Ginkgo biloba is the most commonly ingested herb for brain health. Research proves that its neuroprotective, improves memory, boosts cognitive function, to name a few of its diverse benefits.
What is Ginkgo Biloba?
Ginkgo biloba derives from the family of medicinal plant Ginkgoaceae – which is highly loved, appreciated, and respected traditional Chinese medicine. It is the last and only ‘ginkgoaceae’ plant still existing today. The rest of the family is said to have gone extinct, after nearly 190 million years of existence. [R]
Today, Ginkgo biloba (also known as Tebonin, Tanakan, Rökan, Maidenhair, and gingko) is the most widely used herb for cognitive function and brain health.
Moreover, it is one of the top 10 best selling dietary supplements in the whole world. [R]
Although more commonly used by older people, the wide variety of benefits it possesses make it appeal to people of all ages.
Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as ginkgo or gingko, also known as the maidenhair tree, is the only living species in the division Ginkgophyta, all others being extinct. It is found in fossils dating back 270 million years. Native to China, the tree is widely cultivated, and was cultivated early in human history. – Wikipedia
Benefits and Effects
What Are Ginkgo Biloba Benefits?
- Improves Memory (Formation, Consolidation, and Recall)
- Relieves Stress and Anxiety
- Relieves Symptoms of Depression
- Supports Mitochondrial Health and Longevity
- Provides Neuroprotection
- Promotes Nerve Repair and Neurogenesis
- Promotes Better Sleep Quality
- Treats Sexual and Erectile Dysfunction
Improves Memory (Formation, Consolidation, and Recall)
In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized clinical trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia running over the course of 52 weeks and involving 309 patients, it was concluded that it is “capable of stabilizing improving the cognitive performance and the social functioning of demented patients for 6 months to 1 year.” [R]
Relieves Stress and Anxiety
In another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial using ginkgo extract in patients with generalized anxiety disorder and ‘adjustment disorder with anxious mood’.
In this study, the results were “significantly superior to placebo on all secondary outcome measures. It was safe and well tolerated and may thus be of particular value in elderly patients with anxiety related to cognitive decline” [R]
Relieves Symptoms of Depression
Due to its ability of preserving serotonin and dopamine, as well as having strong protective and antioxidant effects, those 3 together allow ginkgo to provide an antidepressant effect. [R]
Supports Mitochondrial Health and Longevity
Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb 761) prevents mitochondrial aging by protecting it against oxidative stress. The study suggests that on a rodents experiment, the extract ‘partially’ prevented changes due to oxidative damage [R] and that sounded good enough for me to reach out to my supplements cabinet for a 120mg dose.
In a different rodent study where they were fed ginkgo biloba, a reduction in platelet activating factor (PAF) activity was noted. That reduction seems to be one of the leading mechanisms allowing ginkgo to have neuroprotective effects. [R]
Promotes Nerve Repair and Neurogenesis
Ginkgo (bilobalide) appears to promote neuronal proliferation with higher potency than Rolipram. Moreover, this can apply to all neurons of the central nervous system as well as the peripheral nervous system (PNS). In addition to the cognitive function effect, this also underlie its nerve repair benefits. [R]
Promotes Better Sleep Quality
240mg Egb-761 over four weeks to depressed persons currently on therapy (trimipramine) was able to improve sleep efficiency by reducing the frequency of waking and increasing non-REM sleep, although REM sleep was unaffected. [R]
Treats Sexual and Erectile Dysfunction
Some sources indicate that ginkgo may treat sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction or low libido.
Ginkgo has the ability to improve blood levels of nitric oxide, which improves circulation via the dilation of blood vessels. [R]
As a result, ginkgo may also be useful for treating various symptoms of sexual dysfunction by improving blood flow to those areas of the body.
Some research has investigated using ginkgo to treat sexual dysfunction caused by the use of antidepressant drugs (SSRIs). Results indicated that ginkgo wasn’t any more effective than a placebo in these cases.
Additionally, there may be an interaction between ginkgo and SSRI medications, which could render them less effective.
One study evaluated the use of ginkgo to increase sexual desire and contentment in women who were concurrently undergoing sexual psychotherapy [R]
The combination of ginkgo and therapy were effective over a longer term compared to a placebo, but supplementing with ginkgo alone was not.
The rationale for using ginkgo to treat sexual dysfunction makes sense, but research does not support it at this time.
Mechanism of Action
How Does Ginkgo Biloba Work?
Absorption of oral supplementation allows for a 79% to 88% depending on the variant whether it is ginkgolide A, ginkgolide B, or bilabolide [R] which if you try to say out loud would sound in between funny and awkward.
Oral ingestion of ginkgo biloba is thought to increase dopamine concentration levels in the prefrontal cortex. Which is related to the flavonoids rather than terpenoids assuming anyone would care about that comparison. [R] – However, the fact that its neurotrophic and neuroprotective effects may actually be extending its effects to the dopaminergic neurons is sort of interesting. “The key benefits of Ginkgo originate in one’s circulatory system. The most popular and effective nootropics and smart drugs, typically have the ability to enhance circulation. Gingko supports the release of thromboxane A2 and prostacyclin. These help protect vessel walls, while blocking platelet formation. The end result is improved circulation in all major tissues and organs in the body.
Having excellent brain circulation is critical, because if circulation is poor, it can lead to severe imbalances. In more mild cases, individuals can experience headaches. In more severe cases, individuals could have a stroke. When you have good brain flow, these instances can be prevented.
This increased blood flow helps maintain healthy neural tissues. When neuron and synapse growth are supported, memory formation is enhanced. Gingko works by acting as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. This aids in the protection of acetylcholine levels. When all these effects are combined, they lead to greater neuroplasticity. This is the brain’s ability to adapt over time, which is key to mental power long-term.
While focusing on neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, Gingko acts as a Monoamine Oxidase inhibitor. Since this chemical generally decreases the amount of these neurotransmitters, Gingko helps to boost mental energy, clarity, and focus (by elevating levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine).”
How To Take Ginkgo Biloba?
For its nootropic effect, the recommended dose is 120 to 240 mg, and to be taken 2 hours before the task or performance.
For neuroprotection and preventing cognitive degeneration, the recommended dose is 40 to 120mg, taken three times a day after food.
Ginkgo comes in various forms and seems to be most effective when taken in several doses throughout the day that total 120–240 mg.
Ginkgo biloba seems to synergize very well with another popular herb and one of my favorite nootropics, Panax Ginseng. The exact synergism isn’t really known or understood, but it is suggested that its synergy is especially effective and beneficial for memory formation and enhancement.
It also goes well with Phosphatidylserine. There are claims of Phosphatidylserine enhancing the efficacy of ginkgo biloba but the study on the subject lacked solid evidence therefore is irrelevant.
If you would like to boost the cognitive effects of Ginkgo, you should stack is with a choline-enhancing supplements. These are known as cholinergics, and include options such as Alpha GPC and Citicoline. By stacking with a choline supplement, you can amplify positive effects.
What Are Ginkgo Biloba Side Effects?
For most adults, the risk associated with taking ginkgo is relatively low, but there are cases in which ginkgo could cause serious harm. If you are allergic to plants that contain alkylphenols or taking certain medications, you should not take ginkgo. Possible side effects include:
- Stomach pain
Those taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) as antidepressants should not take ginkgo as it inhibits monoamine oxidase, reducing the effectiveness of the medications.Combining the two may also increase the risk of a potentially fatal condition known as serotonin syndrome. Examples of SSRIs are Prozac, or fluoxetine, and sertraline, also known as Zoloft.
Risk of Cancer
Large epidemiologic studies suggest that supplementation with Ginkgo does not affect the risk of cancer.
An analysis of 3069 participants aged 75 or older from the randomized, placebo-controlled Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory (GEM) Study found no association with the use of Ginkgo extract (120 mg twice daily) and overall cancer incidence. [R]
Ginkgo biloba has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities and an ability to improve circulation.
Together, these characteristics have the potential to affect numerous body systems and diseases, although the science behind it still has some catching up to do.
While ginkgo has been used for centuries, it’s not completely understood how it works. Much of the available research is inconsistent or inconclusive, and it’s important to keep that in mind.
As with any herbal supplement, there are risks involved. Ginkgo could lead to serious health complications if you are allergic or taking certain medications.If you’re thinking of including ginkgo in your regimen, be sure to consult your doctor first.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Ginkgo biloba work?
Ginkgo extract has proven benefits to elderly people. This ancient herb acts to enhance oxygen utilization and thus improves memory, concentration, and other mental faculties also to significantly improve long-distance vision and may reverse damage to the retina of the eye. Studies have also confirmed its value in the treatment of depression in elderly people. The ginkgo extract may provide relief for those who suffer from headaches, sinusitis, and vertigo. It may also help relieve chronic ringing in the ears known as tinnitus.
Patients suffering from varying degrees of vascular insufficiency also noted an improvement in mood while taking ginkgo biloba extract. This has prompted a surge of interest in its use as a treatment for depression, especially in the elderly. Those under the age of fifty may also benefit from ginkgo biloba’s antidepressant effects. So far though, the greatest level of improvement has been noted with older patients.
Alzheimer’s & mental function:
As more than 300 studies demonstrate, ginkgo facilitates better blood flow through out the body, most notably the brain, where it both protects and promotes memory and mental function, even for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
As an antioxidant, ginkgo biloba combats free radicals and repairs molecular damage. A great deal of research suggests that antioxidants such as GBE may play important roles in preventing or delaying heart disease, cancer and other ills. Antioxidants may even halt the damage to cells, thereby slowing the effects of aging.
Another use for ginkgo biloba is in the treatment of impotency. The main cause of male impotence is poor circulation and impaired blood flow through the penis, which is often the result of atherosclerosis. Since ginkgo biloba increases blood flow, it’s been found to help up to fifty percent of patients after six months of use.
Raynaud’s disease is believed to be caused by blood vessels that over react to the cold and spasm, reducing blood flow and there by depriving extremities of oxygen. Ginkgo biloba may help this condition by widening the small blood vessels, which would keep these spasms from completely blocking the blood flow.
Ginkgo biloba may help symptoms by increasing the brain’s blood flow and thereby allowing more of the depleted dopamine to be circulated to the areas that need it most.
Other uses for which ginkgo biloba extract is often recommended include depression, diabetes related nerve damage and poor circulation, allergies, vertigo, short-term memory loss, headache, atherosclerosis, tinnitus, cochlear deafness, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and PMS.
Scientists continue to study the prevention and treatment benefits, ginkgo biloba may help stop strokes from occurring. It’s also believed that the herb inhibits free-radical damage of brain cells after a stroke.
Why is Ginkgo biloba called a living fossil?
You have to understand that Ginkgo biloba is the world’s oldest living plant. It is called a living fossil because it has no close living relatives and also appears to be the only plant species dating back 270 million years (Permian) in the fossil record. However, it is also one of a rare few (6%) dioecious flowering plants, meaning it has distinct male and female organisms. Not only has this exceptionally hardy species survived three mass extinction events over the past quarter of a billion years, but it was found to be the only surviving plant species near the epicenter of the August 6th, 1945 Hiroshima atomic bomb blast.
Does Ginkgo biloba actually enhance brain functions?
Yes. Scientific research support that it improves memory and cognitive thinking. But remember, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s not harmful. Some people are allergic to Ginkgo biloba. They can also interfere with other medications, boasting or decreasing their effects. If you take other medications, always ask your physician if it’s safe to take a new one.v
How much Ginkgo Biloba is safe?
There is no standard dose of ginkgo. Most studies have used a standardized extract of ginkgo, to 24% flavone glycosides and 6% terpene lactones. For improving cognitive function, studies have used between 120 milligrams to 600 milligrams of the extract daily. The dose given to people with dementia is 40 milligrams of that extract three times daily. No matter why are you using ginkgo, you better start at a low dose (120 milligrams daily) and increase this level gradually while observing your body and its response to the supplement.
What research supports the claim that ginkgo biloba improves memory?
In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized clinical trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia running over the course of 52 weeks and involving 309 patients, it was concluded that it is “capable of stabilizing improving the cognitive performance and the social functioning of demented patients for 6 months to 1 year.
A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia. North American EGb Study Group. New York Institute for Medical Research, Tarrytown 10591, USA