By Jan de Vries, originally published Spring 2006
The history of Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo is probably one of the best-known herbal remedies and it is reassuring to note that it has been around for millions of years. In fact, the ginkgo tree is the world’s oldest living species of tree. Fossil records confirm that it has been around for some 200 million years virtually unchanged! Individual trees may live as long as 1,000 years, but it is the leaves of younger, cultivated trees that are used in modern herbal preparations.
The use of ginkgo in medicine has an equally ancient record. Its use can be traced back almost 5,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine. Like many traditional medicines, modern medicine only recently became interested in this living fossil when investigators discovered biologically active compounds in the leaves that may explain some of its health claims. Serious pharmaceutical research started in the late 1950’s and concentrated on a standardized leaf extract of ginkgo.
In tribute to this ancient herb there are now over 400 clinical and pharmacological studies involving ginkgo, making it the best studied medicinal plant on the planet!
The uses of Ginkgo biloba supplements
You can often tell a lot about a herb’s medicinal uses from its physical appearance – the long, delicate veins of Gingko biloba leaves indicate that it can be useful for circulation!
Ginkgo preparations come in many forms. One of the most popular being a whole herb organic tincture followed by the high quality standardized capsule or tablet product normally containing 24% ginkgo flavone glycosides and 6% terpene lactones. It is these constituents researchers believe are responsible for herbs medicinal activity.
The well-accepted ability of ginkgo to boost circulation has made it the herb of choice in cases of poor circulation to the brain, known as cerebrovascular insufficiency. Ginkgo extracts have also been shown to have powerful effects and may go some way to helping protect the brain and central nervous system, retina and cardiovascular system from free radical damage commonly associated with degenerative disease.
There have been worries over the use of ginkgo in those taking blood thinning drugs since ginkgo itself has a mild anti-coagulant effect. In fact ginkgo’s ability to block the activity of a substance known as platelet-activating factor (high levels of which are associated with damage to nerve cells and diminished blood flow to the brain) make it potentially useful in treating those recovering from brain trauma and injury.
However, there has been work suggesting that even though ginkgo appears to improve blood circulation it does not prolong the bleeding time. The study was published in the journal Blood Coagulation and Fibrinolysis and supports previous research suggesting that clinical bleeding events in patients receiving Ginkgo biloba extracts are not related to pharmacological properties of ginkgo. Nevertheless, until further work has been done we still advise caution when using ginkgo alongside prescribed blood-thinning drugs.
When it comes to memory, ginkgo stands out as a prime candidate for helping those prone to forgetful spells. Studies in the 1980’s and early 1990’s demonstrated the efficacy of ginkgo in the treatment of memory loss, depression and disorientation associated with cerebrovascular insufficiency in elderly patients. The daily use of ginkgo resulted in improvement in these symptoms as well as a reduction in the symptoms of tinnitus and vertigo. An initial six-to eight-week period is recommended to determine the efficacy of ginkgo.
Looking to side effects; problems related to ginkgo use are rare especially with the tincture form or standardized extract. Mild stomach/bowel upset has been observed in less than 1% of patients in clinical studies. Some patients with cerebrovascular insufficiency may experience a mild, transient headache for the first day or two of use.
There are no known interactions with commonly prescribed drugs, although the combined use with anticoagulant medications should be monitored closely by your doctor or best avoided until more studies have been performed to confirm its safety.
Other potential uses of ginkgo
Eye health: A small scale double-blind study has been performed indicating that ginkgo may of help to those with visual impairment due to senile dry macular degeneration. The author of the study feels that proper blood flow is important to maintain eyesight and believes that treatment for neurodegenerative dysfunction should also improve the microcirculation in other organ systems, such as the eye.
Sexual dysfunction: In an open trial, 63 men and women taking antidepressants and suffering from antidepressant-related sexual side effects were prescribed ginkgo twice a day. After four weeks, the patients were re-evaluated for symptoms of sexual dysfunction. Ginkgo treatment was found to be 84% effective in alleviating antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction. The treatment was more effective in women than in men. All patients who responded positively requested to continue ginkgo. No adverse side effects were reported.
From the Jan de Vries archives
Hopefully you enjoyed reading about this fantastic remedy from Jan de Vries himself! This really is a wonderful remedy for circulation, so if you’re experiencing cold extremities, light-headedness or disorientation this could be great for you – just make sure to get any worrying symptoms checked out by a doctor first! I highly recommend A.Vogel’s Gingko Biloba tincture and tablets, which contain whole, fresh, organic ginko biloba herb – just as nature intended!