How Can Ginkgo Biloba Promote a Better Memory?

Ginkgo biloba is the most ancient living tree. It has been around for at least 200 million years and is often referred to as a living fossil. This tree is extremely hardy, resistant to pests, can reach 100 feet in height and can live for over a century. Ginkgo has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Standardized extracts prepared from the leaf have existed for over 50 years and are used worldwide for a diverse range of health benefits.

The ginkgo biloba extract is prepared from the leaves and standardized to two sets of beneficial substances: powerfully antioxidant flavone glycosides (22-27%, including quercetin, kaempferol, isorhamnetin, isoquercetin and rutin); and terpene trilactones (5-7%, including several ginkgolides along with bilobalide). A competently prepared ginkgo biloba extract also is free of ginkgolic acid, a known toxin.

The exceptional health benefits of ginkgo biloba extract are linked to synergy: the individual constituents multiplying each others’ benefits. The flavone glycosides improve the body’s antioxidant defenses while lowering free radical and other potentially toxic activity. The terpene trilactones promote healthy inflammation control and enhance cell replacement in the brain and other organs. Both sets of constituents have numerous other beneficial actions.

Standardized ginkgo biloba supplements have been successfully used for decades. The sections that follow review their best-documented benefits for brain and body. One recurring theme is improvement of blood flow.

Top Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba for Brain & Body

Ginkgo Biloba for Memory and Other Brain Functions

In clinical trials, ginkgo biloba supplements have improved working and long-term memory in both young and old, healthy adults. In some trials it also improved speed of information processing and word and face recognition. These benefits are consistent with its improvement of brain blood flow, to deliver oxygen and all the other nutrients the brain needs for generating a minimum 20% of the body’s total energy.

SPECT scanning (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) is a powerful and precise tool for imaging blood flow in the brain. In a 2003 double-blind trial, healthy volunteers aged 60-70 years received either ginkgo biloba extract (80 mg) or a placebo daily for 8 months. SPECT documented improved blood flow in both brain hemispheres for the ginkgo group, statistically better than the placebo group.

This trial included a number of cognition tests, most of which documented superior results from the ginkgo biloba extract over the placebo. The ginkgo group improved more than the placebo group in information processing speed, attention, “visuospatial” tests (tracking and manually arranging blocks into patterns), and “general intelligence” (including vocabulary and comprehension).

Ginkgo biloba supplements also can reduce anxiousness better than placebo, even in subjects of advanced age with cognitive challenges. Unlike some other options for anxiousness, ginkgo biloba extract is very well tolerated, doesn’t cause dependence or impair mental sharpness, and so can be used by the young or elderly while driving, going about their other daily activities or even while at work.

Ginkgo Biloba Benefits for The Heart and Circulation

Besides increasing the brain’s blood flow, ginkgo biloba supplements can increase blood flow elsewhere in the body. Their awesome antioxidant array protects blood vessel walls and positively influences their capacity to dilate or contract as needed. The multiple active substances in the extract operate via support for healthy inflammation control, regulation of tissue messenger substances, and numerous other possible actions.

Ginkgo biloba supplements are known to improve blood flow to the heart. Heart surgery typically causes “free radical” damage to the heart muscle. In a French trial, men and women received either a ginkgo supplement (360 mg) or a placebo daily for 5 days leading up to their aortic valve replacement surgery. The ginkgo group released less free radical and other damage products from their hearts than did the placebo group.

Ginkgo Biloba Benefits for the Eye and Vision

Healthy volunteers of average age 34 years who took a ginkgo biloba supplement taken at 120 mg daily showed improved blood flow to their eyes after just 2 days, compared to a placebo. Ginkgo also can protect and enhance functioning of the retina, the eye’s sensing tissue that is constantly vulnerable to damage from intense light exposure.

Ginkgo Biloba Benefits for the Ear and Hearing

We need our ears to hear, of course. But literally overnight, a person can suddenly lose their hearing in one ear. Often hearing returns on its own, but sometimes it doesn’t. European physicians found that giving ginkgo biloba extract (240 mg daily) increased the chances for complete hearing recovery after one week. There were cases in which hearing returned at a better level in the affected ear and even also in the other ear.

The middle ear is very important for managing balance, and difficulties with this tissue can cause dizziness and vertigo. Double-blind trials found ginkgo effective for these problems, compared to placebo. It may also help relieve ringing or buzzing of the ears (tinnitus) in some individuals.

Ginkgo Biloba Benefits for Women

A large percentage of women of reproductive age experience a range of discomforts for days leading up to and following their menstrual period. Taking ginkgo biloba supplements has produced substantial relief of breast tenderness and other of these discomforts, when started during the 16th day of the menstrual cycle and continued until the 5th day of the following cycle, for at least one or two cycles.

Ginkgo Biloba for Kids

Ginkgo biloba supplements have shown some promise for children with attention and behavior challenges, in two double-blind trials. In the first trial, children received either ginkgo biloba extract at 80 to 120 mg daily, or methylphenidate (MPH) at 20 to 30 mg daily, for 6 weeks. Ginkgo worked less well than MPH but had fewer adverse effects.

In the second double-blind trial, children and adolescents received either MPH (20 to 30 mg daily) + ginkgo (80 to 120 mg daily) or MPH + a placebo, for 6 weeks. The MPH + ginkgo group came out better on both the parent and teacher attention ratings, and those receiving ginkgo had a far higher positive response rate.

A subsequent “open” trial (conducted without a placebo) tried ginkgo at a higher dose (up to 240 mg daily). Twenty children aged 6-13 years safely tolerated the ginkgo biloba extract for 5 weeks. The parents rated attention and “prosocial behavior” as improved, and the researchers rated hyperactivity and impulsivity as improved. The children’s self-reported quality of life did not change.

Ginkgo also showed promise for children with dyslexia-type problems in another open trial. Ginkgo biloba supplements certainly deserve further exploration via larger, well-controlled clinical trials for children with attention, learning, or behavior problems.

The Safety of Ginkgo Biloba Extract

When competently prepared and standardized, ginkgo biloba supplements are very well tolerated, with less than 2 of every 100 consumers reporting gastrointestinal discomfort. It is safe to take long-term: clinical trials have lasted for as long as 6 years. Non-standardized ginkgo leaf or seeds are likely unsafe due to high content of the toxin ginkgolic acid.

Ginkgo supplements are not recommended for women who are pregnant or lactating, due to lack of sufficient data.

Ginkgo Biloba Interactions

The main concern here is possible negative interactions between ginkgo and anticoagulant drugs. There is evidence for and against such harmful interactions: though several large-scale clinical trials found no bleeding risk, there is other evidence to the contrary. From an abundance of caution, BrainMD recommends against combining Ginkgo use with warfarin or other anticoagulant drugs.

Closing Remarks

Ginkgo biloba has been a medicinal treasure for thousands of years, and a dietary supplement herbal ingredient for over half a century. BrainMD employs it mainly to enhance blood flow, and it does this so well it very likely improves the delivery – and therefore the benefits – of the nutrients that we mix with it. For its incredibly diverse benefits, its safety, and its added value for delivering other dietary supplement ingredients, ginkgo biloba extract is in a class of its own.


Key Scientific References

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Dr. Parris Kidd
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