Gingko biloba, also known as maidenhair, is a tree that is native to China.1 It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for about 1,000 years.2 Historical uses for ginkgo ranged from asthma and bronchitis to kidney and liver disorders.2 During this time, the leaves and seeds of this tree were being used in traditional Chinese medicine.1 Today, the extract that is taken from the leaves of the ginkgo tree is the feature that is promoted in modern medicine as a dietary supplement.1-3 Ginkgo supplements are mainly associated with health claims that focus primarily on brain function and blood circulation.1,3 The exact mechanism by which gingko works is still unclear. However, it has been understood that ginkgo has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.1,4
In the United States today, ginkgo biloba is not an approved supplement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).5 Therefore, it is important to ensure that any individual who would like to try this product consults with a healthcare provider to assess the safety of using this product.
Antioxidant Effects of Ginkgo Biloba
Gingko contains high levels of compounds that are known for their strong antioxidant effects.1 These compounds include flavonoids and terpenoids.1,5 Flavonoids and terpenoids are substances that have antioxidant, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.5 Antioxidants are beneficial because they protect the body from free radicals. Free radicals are compounds that can play a role in many diseases including cancer and heart disease.5 They are also highly reactive particles that are produced by the body when converting food to energy or detoxification.1,5 These free radicals will often have the potential to damage healthy tissues in the body and can contribute to disease development.5 Although the antioxidative effects of ginkgo are promising, more research is necessary to determine the full potential of this property.
Anti-inflammatory Effects of Ginkgo Biloba
Inflammation is a process that is activated by our bodies for various reasons. For example, this can occur when there is a possibility of infection, injury or disease.6 During an inflammatory response, a variety of components in the immune system of the body will become activated to fight against the foreign invader or to heal the injured site.1,6 Additionally, there are chronic diseases which can trigger an inflammatory response even if there is no illness present.1 There have been varying studies done that have determined that ginkgo extract has been correlated with reduced inflammation.7,8 Ginkgo has also specifically been seen to reduce inflammation in arthritis, irritable bowel disease and cancer.1,7,8 Most data has been very encouraging with regard to the anti-inflammatory effects associated with gingko. However, more studies are required to conclusively develop concrete evidence.
What Are the Benefits of Ginkgo?
There are various claims to the possible benefits of ginkgo. Firstly, it is claimed that ginkgo can improve circulation and heart health.1 One study determined that individuals that had heart failure and concurrently took ginkgo revealed that there was an immediate increase of blood flow to various parts of the body.1,9 Another study showed similar events in adults that were older and supplemented themselves with ginkgo extract.1,10 It has also been thought that ginkgo improves heart health, brain health and decreases likelihood of strokes but this claim must still be proven. Additionally, it is thought that use of ginkgo reduces symptoms of disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. This claim is due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of ginkgo which can possibly be linked to improvement in the symptoms of both neurologic disorders.1 Unfortunately, research is still inconsistent in this area, thus a conclusive statement cannot be made. A few other areas for which ginkgo is often used include the following:
- Improved brain function
- Reduced anxiety
- Treatment of depression
- Treatment for headaches and migraines
Unfortunately, many of these have not been proven. More research is needed to fully understand the potential benefit of using ginkgo and positive effects with regard to these areas of disease.
How Do You Take Ginkgo?
Ginkgo biloba comes in a variety of formulations including capsules, tablets, and liquid extracts.2 Any of these formulations are acceptable to use, since none of them have specifically been linked to a benefit in any particular disease state. A majority of evidence shows that doses of ginkgo that range between 120 mg to 140 mg seem to be appropriate when taken in divided doses throughout the day. However, you should consult with your healthcare provider to ensure that this dose would be appropriate for you. There is no clear maximum dosage, so it is important to start at a lower dose and slowing increase the dose based on the benefit you are trying to achieve.
These supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Standardized dosing is not used. Therefore, it is important to use caution when trying new ginkgo supplements. Always use the same manufacturer once you have established which brand you prefer. This will help ensure that you are receiving a similar strength of the supplement with each use.
Safety of Ginkgo
As a natural product, this may seem like a wonderful option to try for individuals that would like to see whether the benefits of this product can work for them. However, ginkgo biloba may not be for everyone.
Ginkgo biloba supplements are overall well tolerated by most individuals. However, there are some side effects that can occur.1,2 Possible side effects include the following symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
There is not enough evidence to support whether ginkgo is safe for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, thus, using this kind of supplement should be avoided entirely.1,2
Additionally, ginkgo is known to negatively interact with a variety of prescription medications. It can interact with antidepressants, NSAID pain relievers (i.e. ibuprofen, naproxen), blood thinners like warfarin and many more medications. It is important to consult with your doctor prior to starting the use of this product in order to ensure that it will not have a drug-drug interaction or cause harm to your health.