive Health with Herbs that ginkgo extract has been claimed to be ““the most important single development in Western Herbal Medicine” in recent years. This claim is supported by the fact that, according to the World Health Organisation, (WHO), it was the most prescribed pharmaceutical in France and Germany… Such widespread use of a herbal extract by medical practitioners is unprecedented in post-war medicine.”

Ginkgo trees have been revered as sacred plants in China, where they have been used to treat illnesses for about 5,000 years. Today ginkgo is mostly used to help treat circulation problems, boost mood, and enhance memory and concentration. Ginkgo extract is generally considered safe, and side effects are rare.

What is ginkgo?
How can we buy ginkgo?
How does ginkgo work?
What is ginkgo taken for?
What evidence is there that ginkgo works for improving our mind and mood?
How long does ginkgo take to work?
Does ginkgo have any side effects?
What medications can ginkgo interact with?
Who should avoid taking ginkgo?
Concluding comments

What is ginkgo?

Ginkgo (short for Ginkgo biloba) is one of the oldest living and longest living tree species in the world. Ginkgo trees date back more than 150 million years in China. A ginkgo tree can live for over 1,000 years.

Other names for ginkgo include maidenhair tree, fossil tree and kew tree.

How can we buy ginkgo?

Ginkgo leaves are sold as tea, and extracts of ginkgo are added to liquids, tablets and capsules. Ginkgo is used in some skin products.

How does ginkgo work?

Ginkgo contains flavonoids and terpenoids, two phytochemicals known to have healing and antioxidant properties. Phytochemicals are chemicals that occur naturally in plants. Antioxidants protect our bodies’ cells from damage.

Ginkgo has many other benefits, such as it:

  • helps treat depression
  • helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease
  • boosts poor memory and concentration
  • is an anti-inflammatory (eases inflammation)
  • thins the blood, so helps prevent bloods clots that can cause strokes and heart attacks
  • boosts blood flow to the brain, arms, legs and other parts of the body
  • protects nerve cells, the heart and blood vessels
  • might help regenerate damaged nerve cells
  • helps reverse brain aging, such as age-related memory loss

What is ginkgo taken for?

Ginkgo has been taken for lots of things, including:

  • depression
  • mood swings
  • improving thinking, learning, concentration, alertness and intelligence (cognitive function)
  • boosting memory, including age-related memory loss
  • headaches
  • fatigue, including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
  • improving blood flow to the brain, hands and feet
  • improving hearing and vision caused by poor blood flow
  • painful legs caused by blood flow problems
  • recovery in stroke victims
  • dementia
  • senility
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • asthma
  • bronchitis
  • dizziness
  • tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • vertigo
  • Raynaud’s syndrome
  • macular degeneration
  • vitiligo (a health problem that causes skin to lose its pigment)
  • sexual dysfunction

What evidence is there that ginkgo works for improving our mind and mood?

In June 2010 The Telegraph reported that: “Long-term use of a ginkgo biloba extract can protect against Alzheimer’s disease by 47 percent, according to the largest European study of its kind.”

The French study saw groups of elderly people with memory problems given either 240 milligrams a day of ginkgo extract or a placebo (“dummy” pill).

After four years, 29 out of almost 1,000 people who took the placebo developed Alzheimer’s disease. Only 15 out of nearly 950 of the people who took a particular type of ginkgo extract developed this disease.

Professor Michael Habs, director of the company that made the ginkgo extract, described the study as “remarkable…. It is the first time ever that a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease has been demonstrated for a medicine.”

Jean Carper wrote a chapter about the wonders of ginkgo for brain health in her 2002 book Your Miracle Brain. Here’s an excerpt from this chapter:

“What do these prominent researchers know that you need to know [about ginkgo]? Why are they and thousands of other leading brain researchers and doctors throughout the world taking ginkgo biloba?

Compelling evidence is found in the pages of many medical journals worldwide. About 250 studies of ginkgo pharmacology and efficacy have been published in the last fifteen years. More than fifty controlled clinical trials, most done in Europe, proclaim ginkgo biloba a successful treatment for diminished age-related memory and concentration, increased absentmindedness, confusion, dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and Alzheimer’s disease. Ginkgo is specifically approved by the German government for such conditions.”

Fraser says in Positive Health with Herbs that:

“Ginkgo biloba is one of the most studied herbs in the world; there have been over 600 scientific studies and more than 50 clinical trials on Ginkgo.”

According to Fraser, a study of elderly people measured their IQs before and after an eight-week course of ginkgo. The group’s IQs increased by 10 to 15 points, on average.

Fraser also says:

“Anyone over 50 with impaired memory, alertness or circulation could benefit from regular use of Ginkgo biloba extract.

… Nowadays, with our stressful modern lifestyles, people of all ages can experience problems of reduced attention span, poor short-term memory, headaches and difficulties in “thinking straight”.

Poor circulation can be linked to stress, nervous disorders and depression, and Ginkgo is therefore indicated in stress-related conditions. It is of particular value in the treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) due to its promotion of blood to the brain.

For nervous tension, anxiety and depression, it combines particularly well with St. John’s Wort, Skullcap and Lime flowers.

La Presse Medicale, a leading French medical magazine, devoted an entire issue to Ginkgo biloba and its clinical uses for all symptoms caused by insufficient cerebral blood supply. It is included as one of the ‘smart herbs’ since it makes people brighter, more alert and more intelligent.

For recovery of memory and to improve learning, it combines well with herbs such as Bacopa and Ginseng.”

Below are a few more summaries of the many studies that have shown that ginkgo can help improve brain function and boost mood.

One German double blind study found that elderly depressed people with mild dementia who were not responding to antidepressant medications responded well to ginkgo.

The University of Limburg in the Netherlands reviewed 10 studies of ginkgo’s effects on people with circulation (blood flow) problems. Ginkgo was found to improve mood, memory, concentration and energy. The results were published in the journal the Lancet in 1992.

A double-blind placebo-controlled study of ginkgo was done in France in the 1990s. A group of 60- to 80-year-olds with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia were given 320mg of ginkgo a day. After taking ginkgo, the group’s speed of mental processing improved, reaching a level similar to that of healthy young people. This research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1997.

In 1994 the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology reported on a study that found ginkgo might help treat depression in the elderly. Ginkgo increased the number of serotonin receptor sites in old rats. This suggests that ginkgo might block age-related loss of serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a chemical in our bodies that affects mood.

How long does ginkgo take to work?

According to Carper, Dr. Le Bars says research has found that people on ginkgo usually notice an improvement about a month after first starting taking it. Le Bars notes, however, that, for unknown reasons, about 50% at most of those who take ginkgo see an improvement in their symptoms.

Does ginkgo have any side effects?

The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) says ginkgo is “generally considered to be safe, and side effects are rare.”

Some possible rare side effects of ginkgo are:

  • stomach upset
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • seizures (fits) in people with epilepsy
  • increased bleeding risk, so people with bleeding disorders are advised to be cautious if taking ginkgo, or taking drugs (including warfarin) that may increase bleeding risk

MedicineNet.com advises us to:

“Seek immediate medical attention if any of these rare but very serious side effects occur: easy bleeding/bruising, fainting, irregular heartbeat, inability to move (paralysis), muscle weakness, restlessness, seizures, slurred speech, severe headache, weakness on one side of the body, vision problems. A very serious allergic reaction to this product is rare. However, seek immediate medical attention if you notice any of the following symptoms of a serious allergic reaction: rash, itching/swelling (especially of the face/tongue/throat), severe dizziness, trouble breathing. This is not a complete list of possible side effects. If you notice other effects not listed above, contact your doctor or pharmacist.”

Ginkgo seeds are poisonous and can be deadly.

What medications can ginkgo interact with?

Before taking ginkgo, tell your health care provider all the herbs, prescription and/or non-prescription drugs you’re using, and any health problems you have that ginkgo might worsen.

According to MedicineNet.com, ginkgo might interact with:

  • anti-seizure medications, such as carbamazepine, gabapentin and phenytoin
  • aspirin
  • drugs that might increase the risk of seizures when combined with ginkgo, such as isoniazid (INH), phenothiazines (e.g. thioridazine), theophylline, or tricyclic antidepressants (e.g. amitriptyline)
  • medications and/or herbs that increase your risk of bleeding, such as warfarin and heparin; anti-platelet drugs, such as clopidogrel and ticlopidine; and some herbs, such as ginger, garlic and danshen
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen and piroxicam

The UMMC advises that ginkgo might interact with:

  • antihypertensive (blood pressure) medications
  • cylosporine
  • medications to lower blood sugar
  • thiazide diuretics (water pills)
  • trazodone (Desyrel), an antidepressant

Who should avoid taking ginkgo?

Do not take ginkgo during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

The ABC advises people to stop taking ginkgo one week before surgery, and use it with caution if you have diabetes.

MedicineNet.com, however, recommends stopping taking ginkgo at least two weeks before surgery, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. The website also says talk to your doctor or pharmacist before using ginkgo if you:

  • are allergic to ginkgo and/or have any other allergies
  • have bleeding problems
  • have diabetes
  • have seizures

MedicineNet.com warns that: “Caution is advised [taking ginkgo] if you have diabetes, alcohol dependence, or liver disease.”

Concluding comments

Ginkgo has successfully treated many health problems with relative safety. It appears to be safer and less likely to cause side effects than many conventional medications used for the same health problems.

written by Nyomi Graef

updated 14 October, 2012

References:
Bratman, S, 1998, The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide, Rocklin, USA: Prima Health

Carper, J, 2000, Your Miracle Brain, New York, USA: HarperCollins

Carter, H, 2008, Ginkgo, ABC Health & Wellbeing,
http://www.abc.net.au/health/healthyliving/naturalhealth/guide/stories/2008/05/20/2229373.htm#.UGZ8J1F32So

Fraser, K, 1995, Positive Health with Herbs: The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicine, Mona Vale, Australia: All Type and Art

Ginkgo, 2009, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health,
http://nccam.nih.gov/health/ginkgo

Ginkgo, 2010, MedlinePlus,
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/333.html

Ginkgo biloba, 2009, University of Maryland Medical Center,
http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/ginkgo-biloba-000247.htm

Ginkgo biloba, 2010, Wikipedia,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginkgo_biloba

Ginkgo (ginkgo biloba) – oral, 2010, MedicineNet,
http://www.medicinenet.com/ginkgo_ginkgo_biloba-oral/article.htm

Ginkgo guards against Alzheimer’s disease, 2010, The Telegraph,
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/ginkgo-guards-against-alzheimers-disease/story-e6frewyr-1225883357608

Huguet, F et al., 1994, Decreased cerebral 5-HT1A receptors during ageing: reversal by Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb 761), Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Vol. 46, Iss. 4, 316-318,
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2042-7158.1994.tb03802.x/abstract

Kleijnen, J et al., 1992, Ginkgo biloba, Lancet, Vol. 340, Iss. 8828, 1136-1139

Le Bars, P L et al., 1997, A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia, The Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 278, No. 16, 1327-1332,
http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=418442

Somerville, R (Ed.), 1997, The Alternative Advisor, Virginia, USA: Time-Life

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2 Responses to “Ginkgo can treat depression, poor circulation, memory, concentration and more”

  1. Stefan says:

    Great article. The best out there, well researched. Answered all my queistions. Thanks.

  2. Nyomi says:

    Hi Stefan,

    Thank you for your kind comment. I’m glad you like my article.

    Best wishes,
    Nyomi

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