Biological Name: Ginkgo biloba
Other Names: Maidenhair tree, Ginkgo Biloba
Parts Used: Leaves
The medical benefits of ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) rely on the proper balance of two groups of active components: the ginkgo flavone glycosides and the terpene lactones. The 24% ginkgo flavone glycoside designation on GBE labels indicates the carefully measured balance of bioflavonoids. These bioflavonoids are primarily responsible for GBE’s antioxidant activity and ability to inhibit platelet aggregation (stickiness). These two actions may help GBE prevent circulatory diseases, such as atherosclerosis, and support the brain and central nervous system.
The unique terpene lactone components found in GBE, known as ginkgolides and bilobalide, increase circulation to the brain and other parts of the body as well as exert a protective effect on nerve cells. Ginkgolides may improve circulation and inhibit platelet-activating factor (PAF). Bilobalide protects the cells of the nervous system. Recent animal studies indicate that bilobalide may help regenerate damaged nerve cells.
Ginkgo is the oldest living tree species in the world, having survived unchanged in China for over three hundred million years. Charles Darwin called the gingko tree a living fossil. Ginkgo trees, also known as maidenhair trees, are very resistant to viruses, fungi, insects, pollution, and even radiation. In fact, a ginkgo tree was the only plant to survive the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The great longevity of the ginkgo has made it a popular ornamental tree in parks and along the streets of U.S. cities. Individual trees can live for more than a thousand years.
Medicinal use of ginkgo can be traced back almost 5,000 years in Chinese herbal medicine. It was recommended for respiratory tract ailments as well as memory loss in the elderly. Today, Ginkgo biloba extract is recognized as an invaluable aid in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
• Symptomatic relief of organic brain dysfunction
• Intermittent Claudification
• Vertigo (vascular origin)
• Tinnitus (vascular origin)
It is useful for disturbed brain functions, which result in dizziness, tinnitus, and headache with emotional lability and anxiety. Ginkgo has also been demonstrated to improve concentration and memory deficits as a result of peripheral arterial occlusive disease.
Congestive heart failure
GBE and Circulation:
GBE increases circulation to both the brain and extremities of the body. In addition to inhibiting platelet stickiness, GBE regulates the tone and elasticity of blood vessels. In other words, it makes circulation more efficient. This improvement in circulation efficiency extends to both large vessels (arteries) and smaller vessels (capillaries) in the circulatory system.
GBE may have antioxidant properties in the brain, retina of the eye, and the cardiovascular system. Its antioxidant activity in the brain and central nervous system may help prevent age-related declines in brain function. GBE’s antioxidant activity in the brain is of particular interest. The brain and central nervous system are particularly susceptible to free radical attack. Free radical damage in the brain is widely accepted as being a contributing factor in many disorders associated with aging, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Nerve Protection and PAF Inhibition:
One of the primary protective effects of the ginkgolides are their ability to inhibit a substance known as platelet-activating factor (PAF). PAF is a mediator released from cells that causes platelets to aggregate (clump together). High amounts of PAF are associated with damage to nerve cells, poor blood flow to the central nervous system, inflammatory conditions, and bronchial constrictions. Much like free radicals, higher PAF levels are also associated with aging. Ginkgolides and bilobalide protect nerve cells in the central nervous system from damage during periods of ischemia (lack of oxygen to tissues in the body). This effect may be supportive for persons who have suffered a stroke.
Ginkgo increases blood flow to the brain and has excellent restorative effects on the nervous system. Hundreds of scientific studies, involving tens of thousands of patients, attest to the effectiveness of Ginkgo biloba extract for the many problems associated with cerebral vascular insufficiency and impaired mental performance in elderly patients. The active components of Ginkgo biloba have a profound tonic effect on the mind and body. GBE has been shown to inhibit the reuptake of norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine, important neurotransmitters in the brain. The extract acts as an antioxidant and a nerve cell membrane stabilizer. It also enhances oxygen and glucose utilization and increases blood flow in arteries, veins, and capillaries. Experiments involving learned helplessness and behavioral despair in laboratory animals demonstrated that GBE exhibited some antianxiety and antidepressant activities.
Ginkgo is of benefit for many of the presumed symptoms of aging such as:
• Anxiety and depression
• Memory impairment
• Poor concentration, decreased alertness
• Diminished intellectual capacity
• Vertigo, headache
• Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
• Macular degeneration ( the most common cause of blindness in adults)
• Inner ear disturbances (which can cause partial deafness)
• Poor circulation in the extremities
• Impotence due to impaired penile blood flow
Clinical Trials And Proof of Efficacy:
In October, 1997 JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) published research showing that Ginkgo biloba extract appears to slow Alzheimer’s disease. The randomly assigned, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was performed for one year by neurologist Dr. Pierre L. LeBars and a team of scientists at the New York Institute for Medical Research. The study found that 27 percent of patients who took 120 mg of ginkgo extract for six months or longer improved their mental functioning, including memory, reasoning, and the ability to learn, compared to only 14 percent of those taking placebo. The study began with 309 patients aged 45 or older with most suffering from Alzheimer’s disease but also some with dementia caused by strokes. The study showed that ginkgo can stabilize or even improve mental performance in one-third of those who are mildly impaired by Alzheimer’s.
German studies have demonstrated that 240 mg of Egb761 (the particular form of Ginkgo biloba extract used in the JAMA study) a day is perhaps more effective than the 120 mg daily dose used in the JAMA study for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Other studies on ginkgo have appeared in such diverse journals as Lancet, Audiology, and the Journal of Urology. Over 120,000 physicians worldwide write over ten million prescriptions for ginkgo each year, accounting for over five hundred million dollars in sales.
Ginkgo Biloba is the world’s oldest living species of tree; individual trees live as long as 1,000 years. The leaves of the tree are used. Ginkgo grows most prominently in the southern and eastern United States and in China.
Many people take 120-160 mg of GBE, standardized to contain 6% terpene lactones and 24% flavone glycosides, two to three times per day. Amounts up to 240 mg per day are used by some people with cerebrovascular insufficiency, confusion and memory loss, and resistant depression. GBE may need to be taken for six to eight weeks before desired effects are noticed. Ginkgo may also be taken as a tincture of 0.5 ml three times daily.
Ginkgo extract is considered relatively safe and remarkably free of side effects when taken as directed. Some people who take extremely large doses may have diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and restlessness. If this should occur, reduce the dosage. If side effects are severe, discontinue it. Ginkgo biloba extract acts as a blood thinner by inhibiting platelets from clumping together, so it could be unsafe for patients who are taking aspirin or other blood thinners. In Europe, ginkgo extract is prescribed in lower doses ( 40 mg daily) for patients who are taking aspirin or anticoagulants for circulatory problems.
There are no known contraindications to the use of GBE by pregnant and lactating women.
It is important to remember that circulatory conditions in the elderly can involve serious disease. Individuals should seek proper medical care and accurate medical diagnosis prior to self-prescribing GBE.