A powerful antioxidant that improves cognitive function
Jennifer Messineo, MS, RD
Ginkgo biloba, also known as maidenhair tree, is one of the oldest trees and a plant used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The extracts from dried Ginkgo biloba leaves are enriched with flavonoids and terpenoids, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components that give Ginkgo biloba its medicinal property.
Diet, chronic stress, illness and some medications cause inflammation, which is a major risk factor for inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and type 2 diabetes. Ginkgo biloba also contains flavonoids, which have antioxidant abilities.
Antioxidants protect the body’s cells from free radicals and inflammation that destroy our tissues and cause disease. Other antioxidants that protect against free radicals include vitamins E and C, but the flavonoids found in ginkgo protect the mitochondria of the cell.
Many of Ginkgo biloba’s health benefits come from its ability to improve blood circulation throughout the body. Terpenoids are a component found in ginkgo that improves blood circulation by dilating the blood cells.
Ginkgo biloba reduces free radicals and inflammation in the blood vessels, reduces the “stickiness” of platelets, and helps prevent the rupture of plaque build-up in the arteries.
While ginkgo positively affects blood vessels and may reduce hypertension, there is conflicting evidence of its effectiveness in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease.
Glaucoma is one of the most common causes of blindness for people over 60. It’s a group of eye conditions caused by damage to the optic nerve often from abnormally high pressure in your eye. Oxidative stress is one cause of the increased pressure and Ginkgo biloba’s antioxidant property might help treat glaucoma.
Ginkgo biloba may improve several of the conditions associated with the development of this eye disorder including offering protection from oxidative stress, and improving circulation and mitochondrial function.
Dementia is the impairment of memory, and the ability to think and make decisions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. While the ability of Ginkgo biloba to improve memory in healthy adults is controversial, some studies show that it's safe and effective for improving symptoms of dementia, including memory.
Ginkgo biloba may also protect neurons from the damage caused by oxidative stress, which is a key factor in Alzheimer’s disease.
Claudication is pain usually in the legs that’s caused by lack of blood flow typically during exercise. Though some believe ginkgo may improve pain associated with claudication, research results are inconsistent.
Peripheral arterial disease is the narrowing of blood vessels in the legs (and sometimes arms) that carry blood from the heart to the legs, causing symptoms such as claudication. It’s most commonly caused by atherosclerosis, fatty deposits that build up in the blood vessels.
Ginkgo biloba can help dilate blood vessels but overall, more research is needed to determine its effectiveness for peripheral arterial disease.
Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common, albeit serious, mood disorder. It’s usually treated with psychotherapy and medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are the most common antidepressants. Recent studies show that using Chinese herbal medicine to help treat depression is effective. In one study, combining Ginkgo biloba with SSRI treatment improved the symptoms of depression faster than treating with the SSRI alone.
Other natural strategies to beat depression include getting enough sleep, regular exercise, and meditation.
Anxiety is a feeling of dread, fear, and general uneasiness that’s usually treated with psychotherapy or medication. Medications can have unwanted side effects including addiction, headaches, sexual dysfunction, and suicidal ideation. Understandably, there’s a growing interest in natural remedies like herbal supplements that are perceived as safer.
Studies show that Ginkgo biloba improves symptoms of anxiety in patients with dementia. Ginkgo biloba is one of the ten plants with medicinal properties that affected GABA, neurotransmitters that play a role in anxiety.
ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that’s usually diagnosed in childhood and it can last into adulthood. Treatment usually involves medication, behavior therapy, and natural approaches, in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle that includes healthy eating habits, exercise, getting the recommended amount of sleep, and limiting screen time.
One study with children showed that ginkgo reduced symptoms of ADHD and that it has potential to be a useful treatment, but more studies are needed.
Vertigo is dizziness that gives you the false sense that you or your surroundings are spinning. Dizziness has several causes, including poor blood circulation and neurological disorders.
Ginkgo biloba improves blood flow in the brain, and in one randomized clinical trial, ginkgo was just as effective at treating vertigo as the medication betahistine, the most common drug prescribed for vertigo.
Ginkgo is one of the most popular supplements on the market. It’s best known for treating memory and circulation. While studies are inconclusive on Ginkgo biloba’s effectiveness in treating dementia, improving memory, and easing leg pain from lack of circulation, ginkgo may improve your brain’s function.
In one study, Ginkgo biloba improved cognitive performance in patients with mild cognitive impairment.