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Ginkgo Biloba and Memory

Ginkgo Biloba and Brain Health

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Updated September 10, 2007

Ginkgo biloba is one of the most popular herbs in the U.S. For thousands of years, it has been used for a wide variety of things, such as memory enhancement, altitude sickness, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) management and many other things.

Cautions

Most people can use Ginkgo biloba without problems, but there are some reports of increased bleeding. Anyone using anti-coagulant medication should avoid taking Ginkgo biloba.

Proven Uses of Ginkgo Biloba

The following list is some of the uses of Ginkgo biloba that have proven, scientific backing:
  • Claudication (pain in the legs from clogged arteries): Some people with a condition known as claudication have pain in their legs while resting or after exercise. Ginkgo biloba has been shown to help this type of pain. Ginkgo biloba, however, is not as effective as physical therapy for this condition.
  • Dementia: People with early stage Alzheimer's disease and multi-infarct dementia may benefit from taking Ginkgo biloba. The scientific research shows that Ginkgo biloba may be as effective as some of the prescription medications for these conditions.

Ginkgo Biloba for Cerebral Insufficiency

While the research isn't as solid as the conditions above, using Ginkgo biloba for a condition called cerebral insufficiency holds promise. Cerebral insufficiency is a syndrome more commonly diagnosed in Europe that involves poor concentration, confusion, forgetfulness, headaches, fatigue, depression and anxiety. Some researchers believe that this condition is caused by a decrease in the amount of blood available to the brain because of clogged blood vessels.

Unclear Uses of Ginkgo Biloba

The following conditions may or may not be helped by Ginkgo biloba. Research is contradictory or uncertain for each of these uses:
  • Hemorrhoids: One study showed that Ginkgo biloba helped people who suffered from acute hemorrhoid attacks. No further research has been done.
  • Age-related Memory Loss: Protecting memory from aging is the most popular use of Ginkgo biloba. The research is not clear on the benefits for this use. As we saw above, Ginkgo biloba can be useful in reducing the impact of early stage Alzheimer's and some forms of dementia. When age-related memory loss is caused by these conditions, Ginkgo biloba may help. There is no evidence that it helps in the general population for preserving memory and mental fitness.
  • Altitude Sickness: Most of the research that shows Ginkgo biloba helps prevent or reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness has been in studies that were poorly conducted.
  • Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder: Again, the research is unclear about whether Ginkgo biloba can help these conditions. Some of the most promising research in this area involves older adults with depression, but nothing conclusive has been found.
  • Macular Degeneration: Ginkgo biloba may improve blood flow to the eye, which could help lessen the effects of macular degeneration – but (again) nothing conclusive is known.
  • Multiple Sclerosis: Some evidence exists that Ginkgo biloba can improve the course of multiple sclerosis. Very little research has been done in this area and the results are inconsistent.
  • Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): Some preliminary research shows that Ginkgo biloba might ease PMS symptoms such as breast discomfort and emotional shifts.

Sources:

National Library of Medicine – Drug and Supplement Information. Ginkgo Biloba.

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