For centuries, traditional Chinese healers have been using Ginkgo biloba for various treatments and now Ginkgo biloba is gaining even more fame as a smart drug’ or a nootropic due to its cerebral-enhancing effects. Improved cognitive functions, increased energy, and positive mood are just a few of these benefits. Ginkgo enhances alertness and focus.
Ginkgo biloba is used for treating memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed to help improve blood flow to the brain and is helpful for improving concentration, mood disturbances, memory loss and dizziness. Ginkgo biloba also helps relieve symptoms of multiple chronic diseases such as asthma.
Since this ‘wonder of nature’ has been around for so long, people have discovered a long list of uses for it. The recorded history of Ginkgo biloba, being used to treat bronchitis and asthma, can be found as early as 2600 BCE.
What Is Ginkgo Biloba?
Ginkgo biloba is an extract from the leaf of the Ginkgo tree. Also called the maidenhair tree, Ginkgo is native to countries such as China, Japan, and Korea. Because of its medicinal properties, the tree became quite popular and can now be found in many parts of the world from Asia to Europe and America.
Ginkgo trees rank among the oldest living trees. Ginkgo is often described as a “living fossil,” since it has remained unchanged for over 200 million years. Traditional Chinese medicine uses the seeds of Ginkgo biloba while modern researchers use ginkgo extract made from the leaves.
Though Ginkgo supplements are claimed to have several health benefits, most researches are conducted on understanding and verifying its brain health enhancing benefits. Various studies have also been conducted on its platelet-forming and circulation-boosting effects as well as its anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant benefits.
Salisburia adiantifolia is the scientific name of Ginkgo biloba. The scientific terms for standardized extracts of the ginkgo biloba plant are EGb761 and GBE. In Germany and some other European countries, Ginkgo is available only as a prescription drug as it is considered to be quite effective.
The Power of Ginkgo Biloba
Both Traditional Chinese medicine, as well as, the clinical studies on the subject have shown that Ginkgo biloba is safe for consumption and it is beneficial in a variety of ways due to its antioxidant effects and protective power against mitochondrial damage.
Flavonoids and terpenoids are the constituents of Ginkgo biloba that exhibit antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help combat oxidative stress and thus slow down age-related diseases. Ginkgo biloba has the ability to increase vascular dilation and thus ease up circulatory problems. Improved blood flow to the brain benefits us in many ways. Improved blood circulation also helps detoxify the body and thus strengthen the immune system.
Though it obviously benefits the circulatory system, Ginkgo’s most prominent benefits are brain function and mental performance such as increased focus and memory retention. The International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology reported that ginkgo biloba is presently the most researched and accepted herbal remedy for cognitive disorders.
Ginkgo is believed to help the brain function better by increasing the uptake of glucose in brain cells. In addition to this, ginkgo has the ability to enhance the nerve signal transmissions responsible for various vital functions including heartbeat regulation, eye health memory, and mood.
7 Proven Health Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba
With so many listed uses and health claims, there is a mixed bag of myths and truth out there. We are here to help you sort through these claims to verify which of these claims are actually true. So check these 7 awesome health benefits of Ginkgo Biloba which have actually been proven true:
Contains Powerful Antioxidants
Normal metabolic functions in our body produce free radicals which are highly reactive particles that cause oxidative damages in our body. Free radicals contribute to accelerated aging and disease development. As we age, our tissues suffer from DNA oxidative damage, lipid peroxidation and other damaging changes such as protein oxidative injury.
This leads to impairment of the cardiovascular system, sensorial tissues, and neurological functions. Such impairments have significant contributions towards degenerative disease progressions. To neutralize the damaging effects of such free radicals, we need to consume foods or supplements rich in antioxidants.
Flavonoids and terpenoids are plant compounds known to have powerful antioxidant effects. Ginkgo biloba is a rich source of these compound and hence they have the capability to neutralize free radicals and avert their degenerative actions.
A Brazilian study using Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 confirmed that the extract had an effective role in the treatment of diseases involving free radicals and oxidative damage. Though its exact mechanism is unclear, the antioxidant potential of ginkgo biloba is promising.
Can Help Fight Inflammation
When a foreign substance/allergen invades our body, the immune system responds in many ways. Inflammation is one such natural immune system response by which the body fights invaders and heals the affected region. But inflammatory responses can be triggered by other causes such as chronic diseases even when no other illness or injury has occurred. If not rectified, such excessive inflammation can result in permanent damage to various body tissues.
Numerous studies have revealed that extracts of Ginkgo biloba can reduce inflammation markers in animal and human study subjects in various disease states. Researchers have observed that ginkgo reduced inflammation in people suffering from arthritis, heart disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Improvement was noted in stroke patients and even cancer patients on treatment with Ginkgo biloba.
A 2013 study from the Institute of Toxicology, National Taiwan University, Taipei, investigated whether Ginkgo biloba extract EGb761 could inhibit inflammatory responses in Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease with cartilage degradation and inflammation. The researchers noted that
“LPS-induced inflammatory responses were efficaciously reversed by EGb761 and its active components quercetin and kampferol.”
A 2017 study from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences & Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, China reviewed various pharmacological mechanisms of Ginkgo biloba (EGb), such as its antioxidant, anticancer properties, effect on neuro and cardiovascular protection, and so on. They concluded that Ginkgo does have the potential to be an effective treatment for many of these medical issues. A 2008 study from the University of South Carolina investigated whether Ginkgo biloba, EGb 761, can be used to prevent and treat colitis and they noted very positive results.
Improves Blood Circulation
Ginkgo biloba seeds were used in Chinese Traditional medicine to open “channels” of energy to various organ systems in our body. These channels to the organs such as kidney, lungs, liver and brain are the blood vessels carrying oxygen rich blood. Ginkgo’s ability to increase blood flow to different parts of the body is what makes it effective in ‘opening’ these ‘channels’.
Supplementation with Ginkgo is found to increase circulating nitric oxide levels which in turn help to dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow. A 2008 study from the Department of Cardiology, Second Hospital of Hebei Medical University, Shijiazhuang, China, investigated the effects of Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) in 80 patients with coronary artery disease. A 12% increase was noted in the levels of circulating nitric oxide. Increased blood flow was observed in the distal left anterior descending coronary artery (LAD) and the researchers noted that Ginkgo had a positive effect on improving blood circulation.
Another 2008 Chinese study used 60 healthy elderly adults to test the effects of GBE on distal left anterior descending coronary artery (LAD) blood flow and endothelium-dependent brachial artery flow-mediated dilation (FMD). The research concluded that
“GBE treatment in healthy elderly adults leads to the increase of LAD blood flow in MDPV, MSPV and DTVI, and the increased response might relate to the improved endothelium-dependent vasodilatory capacity.”
Ginkgo biloba is recommended by traditional Chinese healers for treating diseases related to poor circulation as it helps dilate blood vessels and thus improve the blood flow. Combined with its anti inflammatory properties, Ginkgo offers protective effects for heart health and stroke prevention.
Enhances Cognitive Health
There is a lot of speculation on how Ginkgo biloba can improve brain health, especially with regard to cognitive functions. Many studies have linked ginkgo to having the capability to improve attention span, executive functions, memory and focus.
A 2003 study from the Institute for Medical Psychology, University of Munich, Germany, investigated the effects of Ginkgo biloba on mental functions and quality of life in healthy subjects. The test subjects did not have any known cognitive impairments. Sixty six healthy volunteers aged between 50 and 65 years participated in the 4-weeks trial. Based on self assessment scores from the participants, the study concluded that Ginkgo supplements do increase the quality of life, motor performance and emotional evaluation. No serious adverse side effects were noted.
A 2002 study from the Department of Health Sciences, Liberty University, Virginia, USA observed two hundred and sixty-two volunteers, 60 years of age and older, cognitively intact adults for a period of 6 weeks. 131 volunteers assigned to receive 80 mg/day Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 while the remaining were given a placebo. The study concluded that
“Ginkgo biloba EGb 761 in enhancing certain neuropsychological/memory processes of cognitively intact older adults, 60 years of age and over.”
The volunteers who received the Ginkgo biloba extract exhibited significant improvement on “SRT tasks involving delayed (30 min) free recall and recognition of non contextual, auditory-verbal material, compared with the placebo controls. “
For those seeking to enhance their mental functioning and general well-being, Ginkgo biloba seems to be a safe bet to improve their cognitive abilities.
Improves Functional Capabilities in Alzheimer’s patients
Ginkgo biloba has been proven effective for improving functional capabilities in patients with Alzheimer’s disease when used in conjunction with other conventional treatments.
In a 2016 study from the Center for Evidence-Based Chinese Medicine, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, China, researchers explored the effectiveness of Ginkgo biloba in treating Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment. 21 trials using 2608 patients led to the conclusion that
“Ginkgo biloba is potentially beneficial for the improvement of cognitive function, activities of daily living, and global clinical assessment in patients with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.”
They also noted that “Compared with conventional medicine alone, Ginkgo biloba in combination with conventional medicine was superior in improving Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scores at 24 weeks for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Reduces Cognitive Decline in Dementia Patients
While using Ginkgo biloba supplements, a significant reduction in cognitive decline rate in dementia patients was noted by scientific studies. In a 2018 study from Department of Geriatric Psychiatry, University Hospital of Psychiatry, Zurich, Switzerland, 1628 patients with behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) were treated with Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 (or placebo control), for a period of 20 weeks.
814 patients were given a daily dose of 240 mg EGb 761. Remarkable improvements were noted in all symptoms except delusions, hallucinations, and elation. Caregiver distress scores also improved significantly.
Though the mechanism of action is not evident, improved blood flow to the brain could be behind Ginkgo’s effect on dementia as this plant extract has blood circulation improving capabilities. Positive results are observed mostly in vascular types of dementia.
Can Provide Headache Relief
Ginkgo biloba is used for treating headaches, especially migraines, by traditional Chinese healers. Headaches can be caused by a variety of triggers. Stress headaches may get relief from the usage of Ginkgo as antioxidants help combat stress related damages.
Constricted or reduced blood flow to the brain may be another reason for headaches. Ginkgo’s ability to dilate blood vessels can probably help relieve this type of headaches. If the headache is caused by excessive dilation, then it is best to avoid Ginkgo.
In a 2011 study from the Department of Neurological Sciences IRCCS Foundation, Milan, Italy, the researchers assessed the clinical utility of Ginkgo biloba in migraine patients. The study concluded that:
“Gingkolide B seems to be effective as a preventive treatment in reducing migraine attack frequency and in attenuating the use of symptomatic medication.”
Depending on your requirement, the dosage for Ginkgo biloba can range from 40 milligrams to 360 milligrams on a daily basis. Since the effects of Ginkgo is dependant on the dose, it’s important to build up slowly, over a period of time, to the required levels, before you can observe any significant effects of your supplement. It can take about 4 weeks or even 6 weeks for the effects to become evident, so don’t give up because nothing happened in a week’s time.
Ginkgo biloba supplements are available in many forms, sizes and dosages. Dried leaves, liquid extracts, tablets, capsules and even Ginkgo seeds are available across various health shops, both online and offline. Standardized extracts of Ginkgo contain 4 to 32% flavonoids (flavone glycosides or heterosides) and 6 to 12% triterpene lactones (terpenoids), so be sure to pay attention while buying this wonder drug for its nootropic effects.
Side Effects of Ginkgo Biloba
As with most herbal preparations, Ginkgo biloba is considered very safe for consumption. It is unlikely to cause any serious adverse side effects. But there are always exceptions to the case and some people might experience side effects based on too much or too frequent dosing or because of combining Ginkgo with a variety of other medications.
Whether natural or otherwise, it is always wise to practice certain precautions while taking any kind of drugs. It’s important to stay within the recommended doses. With so many ‘over the counter’ alternative healthcare options, some people tend to choose and combine on their own and this may not be a bright idea. It seems that most people fail to mention herbal supplements to their physicians while discussing medications or even preparing for surgeries.
Bleeding was reported as a side effect by a small percentage of users. Since Ginkgo is associated with the circulatory system and increased blood flow, there is a probability that it can also have some influence on anticoagulants and antiplatelet agents. So if you are due for surgery or recovering from one, its best to postpone your Ginkgo supplementation for a while.
It is not advisable to give Ginkgo biloba to pregnant women or children. If you are on any prescription drugs, suffering from chronic disorders or expecting surgery any time soon, don’t forget to discuss your Ginkgo biloba supplementation with your doctor.
The Final Note
Ginkgo biloba ranks among the most popular nootropic or cognition enhancing supplements in the world. Its memory boosting, focus generating and mood enhancing benefits are valued by its users. Traditional Chinese healers have used the leaves and seeds of this tree for treating a variety of ailments, especially those associated with the brain and the circulatory system.
A multitude of studies has established that Ginkgo biloba has the potential to relieve symptoms of mental disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Its antioxidant properties combined with its capability to dilate blood vessels and improve blood flow make it a desirable supplement for those suffering from heart disease and strokes. It is believed to help slow down damages related to aging due to its antioxidant power and its reduction of chronic inflammation. Ginkgo is still being studied by researchers all over the world and more evidence is coming to light over its wondrous health benefits.
Anju Mobin is a certified nutritionist who writes health and wellness articles online. The holder of two graduate degrees, she combines her passion for advertising with her knowledge of the health industry to create custom content for healthcare products. She is the founder and editor of the health website fitnesshacks.org. Find out more about her from her LinkedIn profile or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.