Studies at USM show circulation to brain increased with Ginkgo biloba. Special to The Clarion-Ledger HATTIESBURG —
The herbal extract Ginkgo biloba, used for its healing powers for more than 4,000 years, could help prevent Alzheimer's disease, researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi said. In laboratory tests, Ginkgo biloba has been shown to increase circulation in the brain and to reduce the plaque buildup that leads to Alzheimer's, said chief researcher Dr. Yuan Luo, assistant professor of biology at Southern Miss.
Alzheimer's is a complex, mysterious brain disorder that results in the gradual loss of brain cells. It affects an estimated 4.5 million Americans. "A lot of mainstream scientists in the past have not wanted to touch alternative medicine research because of philosophical differences," said Luo, who will speak about the link between Alzheimer's and Ginkgo biloba March 27 at Southern Miss' Hattiesburg campus.
The research is being funded by the National Institute of Health. As society ages and life span increases, more people are turning to nontraditional medicines and herbal remedies to fight the ravages of time, Luo said. Ginkgo biloba is extracted from the fan-shaped leaves of the hardy Ginkgo tree.
Although the evidence of Ginkgo biloba's pharmaceutical value is slowly emerging in the Unites States, in Europe it has been sold both over-the-counter and by prescription for years. In Germany, where many of the best brands of commercial Ginkgo biloba extract are manufactured, the herb is one of the most commonly prescribed medicines by doctors.
At this time, there is no cure for Alzheimer's. Memory and thinking skills are damaged first, and eventually, cells in other regions of the brain are destroyed, leading to death. Although no one knows for sure what causes Alzheimer's, studies indicate the greatest risk factor is age. Julie Smith, a Southern Miss doctoral student working on the project, said as many as 10 percent of people 65 and older have the disease, and as many as 50 percent of all people 85 and older are at risk of developing it. Family history and head injuries are also known risks.
"Until we find a cure, the best thing to do is to slow down the accumulation of cellular damage associated with aging, which can possibly delay the onset of the disease," Smith said. You can do that by taking antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, which fight the free radicals that attack healthy cells, she said. Getting exercise, quitting smoking and participating in intellectually stimulating activities also can minimize the risks of getting Alzheimer's.
Source: Copyright © 2004, The Clarion-Ledger (Mississippi).