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Gingko biloba is a supplement extracted from the gingko tree, which is a member of the division Ginkgophyta and happens to be the only living species within. The gingko tree is considered to be a living fossil and is said to be a symbol of longevity, especially in the Japanese culture. This is enough to emphasise the significance of this tree and its many health benefits, which are majorly for your mental health.

Gingko is used as a supplement for the brain and is useful in the treatment of neurological and neurodegenerative disorders, due to its medicinal properties.

These benefits along with others will be deeply explored in this article in the light of scientific evidence. But, first, let’s learn more about this herb.

Some basic facts about gingko biloba

Gingko biloba is a herbal supplement extracted from the leaves of the tree, which are fan-shaped and lobed. Gingko is a large tree, which has strong roots and is resistant to environmental damage, which is what has helped this tree in a long survival. Some trees have been said to be over 1500 years old and the first tree has been reported in the year 1690. Here is what you’d like to know about the tree.

  • Scientific name: Gingko biloba
  • Family: Gingkoacea
  • Common name: Maidenhair tree
  • Native region and geographical distribution: The tree is native to China and has been grown since ancient times. Currently, it is grown in different regions of China and Korea. A very few tree species are present in India, in the area of West Bengal. but, it is widely available as a supplement.
  • Parts used: Leaves.
  1. Gingko biloba uses and benefits for health
  2. Gingko biloba dosage
  3. Gingko biloba side effects

Gingko has long been in use as a traditional supplement, especially in Chinese medicine. Other than being used as a supplement, maidenhair tree is also eaten as food, due to its many benefits. This section will discuss the health benefits of gingko.

Gingko biloba for memory

Gingko biloba extracts are widely used to improve cognitive functioning and are useful in the management of disorders which can cause cognitive decline. Cognitive decline occurs as a consequence of ageing and is a major health concern, affecting the quality of life of the elderly. Mild cognitive impairment is the predecessor of neurodegenerative disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s, the risk of which also increases with advancing age.

By having a role in the prevention of cognitive decline and by improving mental functioning, gingko biloba has been considered to be helpful in the management of these disorders, which will be explored independently in subsequent sections. Other than having a role in the management of these disorders, gingko can also be used as a supplement for enhancing cognitive functioning in young, healthy individuals.

Studies have found that a 30-day supplementation in these individuals yielded a significant improvement in the working memory speed. It functions by having an influence on the neurotransmitter systems which is responsible for these memory-enhancing effects. While gingko is a helpful supplement and is considered to be absolutely safe, it is important that you consult your doctor to determine the dosage according to your needs and condition.

Gingko biloba for dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term for a wide range of symptoms experienced by an individual due to a reduction in memory and cognitive abilities. Those affected with dementia find it increasingly difficult to accomplish daily tasks and activities and often require pharmacological, physical and social support.

Studies have found that the use of gingko biloba as a supplement helps to improve mild cognitive impairment responsible for this condition. It was also concluded that the use of this supplement in a safe dosage can be useful for individuals affected with dementia, including both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It may be helpful even in the prevention of Parkinsons disease. Other than improving these conditions, gingko helped to reduce associated symptoms and improved the quality of life and performance of daily activities in affected individuals.

A daily high dose of 240 mg has been recommended as a safe and effective dosage for the treatment of dementia disorders. The use of gingko also helped to reduce the incidence of adverse events in individuals. Since neurodegeneration is the possible mechanism responsible for the pathogenesis of this condition, gingko is helpful due to its neuroprotective effects. This has been attributed to the presence of several bioactive compounds in the supplement, particularly, flavonoids, gingkolide and bilobalide. Further, it helps to improve cerebral perfusion (blood flow to the brain), which causes an enhancement in cerebral function. Thus, it ceases the progression of neurodegenerative disorders.

While the precise mechanism of action of gingko which is responsible for these effects is being studied, its efficiency and safety in the management of these conditions has been largely determined, supporting its traditional use.

Gingko biloba for Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disorder, which is seen in the elderly population and has a tendency of gradual worsening with the age. Alzheimer’s is primarily a type of dementia, which occurs due to the deposition of beta-amyloid plaques between the neurons.

Gingko biloba is widely used for the treatment of Alzheimer’s as it helps to decrease this plaque formation in the brain. This was possible due to its cholesterol-lowering effect as demonstrated by lab studies. Gingko also helped to reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory mediators and thus helped to prevent cognitive impairment.

When administered in middle-aged individuals, gingko helped to improve memory function and recall power whereas it was not found to be helpful in the treatment at later stages. A dosage of 180 mg per day for a time period of 6 months yielded these results.

Thus, it can be ascertained that gingko is majorly helpful in the prevention of Alzheimer’s before major cognitive decline has occurred rather than being helpful after the frank development of the disease. This suggests its supplementation to be started earlier during the middle years of life to modify future risk. Your doctor can guide you on the dosage to be used.

Gingko biloba for cerebrovascular disorders

Since it functions to improve cerebral perfucion, gingko biloba also assists in the management of cerebrovascular disorders, which are caused due to abruption in blood flow to the brain.

It is particularly helpful in the management of ischaemic stroke, as suggested by preclinical studies. Ischaemic stroke is caused due to a severely reduced blood flow to the brain as a result of narrowing down of the supplying arteries, which could be due to the presence of a thrombus or a blood clot in these arteries. An improvement is possible with the use of gingko due to the mechanism of neuroprotection (protection of the brain) and neuroregeneration (renewal of neurons), in addition to improvement of blood flow.

Animal models receiving this herb exhibited a reduction in the size of infarct, which was responsible for the pathogenesis of the symptoms experienced. This occurred due to an improvement in platelet function and aggregation achieved with the help of gingko.

At a dosage of 300 mg per day, it was helpful in the prevention of ischaemic stroke and even during the period of recovery. Protective effects in severe acute cases of stroke were found with the help of gingko as it helped to recover cellular function following a cellular ischaemic injury. Thus, it is advisable to talk to your doctor about the use of this herb if you are at risk of an ischaemic stroke or have had episodes of the same.

Gingko biloba for cardiovascular disorders

Some studies have suggested the role of gingko biloba in the management of cardiovascular disorders as it helps in the lowering of blood cholesterol levels, which is one of the major risk factors of cardiovascular disorders. It has even been used for the treatment of peripheral vascular disease as a part of traditional medicine. This has been attributed to its cardioprotective and antihypertrophic effects. However, no specific studies have established the role of gingko in the prevention of cardiovascular disorders and further studies are required in this regard.

(Read more: High cholesterol management)

Gingko biloba for cancer management

Cancer refers to the growth of atypical cells in the body, which have the potential to spread to distant and nearby areas. Depending on the stage and type of cancer, its severity varies and gingko may be helpful in the management. This is due to its anti-apoptotic effects and its rich antioxidant status that assists in the scavenging of free radicals, which are considered to be responsible for cellular changes. Further, gingko helps to reduce DNA damage and activity, which is responsible for the progression of cancer and aids in the repair of DNA strands. Studies have suggested the anti-cancer activity of gingko as it hinders the proliferation of atypical cells.

It aided in the suppression of growth in hepatocellular carcinoma and its activity has also been found against lung cancer. It inhibited the progression of cancerous cell cycle in the cases of gastric cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer. The possible mechanisms for these have been considered to be apoptosis, regulation of cell cycle and of gene expression.

You must consult your Ayurvedic doctor for the specific dosage of the herb, which will depend on your condition. An average dosage of 120 to 600 mg is indicated for the improvement of cognitive function in healthy individuals as well as those who are suffering from age-related cognitive impairment.

Although gingko biloba has been considered safe for use, it has a few side effects, which is why it is recommended to talk to your doctor before beginning its use. Since it is an anticoagulant, it can cause excessive bleeding and thus must not be given to pregnant and lactating mothers. It must also be avoided by menstruating women. Gingko can also lead to the manifestation of an allergic reaction in some.


Medicines / Products that contain Ginkgo biloba

References

  1. Silberstein RB, Pipingas A, Song J, Camfield DA, Nathan PJ, Stough C. Examining Brain-Cognition Effects of Ginkgo Biloba Extract: Brain Activation in the Left Temporal and Left Prefrontal Cortex in an Object Working Memory Task. 2011:164139. PubMed PMID: 2194158
  2. Hashiguchi M, Ohta Y, Shimizu M, Maruyama J, Mochizuki M. Meta-analysis of the efficacy and safety of Ginkgo biloba extract for the treatment of dementia. 2015 Apr 10;1:14. PMID: 26819725
  3. Zhang HF, Huang LB, Zhong YB, Zhou QH, Wang HL, Zheng GQ, Lin Y. A . An Overview of Systematic Reviews of Ginkgo biloba Extracts for Mild Cognitive Impairment and Dementia. 2016 Dec 6;8:276. PMID: 27999539
  4. Zuo W, Yan F, Zhang B, Li J, Mei D. Advances in the Studies of Ginkgo Biloba Leaves Extract on Aging-Related Diseases. 2017 Dec 1;8(6):812-826. PubMed PMID: 29344418
  5. Nash KM, Shah ZA. Current Perspectives on the Beneficial Role of Ginkgo biloba in Neurological and Cerebrovascular Disorders. 2015 Nov 9;10:1-9. PMID: 26604665
  6. Mesquita TRR, de Jesus ICG, Dos Santos JF, de Almeida GKM, de Vasconcelos CML, Guatimosim S, Macedo FN, Dos Santos RV, de Menezes-Filho JER, Miguel-Dos-Santos R, Matos PTD, Scalzo S. Cardioprotective Action of Ginkgo biloba Extract against Sustained β-Adrenergic Stimulation Occurs via Activation of M2/NO Pathway. 2017 May 11;8:220. PMID: 28553225
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