For at least 5000 years, Ginkgo Biloba (pronounced as ging-koh bi-lo-bah) has been recommended in Chinese medicine as being good for the heart and lungs, as well as coughs, asthma, and acute allergic inflammations.
Ginkgo is the world’s oldest living tree. Darwin called it a “living fossil.” A form of Ginkgo Biloba first appeared around 300 million years ago and flourished throughout the time of the dinosaurs. It is a very hardy tree, resistant to pests and pollution, and can live as long as one thousand years. In the U.S., it is often planted as an ornamental tree along freeways because of its durability. In Japan and China, it is a familiar sight around temples.
Five years ago, over five million Ginkgo prescriptions annually were written throughout Europe. These sales are miniscule in comparison to today’s figures; five million prescriptions a year are sold in Germany alone. With over 1,000 published research studies to date, Ginkgo Biloba is one of the most well known, well-documented nutritional supplements available. In numerous clinical trials involving geriatric patients, remarkable success has been demonstrated using Ginkgo extract to treat cerebral insufficiency (insufficient blood flow to the brain).
The symptoms of cerebral insufficiently include short-term memory loss, dizziness, headache, ringing or buzzing in the ears, lack of alertness and depression. In several studies without a control group, the symptomatic improvement was found to be 60 to 78%. In double blind studies, results were equally impressive with an improvement rate, which ranged between 44 and 92%. Participants who took placebos showed a 14 to 44% rate of improvement.
Ginkgo Biloba has certain active components to which its beneficial properties are attributed. A consistent pharmacological action can be expected when a 50:1 concentration made from the leaf is standardized to contain 24% ginkgo-flavon-glycosides and 6% terpene lactones. The terpene lactones are made up of ginkgolides and bilobalides.
In long-term studies, Ginkgo produced no side effects and there was no decrease in its effect over time. Like nature, however, Ginkgo is slow in acting, taking four to eight weeks before benefits may be noticed. Improvements are gradual, but continue for up to a year or more.
The positive effects of Ginkgo Biloba extract in geriatric patients has led many health practitioners to advocate its use in all people over 50. Specifically, the extract may slow detrimental symptoms of cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that Ginkgo may be as beneficial as two prescription drugs commonly used by patients with Alzheimer’s. The benefits, however, are not limited to the geriatric group. In healthy young women, reaction time in performing a memory test was significantly improved after administration of Ginkgo extract. (Int. J. Clin Pharmacol Res, 1984). Brain waves monitored on an EEG machine one hour after taking a high dose of Ginkgo Biloba show stronger alpha and beta brain wave patterns.
Ginkgo’s ability to improve blood circulation to the brain and extremities makes it useful for other conditions as well. Hundreds of scientific studies performed over the past 50 years demonstrated its effectiveness in treating hearing and vision problems, impotence, edema (water retention), varicose veins, leg ulcers, and circulatory diseases such as stroke and intermittent claudication (pain while walking). In animal studies, Ginkgo extract increased the ability of acetylcholine, a brain chemical, to bind to a receptor site. Reduced receptor binding of this neurotransmitter has been reported in Alzheimer’s disease. Ginkgo’s partner, Phosphatidyl Choline is also a major source of acetyl choline.
Recently, Ginkgo and Phosphatidyl Choline have become a popular combination. Phosphatidyl Choline, an active ingredient found in soy lecithin, controls the rate of stimuli entering the brain, motor activity, learning and memory, stimuli input during sleep, sex, and other functions. The unique Ginkgo and Phosphatidyl Choline combination appear to be beneficial in aiding cognitive processes by increasing neurotransmitters.
Most research on Ginkgo has focused on the complex molecule Ginkgolide B, the terpine lactones believed to be responsible for many of the plant’s potent healing properties. The principle mechanism for the therapeutic action on Ginkgolide B appears to be its ability to inhibit PAF (platelet activating factor). PAF has been implicated in asthma and other allergic reactions.
From the scientific evidence so far, it is clear that Ginkgo Biloba should be a daily addition to the lives of those who suffer from diminished mental function.