Ginkgo biloba is a popular supplement that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to prevent memory loss and dementia.
The gingko supplement, which is extracted from the leaves of the gingko tree contains powerful flavonoids and terpenoids.
Its benefits include improved circulation, reduced symptoms of dementia, improved memory, reduced anxiety, and improved eye health.
In this article, you will learn about ginkgo biloba and its numerous health benefits.
What is ginkgo biloba?
Ginkgo biloba, also known as maidenhair, is an extract of the leaves of the Ginkgo tree, which is native to China.
The ginkgo biloba supplement, which is one of the top selling herbal medicines, has many therapeutic properties.
This ancient herbal supplement contains flavonoids, which have powerful antioxidant properties; and terpenoids, which are known to improve circulation through dilation of blood vessels and by reducing the stickiness of the platelets.
These properties of ginkgo support brain function, development, immune function, and detoxifying mechanisms.
Ginkgo biloba is the most investigated and adopted remedy for cognitive disorders and Alzheimer’s disease (1).
History of ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba is the world’s oldest living tree species. Its existence can be traced back to 250 million years, which is the reason Charles Darwin referred to ginkgo as the living fossil.
During the Jurassic period, ginkgo trees were common in Asia, Europe, and America. Ginkgo trees disappeared from America 7 million years ago and from Europe around 3 million years ago.
In the late seventeenth century a German Botanist named Engelbert Kaempfer was the first European to discover and categorize the ginkgo biloba.
The ginkgo biloba trees can grow to more than 130 feet tall and can live for over 1,000 years. Some ginkgo trees in China are said to be over 2,500 years old.
Health benefits of ginkgo biloba
1. Protects against cognitive decline
Studies have shown that ginkgo can help people with dementia. During a study from Department of traditional Chinese Medicine, People’s Hospital of Zhengzhou, China, patients of vascular cognitive impairment of none dementia were given 19.2 mg ginkgo biloba tablets along with antiplatelet aggregation drugs for three months.
The GBT tablet improved the therapeutic efficacy, cognitive ability, and cerebral blood flow supply of patients with VCIND (2).
Another study from Department of Gerontopsychiatry, Free University Berlin, Germany, showed that ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 is effective in treating dementia of the Alzheimer type and multi-infarct dementia (3).
Positive results have also been seen for ginkgo extracts in the treatment of cerebral insufficiency, (4).
The symptoms of cerebral insufficiency include chronically low concentration, decreased physical performance, headaches, and mood changes.
These positive results are linked to ginkgo’s role in improving blood flow to the brain.
2. Treats anxiety
Ginkgo biloba helps alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. During a 2007 study from Germany, patients with generalized anxiety disorder took a daily dose of 480 mg or 240 mg of ginkgo extract or a placebo for four weeks.
The results showed that the group that was given the highest dose of ginkgo showed a 45 % better reduction symptoms of anxiety as compared to the placebo(5).
Scientists believe that the reduction in anxiety symptoms can be attributed to the antioxidant content of ginkgo (6).
3. Improves eye health
Ginkgo biloba is also beneficial for eye health. According to a study from the Department of Ophthalmology, University of California, San Francisco, ginkgo biloba extracts have antioxidant and vascular effects, which makes it potentially useful in treating glaucoma (7).
A review of two trials studied the effects of ginkgo on age-related macular degeneration. Both trials reported positive effects of ginkgo biloba on vision. However, their results could not be pooled (8).
The positive effects of ginkgo are due to the increased blood flow to the eye. However, it is not clear if ginkgo can be used as a preventive measure for age-related macular degeneration.
Ginkgo is also helpful in the treatment of allergic conjunctivitis. According to a study from Italy, when patients with allergic conjunctivitis were treated with ginkgo and hyaluronic acid ophthalmic solution, they showed a significant decrease in the appearance of conjunctival hyperemia, conjunctival discharge, and chemosis, as compared to people treated with HA alone (9).
4. Reduces symptoms of PMS
Several studies have shown that gingko biloba can reduce the symptoms of PMS like headaches, anxiety, fatigue, muscle pain, breast tenderness, and mood swings.
According to a study by Service de Gynécologie-Obstétrique, hôpital Boucicaut, Paris,
when volunteers took ginkgo extract starting from the 16th day of the menstrual cycle and continued until the fifth day of the next cycle, it reduced the symptoms of PMS, especially breast tenderness (10).
During another, more recent study from Iran, when volunteers took 40 mg ginkgo extracts three times a day, there was a significant reduction in physical and psychological symptoms in PMS (11).
5. Helps to reduce symptoms of ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) is one of the most common psychiatric disorders in children.
Although stimulants are highly effective in controlling the symptoms of ADHD, they can lead to side effects like decreased appetite, headache, and insomnia. Ginkgo biloba is also associated with reducing the symptoms of ADHD in children.
During a 2010 study from Iran, 50 patients were given either 80 to 120 mg per day of ginkgo or 20 to 30 mg per day methylphenidate for six weeks.
The results showed that although ginkgo was not as effective as methylphenidate in reducing the symptoms, it did not have as many side effects (12).
6. Treats sexual dysfunction
Ginkgo biloba can help treat sexual dysfunction such as erectile dysfunction and low libido. Ginkgo improves blood circulation and dilates the constricted vessels, which help in treating these conditions.
According to a study from the University of California, ginkgo biloba is 84% effective in treating antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction caused by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
The study also found that women were more responsive to the sexually enhancing effects of ginkgo biloba than men, with a success rate of 91% versus 76% (13).
Unfortunately, some other studies haven’t shown similar results (14).
7. Can improve asthma
Ginkgo is also known to improve the symptoms of asthma and other inflammatory respiratory diseases.
According to an animal-based study from China, ginkgo has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the inflammation of the airways and increase lung capacity (15).
During another study, 75 asthma patients were treated with either ginkgo and a glucocorticosteroid or just the glucocorticosteroid for two to four weeks.
The results showed that the levels of inflammatory compounds in the saliva of those who took gingko were much lower than those who received just the glucocorticosteroid.
The researchers concluded that ginkgo could be used a complement to the glucocorticosteroid therapy for asthma (16).
8. Treats headaches and migraines
Ginkgo is a popular remedy for headaches and migraines in traditional Chinese medicine.
It anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties help dilate the blood vessels and provide relief from migraines.
During a study, a small sample of 30 patients suffering from migraine without aura was treated with ginkgo extracts.
The results showed ginkgo to be effective in reducing migraine attack frequency and in attenuating the use of symptomatic medication (17).
Another study that involved 50 women suffering from migraine with aura found ginkgo extracts to be effective in reducing migraine frequency and duration (18).
9. Improves heart health
Ginkgo biloba extracts can improve coronary artery circulation in patients with coronary artery disease.
According to a study by Department of Cardiology, Second Hospital of Hebei Medical University, China, ginkgo increased plasma nitric oxide levels by 12.4 %, and it decreased endothelin levels by 5.8 %, which helped increase blood flow to different parts of the body (19).
Ginkgo extracts also help to reduce atherosclerotic nanoplaque formation and size (20).
Several studies attribute the cardiovascular protective effects of ginkgo to its anti-inflammatory properties (21).
10. Improves sleep quality
During a study published in Pharmacopsychiatry, researchers found that gingko significantly improves sleep pattern by an increase in sleep efficiency and a reduction of awakenings.
The researchers also noticed that ginkgo significantly enhanced non-REM sleep as compared to trimipramine monotherapy.
Discontinuation of ginkgo reversed most of these effects (22).
11. Treats fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by musculoskeletal pain, which is accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues.
In 2002 an open, uncontrolled study was undertaken to measure the effects of coenzyme Q 10 and ginkgo extract in volunteers with clinically diagnosed fibromyalgia syndrome.
The volunteers were given oral doses of 200 mg coenzyme Q 10 and 200 mg ginkgo biloba extract for 84 days.
The researchers observed a significant improvement in the quality of life scores of the patients (23).
12. Reduces frequency of Raynaud’s attacks
Raynaud’s disease is a rare disorder which causes the blood vessels to narrow when you are feeling cold or stressed.
When this happens, the blood can’t get to the surface of the skin and the affected areas (usually fingers and toes) turn white and blue.
A 2002 study investigated the effect of ginkgo extracts on the patients of Raynaud’s disease.
The researchers gave the patients either 120 mg of ginkgo extract three times a day or a placebo.
The results showed that the patients that were treated with ginkgo experienced a 56% decrease in the frequency of attacks versus a 27 % decrease in the placebo group (24).
13. Enhances the efficacy of schizophrenia drugs
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by disruptions in thinking, affecting language, perception, and sense of self. Studies have shown that ginkgo biloba can enhance the efficacy of antipsychotic drugs in patients with chronic schizophrenia and reduce their side effects (25, 26).
14. Improves skin
Ginkgo biloba can improve skin in several ways. It increases skin moisturization and smoothness and reduces roughness and wrinkles (27).
Ginkgo also helps to treat vitiligo vulgaris, a hypopigmentation disorder that causes white blotchy skin patches.
During a 2011 study, 12 participants were treated with 60 mg of standardized ginkgo biloba two times a day for 12 weeks.
The progress of vitiligo stopped in all participants, and there was noticeable repigmentation of the skin (28).
Ginkgo biloba extract is available in the form of capsules, tablets, liquid extracts, and dried leaves for tea.
Depending on the condition you are taking it for, the dosage can vary from 40 mg per day to 360 mg per day.
Most studies have not evaluated the effect of more than 600 mg per day, so you should not use more than this amount.
You must take ginkgo for four to six weeks for improvement to be noticed.
Side effects of ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo extract is considered safe for most people when taken in the appropriate amount.
However, it can cause some minor side effects like stomach upset, dizziness, headache, constipation, skin reactions, and forceful heartbeat.
There are some concerns that ginkgo may increase the risk of liver and thyroid cancers. However, this has occurred only in animals that were given high doses of ginkgo.
Ginkgo can also increase the risk of bruising and bleeding as it thins the blood. Ginkgo can also interfere in the management of diabetes.
If you have ever had a seizure, avoid using ginkgo as it might cause seizures. Ginkgo can also interfere with getting pregnant.
Ginkgo biloba is an extract of the leaves of the Ginkgo tree. The ginkgo biloba supplement, which is one of the top selling herbal medicines, has many therapeutic properties.
It protects against cognitive decline, treats anxiety, improves eye health, reduces symptoms of PMS and ADHD, treats sexual dysfunction, improves asthma, improves sleep quality, treats fibromyalgia, deduces frequency of Raynaud’s attacks, enhances the efficacy of schizophrenia drugs, and improves skin health.