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Mar 07, 2022
5 min read

Top health benefits of ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 1,000 years. Research shows it may improve cognitive function, slow glaucoma, and prevent altitude sickness.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Go to any vitamin aisle and you’ll see rows upon rows of supplements that claim to have powerful medicinal properties. Ginkgo biloba is one herbal product said to stimulate brain health and slow vision loss. But what does the science say? 

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What is ginkgo biloba?

Ginkgo biloba is an herbal supplement. It comes in capsules, tea, or as a leaf extract called EGb (Nguyen, 2021). 

Though considered alternative medicine in the Western world, ginkgo biloba has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 1,000 years. The herb comes from the ginkgo or maidenhair tree native to China. It’s also one of the world’s oldest living tree species and has been around for more than 200 million years (Saper, 2021).

Ginkgo biloba uses

Today, ginkgo is one of the most studied medicinal plants. Researchers have looked at the herb’s effect on high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, PMS, tinnitus, and constipation, as well as blood circulation and memory enhancement. 

Modern science has revealed two key substances in ginkgo biloba that may be beneficial: terpene lactones and ginkgo flavone glycosides. But research so far yields mixed results. Lab and animal studies look promising, though more trials are needed to understand the effects of ginkgo biloba on human health (Saper, 2021; Nguyen, 2021). 

Benefits of ginkgo biloba

One thing we do know is ginkgo biloba contains powerful antioxidants––specifically flavonoids and terpenoids. 

Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals, which can damage cells and tissues in the body. This is a big reason why scientists are studying the plant’s impact on age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. 

Ginkgo biloba may also improve macroangiopathy (when fat builds up in large blood vessels and causes clotting) and macular degeneration, which is involved in vision loss (Saper, 2021). Here are the most promising benefits of ginkgo biloba science has uncovered so far.

May improve brain function 

Some animal studies show that ginkgo biloba extract affects communication pathways in the brain. Improving these neurotransmitter pathways may strengthen communication between different parts of the brain and potentially have positive effects on mood (Nguyen, 2021). 

A few older studies found that ginkgo biloba may improve symptoms of dementia. An early clinical trial observed ginkgo biloba extract modestly improved cognitive function and social function in people with dementia (LeBars, 1997). 

Another later study also showed positive results. A daily dose of 240 mg of ginkgo biloba extract may have improved cognition, mental health, and quality of life in people with mild to moderate dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease (Herrschaft, 2012).  

Despite research suggesting ginkgo biloba improves cognitive function, the claim is controversial and a lot of researchers haven’t been able to establish a connection. The largest study on ginkgo biloba to date concluded the herb doesn’t have much of an impact on dementia, cognitive decline, or the rate of heart disease and strokes in an elderly population (DeKosky, 2008; NIH, 2022). 

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is funding additional research studies on this ancient herb. For now, the research is either inconclusive or does not appear to show that ginkgo biloba has any tangible benefits for heart or memory health (Herrschaft, 2012; NIH, 2022).

Prevents altitude sickness 

Some research suggests that ginkgo biloba can help prevent altitude sickness, which can happen while hiking or mountain climbing. Some studies found the herb may have helped reduce the risk of hypoxia, which is when your body’s tissues aren’t getting enough oxygen. 

However, not enough research is available. A meta-analysis of six studies concluded there wasn’t enough data to say for sure if ginkgo biloba extract was more effective than placebo at preventing altitude sickness (Tsai, 2018). 

Slows progression of glaucoma 

Glaucoma is the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. Research has shown that ginkgo biloba and another plant called bilberry might be able to help slow glaucoma. In fact, ginkgo biloba is the most common alternative medicine used for this eye disease. 

Ginkgo biloba and bilberry may work by preventing or slowing cell death in retinal ganglion cells, which are critical for vision and are often lost in glaucoma. Like most research on the herb, the research on glaucoma and ginkgo biloba has produced mixed results. 

While these herbal extracts show promise in slowing the progression of the disease, there isn’t enough evidence that they can change the course of glaucoma or correct any damage it has already caused (Ige, 2020). 

Ginkgo biloba risks 

Along with the benefits of using ginkgo biloba come potential risks. Most extracts and supplements are made from ginkgo tree leaves, This is important because ginkgo seeds can be poisonous. If you’re taking the supplement in extract or pill form, make sure it’s from a reputable source.

A substance called ginkgotoxin, which is found in the leaves but is present in larger quantities in the seeds, increases the risk for seizures when taken in large doses. Ginkgo biloba might also slow down blood clotting, which could cause problems for people who are at risk of bleeding or on anticoagulant medications (blood thinners) (Nguyen, 2021).

As with any dietary supplement or medication, make sure to speak with your healthcare provider before taking ginkgo biloba. Even though herbal medicine may seem gentle, it can have side effects for certain people. Knowing exactly what you’re taking can ensure you’re not risking a dangerous drug interaction. 

Alternative medicine is forging a more secure spot in Western medicine, and it’s important to have credible information when integrating herbal supplements like ginkgo biloba into your health routine.

References

  1. DeKosky, S. T. (2008). Ginkgo biloba for prevention of Dementia. JAMA, 300(19), 2253. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.683. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/182920 
  2. Herrschaft, H., Nacu, A., Likhachev, S., Sholomov, I., Hoerr, R., & Schlaefke, S. (2012). Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761® in dementia with neuropsychiatric features: A randomised, placebo-controlled trial to confirm the efficacy and safety of a daily dose of 240 mg. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 46(6), 716-723. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2012.03.003. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022395612000854?via%3Dihub 
  3. Ige, M. & Liu, J. (2020). Herbal Medicines in Glaucoma Treatment. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 93(2), 347–353. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7309662/pdf/yjbm_93_2_347.pdfb 
  4. Le Bars, P. L. (1997). A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of ginkgo biloba for dementia. North American EGb study group. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 278(16), 1327-1332. doi:10.1001/jama.278.16.1327. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/418442
  5. Liu, H., Ye, M., & Guo, H. (2020). An updated review of randomized clinical trials testing the improvement of cognitive function of ginkgo biloba extract in healthy people and Alzheimer’s patients. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 10. doi:10.3389/fphar.2019.01688. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7047126/
  6. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH). (n.d.). The ginkgo evaluation of memory (GEM) study. Retrieved from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/the-ginkgo-evaluation-of-memory-gem-study
  7. Nguyen, T. & Alzahrani, T. (2021). Ginkgo Biloba. [Updated Jul 9, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541024/ 
  8. Saper, R. B. (2021). Clinical use of ginkgo biloba. UpToDate. Retrieved from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-use-of-ginkgo-biloba#H10 
  9. Snitz, B. E. (2009). Ginkgo biloba for preventing cognitive decline in older Adults: A randomized Trial. JAMA, 302(24), 2663. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1913. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/185120 
  10. Tsai, T., Wang, S., Lee, Y., & Su, Y. (2018). Ginkgo biloba extract for prevention of acute mountain sickness: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ Open, 8(8), e022005. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-022005. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6104799/ 
  11. Unger, M. (2013). Pharmacokinetic drug interactions involving Ginkgo biloba. Drug Metabolism Reviews, 45(3), 353-385. doi:10.3109/03602532.2013.815200. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/03602532.2013.815200?journalCode=idmr20 
  12. Zuo, W., Yan, F., Zhang, B., Li, J., & Mei, D. (2017). Advances in the studies of ginkgo Biloba leaves extract on aging-related diseases. Aging and Disease, 8(6), 812. doi:10.14336/ad.2017.0615. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5758353/