Herbs — Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba

Botanical Name: Ginkgo biloba
Common Names: Maidenhair tree

Overview

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is one of the oldest living tree species and its leaves are among the most extensively studied botanicals in use today. Unlike many other medicinal herbs, ginkgo leaves are not frequently used in their crude state, but rather, in the form of a concentrated, standardized ginkgo biloba extract (GBE). In Europe, GBE is among the best-selling herbal medications and it ranks within the top five of all prescriptions written in France and Germany.

Ginkgo has been used in traditional medicine to treat circulatory disorders and enhance memory. Scientific studies throughout the years lend support to these traditional uses. Emerging evidence suggests that GBE may be particularly effective in treating ailments associated with decreased blood flow to the brain, particularly in elderly individuals. Laboratory studies have shown that GBE improves blood circulation by dilating blood vessels and reducing the stickiness of blood platelets.

Ginkgo leaves also contain two types of chemicals (flavonoids and terpenoids) believed to have potent antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are substances that scavenge free radicals — damaging compounds in the body that alter cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Free radicals occur naturally in the body, but environmental toxins (including ultraviolet light, radiation, cigarette smoking, and air pollution) can also increase the number of these damaging particles. Free radicals are believed to contribute to a number of health problems including heart disease and cancer as well as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Antioxidants such as those found in ginkgo can neutralize free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause.

Based on studies conducted in laboratories, animals, and humans, professional herbalists may recommend ginkgo for the following health problems:

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Ginkgo is widely used in Europe for treating dementia. The reason that ginkgo is thought to be helpful for preventing or treating these brain disorders is because it improves blood flow in the brain and because of its antioxidant properties. Although many of the clinical trials have been scientifically flawed, the evidence that ginkgo may improve thinking, learning, and memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has been highly promising.

Clinical studies suggest that ginkgo provides the following benefits for people with AD:

Improvement in thinking, learning, and memory
Improvement in activities of daily living
Improvement in social behavior
Fewer feelings of depression
One recent study also found that ginkgo may be as effective as leading AD medications in delaying the symptoms of dementia in people with this debilitating condition. In addition, ginkgo is sometimes used preventively because it may delay the onset of AD in someone who is at risk for this type of dementia (for example, family history).

Eye problems
The flavonoids found in ginkgo may help halt or lessen some retinal problems (that is, problems to the back part of the eye). Retinal damage has a number of potential causes, including diabetes and macular degeneration. Macular degeneration (often called age-related macular degeneration or ARMD) is a progressive, degenerative eye disease that tends to affect older adults and is the number one cause of blindness in the United States. Studies suggest that gingko may help preserve vision in those with ARMD.

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