Updated: Mar 18
The ginkgo tree is one of the oldest living species of trees in the world.
The family (Ginkogoaceae) can be traced to the fossil remains over 200 million years old. During Ice-age it has been destroyed nearly across all continents except China which became its last safe heaven and from which it has been replanted across the world again. Ginkgo Biloba leaves, and dried extracts have been used in ancient and folk medicine for thousands of years, mainly due to its anecdotal effect on the brain, fertility, heart, performance and stress adaptation.
New emerging research from labs and extensive studies worldwide is now showing powerful clinical and therapeutic effects, and in this article, we will discuss some o its effects. Ginkgo can be effective in the treatment of post-stroke patients by improving blood flow to previously blocked areas. It stabilises cell membranes across the body, including the brain, which means it improves neuronal communication, especially in people who have had traumatic brain injury such as stroke. It has been found to stimulate BDNF (see previous articles). It improves energy efficiency on the cellular level. It can help normalise and improve information transmission across different brain centres by affecting neurotransmitters (information carriers) in the brain as well. It may inhibit the production of Beta-Amyloid, a form of scar tissue commonly found in people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease that is responsible for the loss of cognitive function. Ginkgo has been used in many studies on old people with neurodegenerative diseases with fantastic effects. When, however, tested specifically for the improvement of memory, learning and executive functions in young and healthy individuals, there appeared to be no further benefits which may suggest that while ginkgo is beneficial for those who already suffer from impaired cognitive profile (e.g. people with dementia), there appears to be little to no added benefit for healthy individuals, at least not in the area of executive skills. That being said, ginkgo has shown improvements in other health areas
DEPRESSION When tested in depression against placebo, it produced significant effects on overall mood and improvement on the medical depression score rating. This is probably a result from a combination of factors:
Ginkgo is anti-inflammatory, and inflammation is often present in the brain of people with depression
Ginkgo stimulates BDNF function (see previous posts), which is an essential component in depression treatment
Gingko has high affinity (attraction towards) receptors for a neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which means it helps stimulate a feeling of peace and calmness
INFLAMMATION Ginkgo has potent anti-inflammatory properties. It is possible that besides its vascular (in blood vessels) function, the ability to reduce inflammation is behind its success in the treatment of neurological disorders (e.g. dementia) because thee conditions are often associated with chronic inflammation. Different active ingredients in ginkgo act as antioxidants, also called radical scavengers; they hunt down damaging waste molecules, side products of inflammation that often damage tissues.
TINNITUS While results of using ginkgo to treat tinnitus are inconsistent with some studies reporting benefits and other none, it may certainly be worth experimenting with for those who have not seen a reduction of "ringing" from other forms of treatment.
ERECTILE PROBLEMS While many occasions of erectile dysfunction are a result o chronic stress, other cases are caused by gradual obstruction of sufficient blood flow in the penis, which may be the case in older men experiencing erectile dysfunction. A great amount of research has shown therapeutic benefits for ginkgo extract in sexual function. It appears this works in two ways:
Ginkgo, being a natural antidepressant, helps these patients relax
Ginkgo's ability to improve blood flow into different parts of the body, including genitals, improve blood circulation and erectile function
Not all studies have, however, seen effects and some reported zero benefits when using ginkgo to treat erectile problems so perhaps in these men the cause was different such as low testosterone or other ongoing health condition.
ASTHMA Ginkgo may be reasonably effective alongside medical treatment of asthma. In studies, ginkgo has been shown to affect specific pro-inflammatory processes in the cell, which may, with time, produce a significant reduction of symptoms for people who have asthma. One of its key functions is that it can suppress the production of a molecule called PAF (Platelet Activating Factor) which, among others, has a role in asthmatic inflammation in the respiratory tract.
HIGH-ALTITUDE SICKNESS A small amount of research has shown that using ginkgo extract may reduce symptoms of high-altitude sickness. While these studies were small and very few, it may certainly be worth the experiment for those to whom this condition prevents high-altitude hiking or climbing.
HOW SAFE IS GINKGO? For people currently taking blood thinners such as Warfarin or medication for diabetes or blood pressure, it would be advisable to work with your doctor as there may be a possible contraindication. Women who are pregnant or looking to conceive should also consider discussing the use of this herb with their doctor.
Dosages from 120 to 240mg dry extract split into several doses throughout the day have been used in most studies, and these are deemed safe for most people.
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