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Ginkgo Biloba, Memory and Stroke Risk

Bad news for Ginkgo Biloba


Updated March 07, 2008

Ginkgo biloba is one of the most popular supplements. It is used to improve memory and prevent cognitive problems such as dementia. As the population ages, researchers are looking for ways to help keep the minds of older adults healthy. One of the possibilities is ginkgo biloba.

Ginkgo Biloba and Memory Loss

Researchers enrolled 118 people over age 85 with no memory or other cognitive problems in a study, published in 2008 in the journal Neurology, to find out the impact of ginkgo biloba on memory and dementia. Half of the people took a ginkgo biloba supplement three times a day, and the other half took a placebo. Researchers followed up with them for three years. Over the course of the study, 21 people developed mild memory problems; 14 of those people were taking the placebo, and seven were taking to ginkgo extract. But it's not all good news for ginkgo. The difference between the ginkgo and placebo groups was not statistically significant. In other words, the fact that the placebo group had more cases of memory problems could have been just random change.

Dosage and Adherence in Ginkgo Biloba Supplementation

The researchers also found that some of the people in the ginkgo biloba group were not following dosage directions. When the people who were not taking their ginkgo biloba three times daily were removed from the analysis, the remaining ginkgo biloba takers had 68% less risk of developing mild memory problems over three years.

Ginkgo Biloba and Stroke Risk

But then there’s some bad news again: The group taking the ginkgo biloba extract had more strokes and mini-strokes than the placebo group. Researchers concluded that more research needs to be done to better understand the benefits and risks of ginkgo biloba and brain health.

Should I Take Ginkgo Biloba?

Right now, it doesn’t seem like a good idea. There could be something to the claims that ginkgo biloba can improve memory (or at least slow memory decline), but the evidence isn’t strong enough, and the possible increase in stroke risk is just too high. There are also multiple forms of ginkgo biloba in the marketplace. Until researchers figure out which forms are harmful and in what dosage, it seems best to stay away. Instead of looking for a pill, consider these mental fitness techniques to keep your brain sharp.


H. H. Dodge PhD*, T. Zitzelberger MPH, B. S. Oken MD, D. Howieson PhD, ABPP, and J. Kaye MD. A randomized placebo-controlled trial of ginkgo biloba for the prevention of cognitive decline. Neurology, online February 27, 2008.

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