Ginkgo biloba is the only remaining member of a family of trees that flourished centuries ago in ancient China. Dubbed a living fossil, ginkgo today thrives worldwide in parks and gardens, and in plantations where leaves of carefully pruned ginkgo shrubs are harvested and processed into supplements. Although the people of China have been using the fruits and seeds since 2800 BC, only during the last 20 years has Western medicine begun to recognize the value of ginkgo leaves in the form of a concentrated extract. Today ginkgo leaf extract is one of the most widely prescribed medications in Europe.
What Is It Good For?
Although often advertised as a “smart pill,” human studies of the effectiveness of ginkgo biloba have had mixed results. Small studies have found that it provided limited benefit for people with various dementias, including Alzheimer’s dementia. For instance, a year-long study of 202 Alzheimer’s patients at clinics in New York and Boston found that those who took ginkgo improved or halted the deterioration of their mental abilities and social functioning. However, a major 6-year study of over 3,000 elderly people published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2008 found that it had no effect on patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Human research has also shown that ginkgo extract increases pain-free walking distance in people with leg pain due to clogged arteries, but more studies are needed. Other human studies indicate that it may help some forms of dizziness, prevent altitude sickness and improve distance vision in people with macular degeneration (breakdown of an area in the back of the eye). In addition, ginkgo extract appears to have reversed sexual dysfunction in some people who took the antidepressant drugs Paxil (Paraoxetine), Prozac (Fluoxetine), or Zoloft (Sertraline).
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