Benefits of ginkgo biloba.
- Contains Powerful Antioxidants
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Ginkgo’s antioxidant content may be the reason behind many of its health claims (1, 2).
Ginkgo contains high levels of flavonoids and terpenoids, which are compounds known for their strong antioxidant effects (3, 4).
Antioxidants combat or neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive particles that are produced in the body during normal metabolic functions, such as converting food to energy or detoxification.
Yet, they also have the potential to damage healthy tissues, contributing to accelerated aging and disease development.
- Can Help Fight Inflammation*
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to injury or invasion by a foreign substance.
In the inflammatory response, various components of the immune system are recruited to fight against the foreign invader or heal the injured area.
Some chronic diseases trigger an inflammatory response even when there is no illness or injury present. Over time, this excessive inflammation can cause permanent damage to the body’s tissues and DNA.
Years of animal and test-tube research shows that ginkgo extract can reduce markers of inflammation in both human and animal cells in a variety of disease states (2, 5, 6).
Some specific conditions in which ginkgo extract has shown to reduce inflammation include:
- Irritable bowel disease (IBD)*
- Heart disease*
- Improves Circulation and Heart Health*
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo seeds were used to open “channels” of energy to different organ systems, including the kidneys, liver, brain and lungs.
Ginkgo’s apparent ability to increase blood flow to various parts of the body may be the origin of many of its supposed benefits.
One study in people with heart disease who supplemented with ginkgo revealed an immediate increase in blood flow to multiple parts of the body. This was attributed to a 12% increase in levels of circulating nitric oxide, a compound responsible for dilating blood vessels (7).
Similarly, another study showed the same effect in older adults who were treated with ginkgo extract (8).
Additional research also points to ginkgo’s protective effects on heart health, brain health and stroke prevention. There are multiple potential explanations for this, one of which may be the anti-inflammatory compounds present in the plant (9, 10, 11).
4- Reduces Symptoms of Psychiatric Disorders and Dementia*
Ginkgo has been repeatedly evaluated for its ability to reduce anxiety, stress and other symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline associated with aging.
Overall, research results are inconsistent in this area.
Some studies show a marked reduction in the rate of cognitive decline in people with dementia using ginkgo, but others fail to replicate this result.
A review of 21 studies revealed that when used in conjunction with conventional medicine, ginkgo extract may increase functional capabilities in those with mild Alzheimer’s (12).
Another review evaluated four studies and found a significant reduction in a spectrum of symptoms associated with dementia when ginkgo was used for 22–24 weeks (13).
These positive results could be related to the role that ginkgo may play in improving blood flow to the brain, especially as it relates to vascular types of dementia.
- Improves Brain Function and Well-Being*
There is some speculation that ginkgo may enhance brain function in healthy individuals.
A handful of small studies support the notion that supplementing with ginkgo may increase mental performance and perceived well-being (14, 15).
Results from studies like these have given rise to claims linking ginkgo to improved memory, focus and attention span.
However, a large review of research on this relationship concluded that supplementing with ginkgo did not result in any measurable improvements in memory, executive function or attention capacity (16).
Some research indicates that supplementing with ginkgo may reduce symptoms of anxiety.
A handful of animal studies have observed reductions in anxiety symptoms that may be attributed to the antioxidant content of ginkgo (17, 18).
In one study, 170 people with generalized anxiety were treated with either 240 mg or 480 mg of ginkgo or a placebo. The group treated with the highest dose of ginkgo reported a 45% greater reduction in symptoms of anxiety, compared to the placebo group (19).
A review of animal studies suggests that supplementing with ginkgo may help treat symptoms of depression (18).
Mice who received ginkgo before an unavoidable stressful situation were less emotionally affected by the stress than the group that did not receive the supplement.
The study indicated that this effect was related to ginkgo’s anti-inflammatory properties, which improve the body’s ability to cope when stress hormone levels are high.
- Can Support Vision and Eye Health*
Very little research has investigated how ginkgo relates to vision and eye health. However, early results are promising.
One review showed that people with glaucoma who supplemented with ginkgo experienced increased blood flow to the eye, but this didn’t necessarily translate to better vision (20).
Another review of two studies evaluated the effect of ginkgo extract on the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Some participants reported an improvement in vision, but this wasn’t statistically significant across the board (21).
Many of these positive results seem to be related to increased blood flow to the eye.
- Can Treat Headaches and Migraines*
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo is a very popular treatment for headaches and migraines (22).
Very little research is available on ginkgo’s ability to treat headaches. However, depending on the root cause of the headache, it may help.
For example, it’s well known that ginkgo has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. If a headache or migraine is caused by excessive stress, ginkgo may be useful.
Additionally, if a headache is related to reduced blood flow or constricted blood vessels, ginkgo’s ability to dilate blood vessels may improve symptoms.
On the contrary, some migraines are caused by the excessive dilation of blood vessels. In this situation, ginkgo may have little to no effect.
- Can Improve Asthma and COPD Symptoms*
Some research indicates that ginkgo may improve symptoms of asthma and other inflammatory respiratory diseases like COPD.
This is attributed to the anti-inflammatory compounds in ginkgo, which may allow for reduced inflammation of the airways and increased lung capacity (23).
One study in 75 people evaluated the use of ginkgo extract alongside glucocorticosteroid medication therapy for managing asthma symptoms (24).
The levels of inflammatory compounds in the saliva of those who received ginkgo were significantly lower than those who received traditional medication alone.
Another study in 100 people evaluated the use of a mixture of Chinese herbs, which included ginkgo, for treating COPD symptoms.
Those who used the herbal formula reported a considerable reduction in cough and bronchitis at a three-month follow-up, compared to the control group (25).
Preliminary research indicates that ginkgo may help treat both the physical and psychological symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
One study in 85 college students revealed a 23% reduction in reported PMS symptoms when consuming ginkgo (26).
Interestingly, the placebo group in this study also experienced a slight reduction in PMS symptoms, though it was much lower at 8.8%.
- Treats Sexual Dysfunction*
Some sources indicate that ginkgo may treat sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction or low libido.
Ginkgo has the ability to improve blood levels of nitric oxide, which improves circulation via the dilation of blood vessels (7).
As a result, ginkgo may also be useful for treating various symptoms of sexual dysfunction by improving blood flow to those areas of the body.
Some research has investigated using ginkgo to treat sexual dysfunction caused by the use of antidepressant drugs (SSRIs). Results indicated that ginkgo wasn’t any more effective than a placebo in these cases.
Additionally, there may be an interaction between ginkgo and SSRI medications, which could render them less effective.
One study evaluated the use of ginkgo to increase sexual desire and contentment in women who were concurrently undergoing sexual psychotherapy (27).
Ginkgo has the potential to interact unfavorably with certain medications. Some interactions could increase the risk of bleeding.
Possible adverse medication interactions include:
- Blood thinners (Warfarin, aspirin)
- SSRIs/MAOIs/antidepressants (Prozac, Zoloft)
- NSAIDS (ibuprofen, Tylenol)