Ginkgo biloba or maidenhair tree has some serious lineage, with fossil records proving it’s been around for some 200 million years! This ancient and revered tree is the earth’s oldest living tree species, living for as long as 1,000 years. What’s also interesting is that this popular ornamental tree happens to be one of the most widely researched medicinal herbs in the world.
Traditionally, ginkgo biloba has been used in Chinese medicine for over 5,000 years. In fact, members of the royal court were known to use it to ward off senility. The Chinese still use parts of the ginkgo tree to brew teas, while western practitioners use standardized extracts of the leaves. Ginkgo leaves contain mainly two active components rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals: flavonoids and terpenoids.1 While it is best known for its positive effects on short-term memory, it has many other medicinal benefits as well. It’s been used to improve circulation, allergies, depression, cognitive decline, early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, eye and ear problems, and achy legs, to name just a few.2
Here’s a detailed look at the many conditions that this magical herb can help with.
1. Down With Dementia And Alzheimer’s
It’s estimated that around 1 out of 3 people over the age of 65 will get dementia. This condition is linked to difficulties with memory, mental agility, understanding, and judgment.3 Studies have shown that Ginkgo biloba can stabilize and even improve cognitive performance and social functioning in those affected. Scientists have suggested that the effect of ginkgo is related to its antioxidant properties brought on by the synergistic action of terpenoids (ginkgolides, bilobalide), ﬂavonoids, and organic acids.4
Terpene lactones in ginkgo may increase blood circulation to the brain and other body parts, and protect nerve cells from damage. Research has also found that ginkgo extracts may improve memory and help those with Alzheimer’s disease.5
2. Restore Your Memory
Are you misplacing your keys a little too much? Is your memory starting to slip, even though you’re feeling otherwise healthy? Good news: ginkgo may not just be effective for those experiencing cognitive decline. One study found that when healthy middle-aged volunteers took a combination of a standardized extract of ginkgo biloba and a standardized extract of ginseng, they experienced an average improvement of 7.5 percent in memory, both working and long-term.6
3. Boost Your Sex Life
Several studies have found that ginkgo may be able to improve your sex life. In men, ginkgo can work by increasing blood flow to the penis. In one study, men suffering from erectile dysfunction experienced improvement when treated with 240 mg of ginkgo biloba extract for 9 months.7 Another study found that people experiencing sexual dysfunction as a side effect of taking antidepressants had a success rate of 91 percent in women and 76 percent in men when treated with the herb.8
4. Treat Normal Tension Glaucoma (NTG)
Glaucoma is a condition characterized by damage to the optic nerve, which connects your brain to your eye. Without treatment, people with this condition gradually lose their side vision and may even become blind.9 Ginkgo may be helpful to people with a particular kind of glaucoma called normal tension glaucoma (NTG), in which the pressure inside your eyes is normal. One study found that 40 mg of a standardized extract of ginkgo biloba consumed three times a day was able to improve damage to the visual field in people with this condition.10
These anti-glaucoma effects may be due to ginkgo’s antioxidant activity and ability to improve blood flow and thin the blood.11
5. Unclog Those Arteries
Atherosclerosis, a condition in which your arteries become clogged and narrowed with plaque, can lead to health issues like strokes, heart attacks or peripheral arterial disease.12 Excessive coagulation of blood can contribute to and compound this problem. Ginkgo biloba may be able to help by interfering with a compound produced by your own body known as platelet activating factor. This compound stimulates blood platelets to coagulate or stick together. Taking ginkgo can lessen this coagulation.
You’ve probably heard that LDL cholesterol is a major player in the development of arteriosclerosis, but, specifically, it’s oxidized LDL cholesterol that damages your arteries.13 Ginkgo might be able to prevent LDL cholesterol from getting oxidized and leading to arteriosclerosis.14 This is where ginkgo’s antioxidants can help save the day.
6. Improve Circulation And Fight The Pain Of Intermittent Claudication
Intermittent claudication describes a condition in which people experience pain in their legs while walking. This usually happens because of a medical condition known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD), characterized by the accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries. These deposits reduce the flow of blood to the leg muscles.15 Research has found that taking ginkgo biloba extract can improve the distance a patient can walk without pain and increase their maximum walking distance. 16 This is likely due to ginkgo’s ability to improve blood circulation.
7. Avoid Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is usually seen in adults aged 60 or older. People with this condition experience loss of central vision due to damage to their macula. Research has found that having ginkgo can be helpful in treating this condition in the early stages. One study observed an improvement in long-distance visual acuity after treatment. Once again, experts suggest this could be due to the herb’s remarkable antioxidant effects.17
8. Silence The Noise Of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is the medical term for what’s commonly called a “ringing in the ears.” People with this condition hear sounds – buzzing, hissing, humming, whistling – that don’t have an outside source.18 Affected people may have trouble sleeping, hearing, and even working. Standardized Ginkgo biloba leaf extract is frequently prescribed for tinnitus and research seems to back its efficacy. For example, a 13-month-long French study involving 103 patients found the extract to be quite effective at improving the condition. However, the exact mechanism through which it works is not yet clear.19
9. Fight Asthma And Breathe Easier
Those with asthma may want to give ginkgo a try as well. Research has found that a highly concentrated tincture of ginkgo leaf works well at combating allergic airway inflammation, the primary cause of airway hyperreactivity among asthma patients. The herb can improve pulmonary functions and also block the activity of platelet-activating factor (PAF), a compound produced by the body that is partly responsible for asthma symptoms.20 21
10. Melt That Anxiety Away
Many people suffer from anxiety, some even daily. However, ginkgo extract can help give you a sense of calm. It can stabilize mood, improve cognitive functioning, and can reduce anxiety symptoms in individuals with mental decline. Tests have also been carried out to study its effects on younger patients with clinical anxiety.
A 4-week study tested the effects of ginkgo extracts on young patients suffering from generalized anxiety disorder or adjustment disorder with anxious mood. The results were promising: patients experienced significantly greater relief than the control group given a placebo.22
11. See Your Skin Glow
Ginkgo biloba extracts may be beneficial on the outside, too. When applied externally, a blend of antioxidant-rich green tea and ginkgo extract could leave your skin feeling supple and rejuvenated – and the effects are not just superficial. One study found that topically applying such a combination had a moisturizing effect on the skin and increased cell renewal rates. There was a noticeable increase in the number of cell layers – this means the beneficial effects went quite deep. In combination, the two ingredients also improved the elasticity and barrier function of the skin.23 Because of this, many commercial skin care products contain extracts of this powerful antioxidant.
How To Use Ginkgo Biloba
Scientific studies have safely used 120–240 mg of ginkgo biloba extracts in divided doses. Such extracts are generally standardized to contain 24–32 percent flavonoids, and 6–12 percent terpenoids.
The herb is easily available as capsules, tablets and liquid extracts. You can also prepare a tea from the dried leaves of Ginkgo biloba.24 However, some experts believe that since the active components of Ginkgo biloba are not water soluble, their benefits may not be effective in a tea. Further, the concentration needed for medicinal benefits is quite high – an amount you could only get in a capsule, extract, or pill.25
Possible Side Effects And Precautions You Must Take
Though ginkgo biloba has many benefits, it’s important to note some possible side effects. Be sure to watch for these or take precautions before including this herb in your health regimen.
- Some people may experience side effects such as skin problems, stomach problems, headaches, or dizziness.
- Ginkgo is not recommended for people with epilepsy as it may cause seizures.
- It should not be given to children without medical advice. Although Ginkgo biloba is sometimes recommended for children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia, there are not enough large-scale studies to confirm its benefits and side effects.
- Ginkgo is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women. While there is insufficient data about its effects on nursing women, it’s not advisable during pregnancy for fear of bleeding risks.
- Ginkgo may increase or lower blood sugar and insulin levels. If you’re diabetic, consult your doctor before taking.
- Since ginkgo has blood-thinning effects and can increase bleeding, it’s a good idea to stop taking it a couple of weeks before you have any surgical or dental procedure. And don’t forget to inform your doctor that you’ve been using this herb.
- The fruit and seed of ginkgo can be toxic and should not be consumed.
- Ginkgo can interact with several medications including those used for depression, seizures, high blood pressure, blood thinning, and high blood sugar. Check with your doctor about potential interactions with any medication you are on.26
|↑1||Kleijnen, Jos, and Paul Knipschild. “Ginkgo biloba.” The Lancet 340, no. 8828 (1992): 1136-1139.|
|↑2||Brown, Stephan. Ginkgo Biloba: Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin, A-231. Storey Publishing, 2000.|
|↑3||About dementia. National Health Service (NHS, UK).|
|↑4||Le Bars, Pierre L., Martin M. Katz, Nancy Berman, Turan M. Itil, Alfred M. Freedman, and Alan F. Schatzberg. “A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia.” Jama 278, no. 16 (1997): 1327-1332.|
|↑5, ↑24, ↑26||Ginkgo biloba. University of Maryland.|
|↑6||Wesnes KA1, Ward T, McGinty A, and O Petrini. “The memory enhancing effects of a Ginkgo biloba/Panax ginseng combination in healthy middle-aged volunteers.” Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2000 Nov;152(4):353-61.|
|↑7||Sohn, Michael, and Richard Sikora. “Ginkgo biloba extract in the therapy of erectile dysfunction.” Journal of Sex Education and Therapy 17, no. 1 (1991): 53-61.|
|↑8||Cohen, Alan J., and Barbara Bartlik. “Ginkgo biloba for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction.” Journal of sex & marital therapy 24, no. 2 (1998): 139-143.|
|↑9||Glaucoma. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑10||Quaranta, Luciano, Sabina Bettelli, Maurizio G. Uva, Francesco Semeraro, Raffaele Turano, and Enrico Gandolfo. “Effect of Ginkgo biloba extract on preexisting visual field damage in normal tension glaucoma.” Ophthalmology 110, no. 2 (2003): 359-362.|
|↑11||Ritch, R. “Potential role for Ginkgo biloba extract in the treatment of glaucoma.” Medical hypotheses 54, no. 2 (2000): 221-235.|
|↑12||Atherosclerosis (arteriosclerosis). National Health Service.|
|↑13||HDL cholesterol: Protecting your heart and arteries. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑14, ↑21||Ginkgo. University of Michigan.|
|↑15||Peripheral arterial disease (PAD). NHS, UK.|
|↑16||Bauer, U. “6-Month double-blind randomised clinical trial of Ginkgo biloba extract versus placebo in two parallel groups in patients suffering from peripheral arterial insufficiency.” Arzneimittel-Forschung 34, no. 6 (1983): 716-720.|
|↑17||Lebuisson, D. A., L. Leroy, and G. Rigal. “Treatment of senile macular degeneration with Ginkgo biloba extract. A preliminary double-blind drug vs. placebo study.” Presse medicale (Paris, France: 1983) 15, no. 31 (1986): 1556-1558.|
|↑18||Tinnitus. NHS, UK.|
|↑19||Meyer, B. “Multicenter randomized double-blind drug vs. placebo study of the treatment of tinnitus with Ginkgo biloba extract.” Presse medicale (Paris, France: 1983) 15, no. 31 (1986): 1562-1564.|
|↑20||Li, Ming-hua, Ben-ying Yang, Hong Yu, and Hong-liang Zhang. “Clinical observation of the therapeutic effect of ginkgo leaf concentrated oral liquor on bronchial asthma.” Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine 3, no. 4 (1997): 264-267.|
|↑22||Woelk, H., K. H. Arnoldt, M. Kieser, and R. Hoerr. “Ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761® in generalized anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder with anxious mood: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Journal of psychiatric research 41, no. 6 (2007): 472-480.|
|↑23||Campos, P. M., Mirela D. Gianeti, Daiane G. Mercurio, and Lorena R. Gaspar. “Synergistic effects of green tea and ginkgo biloba extracts on the improvement of skin barrier function and elasticity.” Journal of drugs in dermatology: JDD 13, no. 9 (2014): 1092-1097.|
|↑25||Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for nutritional healing. Penguin, 2006.|