Ginkgo is one of the top ten best-selling medications in Germany. It is also very popular in France. It is used for a wide range of purposes – mostly related to its ability to improve circulation and act as an anti-oxidant.
Ginkgo’s main properties are to dilate (expand) blood vessels and thins the blood, especially in the arms and legs
This is why Ginkgo is used in situations such as Raynauds syndrome, where there is a reduction in blood flow to the hands, and situations where there is a narrowing of the arteries – for example, intermittent claudication.
The dilating of the blood vessels partly explains why Ginkgo improves brain function. This is why it has been found to assist in cases of:
- Poor memory
- Certain types of tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Alzheimer’s disease (can delay deterioration)
In 1997, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a study of the effects of Ginkgo extract on 309 people with dementia (reduced mental function) caused either by Alzheimers, or by a series of ‘mini-strokes. (Most research has been done using an extract of Ginkgo. This is not necessarily to say that untreated Ginkgo won’t work – but the extract is mostly studied as it is widely available and has been used for decades in Germany.)
The study – which was randomised, placebo-controlled, and double blind (the most respected type!) – found that improvements due to Ginkgo equated, on average, to a six month delay in expected symptoms. This means that some individuals would receive a significantly greater benefit than the average.
So Ginkgo is definitely worth trying in these situations – especially as few side-effects have been reported from its use.
This study is typical of numerous studies into the benefits of Ginkgo, which is certainly one of the most researched herbs ever.
Another example, in 1992, the Lancet (the main UK doctors’ publication) reported a ‘meta-study’ (study of studies) of forty studies into Ginkgo, and reported that it was as effective for improving circulation to the brain as the drug alternative then being used – and, in addition, had no serious side-effects. The drug – co-dergocrine – did have side-effects.
Links for brain function/alzheimers
Ginkgo and protecting the eyes
It appears that Ginkgo can help protect against glaucoma, by improving blood circulation to the eyes. Though ‘intra-occular pressure’ – the pressure within the eyeball – can be reduced by drugs or operation, the sight may still continue to deteriorate. The use of Ginkgo at this time is thought to protect the optic nerve in a way as yet little understood.
Surprising Additional Benefits… (Sex!)
Some men who are taking Ginkgo for other purposes have also noticed an improvement in sexual function! Again, presumably because of improved blood circulation.
In fact, in a study in California, 84% of men with sexual dysfunction produced by taking antidepressants, said their situation improved after taking Ginkgo. (Sexual dysfunction – ie erectile difficulty – is a common side-effect of antidepressant drugs.)
An even higher proportion of women – 91% – reported that Ginkgo improved all aspects of their sex lives. This could make Ginkgo a very beneficial choice for many women.
Scavenges free radicals
This is a use of Ginkgo which has not been studied by scientists, because the concept of ‘free radicals’ is one currently of more interest to those in the alternative therapies.
Free radicals are the by-products of normal metabolic activity, which are known to promote aging. Any supplement which can scavenge, or ‘mop up’ these free radicals more quickly is helping to delay the aging process.
Free radicals are involved, for example, in atheroschlerosis – the formation of fatty deposits on the artery walls. These lead to ‘hardening of the arteries’. By reducing this process – which it appears it can do – Ginkgo will protect the arteries, and therefore the function of the heart.
For more information of free radical research go to:
Depression in the elderly
When studying the effects on the elderly of Ginkgo, it was found that many of those in the study reported a hightened level of mental well-being – they felt brighter, and happier.
This has led to further studies specifically related to depression.
In one study of 40 elderly people with depression, who had not benefited from anti-depressant drugs, their drugs were supplemented with Ginkgo, or they were given a placebo. The study reported a very significant improvement in the Ginkgo group over the placebo group.
The mechanism of improvement is conjectured to be to do with Ginkgo increasing the number of seratonin-binding sites in the brain. These normally reduce with older age.
Whole herb or standardised herbal extract?
We have a preference for using whole herb (leaf in the case of Ginkgo) in general – because if the whole herb (leaf) is not being used, something is being left out.
We have seen recently how hypericin, the standardised herbal extract of St John’s Wort, is now known almost certainly not to be the main active ingredient of the herb – and may be virtually inactive!
Most studies of Ginkgo have been carried out using a standardised extract – so if you want to be certain of duplicating their results, it may be wise to go for an extract. However, we know of no reason not to expect similar results from taking the whole leaf, either in capsules or liquid form (the liquid could be a herbal tincture or fluid extract).
Drug interactions & side effects of Ginkgo
There can be no doubt that Ginkgo increases blood circulation – and this is a boon for many people.
However, it may be a danger if blood-thinning drugs are being taken. These would include warfarin and heparin, but also include such mild agents as aspirin.
A small number of cases of bleeding into the eye have been reported, generally while taking Ginkgo with blood-thinning drugs. Also at least two cases have been reported when no drugs were being taken. When Ginkgo has been stopped, no further bleeding has occurred.
Ginkgo should be avoided where there is a danger of bleeding of any kind, or where blood-thinning drugs are being taken.
The usual dosage of raw herb (ie not ‘standardised extract’), is:
1-2 capsule 3 times a day.
Herbal Fluid Extract (1:1)
10-30 drops 3 times a day in water or juice, (This form of the herb is not a “standardised extract” – which is a powder. It is an alcoholic liquid preparation similar to a tincture, except that it is 3-4 times stronger; 1 litre of the liquid has been made with 1 kilo of the herb. Hence the ‘1:1’.
1/2 – 1 teaspoon, 3 times a day in water or juice. A herbal tincture is made with 250-350g of herb steeped in a litre of alcohol. So it is 3-4 times weaker than the equivalent fluid extract.
Extract standardised to 24% flavone glycosides and 6% terpene lactones.
Follow the instructions on the pack. The usual dosage recommended is equivalent to 120mg of extract. The advantage of a standardised extract is that the quality control is more assured. But it is possible that some of the beneficial components of Ginkgo are removed during processing.
Ginkgo should be taken for up to 3 months to see if it will be beneficial, although some people see benefits within 3 weeks.
In summary, it may be said that Ginkgo is a very valuable herb, useful in many situations, especially:
Head and brain insufficiencies – dementia, Alzheimers, poor memory, tinnitus. Also, for depression in the elderly where circulation to the brain is involved;
To help maintain good eye function in Glaucoma;
Where there is reduced sexual function – for men or women;
To help ‘mop up’ free radicals.
However, it should be avoided by anyone taking blood-thinning medication, or where there is a tendency to haemorrhage. If any type of haemorrhage occurs, while taking Ginkgo, discontinue its use.