Ginkgo biloba, or maidenhair, is a tree native to China that has been grown for thousands of years for a variety of uses. Because it’s the only surviving member of an ancient order of plants, it’s sometimes referred to as a living fossil.
While its leaves and seeds are often used in traditional Chinese medicine, modern research primarily focuses on ginkgo extract, which is made from the leaves. Ginkgo supplements are associated with several health claims and uses, most of which focus on brain function and blood circulation.
Ginkgo’s antioxidant content may be the reason behind many of its health claims. Ginkgo contains high levels of flavonoids and terpenoids, which are compounds known for their strong antioxidant effects.
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to injury or invasion by a foreign substance. Some chronic diseases trigger an inflammatory response even when there is no illness or injury present. Over time, this excessive inflammation can cause permanent damage to the body’s tissues and DNA. Years of animal and test-tube research shows that ginkgo extract can reduce markers of inflammation in both human and animal cells in a variety of disease states.
Some specific conditions in which ginkgo extract has shown to reduce inflammation include:
- Irritable bowel disease (IBD)
- Heart disease
Ginkgo biloba is known for its ability to improve blood circulation, which is excellent for heart health. It can also lower blood pressure and prevent the formation of clots in your blood vessels, which keeps your cardiovascular system running smoothly.
One study in people with heart disease who supplemented with ginkgo revealed an immediate increase in blood flow to multiple parts of the body. This was attributed to a 12% increase in levels of circulating nitric oxide, a compound responsible for dilating blood vessels.
Some studies show a marked reduction in the rate of cognitive decline in people with dementia using ginkgo. A review of 21 studies revealed that when used in conjunction with conventional medicine, ginkgo extract may increase functional capabilities in those with mild Alzheimer’s. Another review evaluated four studies and found a significant reduction in a spectrum of symptoms associated with dementia when ginkgo was used for 22–24 weeks.
These positive results could be related to the role that ginkgo may play in improving blood flow to the brain, especially as it relates to vascular types of dementia. In one study, 170 people with generalized anxiety were treated with either 240 mg or 480 mg of ginkgo or a placebo. The group treated with the highest dose of ginkgo reported a 45% greater reduction in symptoms of anxiety, compared to the placebo group.
Along with helping with memory, focus and cognitive function, ginkgo biloba leaf extract has been shown to reduce mental health problems both on its own and as part of an overall treatment.
Ginkgo supplementation has helped with conditions such as:
- General and chronic low mood
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
A 2015 meta-analysis study published in the CNS and Neurological Disorders Journal found that ginkgo biloba extract was a potential viable treatment for several mental health problems including anxiety, depression, dementia and schizophrenia.
This makes ginkgo biloba a promising herb for mental health, but do not replace your current mental health care plan with this herb. Speak with your healthcare provider about adding ginkgo biloba extract to your mental health care plan.
Some early research shows that supplementing with ginkgo may increase blood flow to the eye. According to the Mayo Clinic there is some scientific evidence suggesting that ginkgo biloba may be helpful in preventing worsening in age related macular degeneration which can lead to central vision loss.
In traditional Chinese medicine, ginkgo is a very popular treatment for headaches and migraines. If a headache or migraine is caused by excessive stress, ginkgo may be useful. Or, if a headache is related to reduced blood flow or constricted blood vessels, ginkgo’s ability to dilate blood vessels may improve symptoms. On the contrary, some migraines are caused by the excessive dilation of blood vessels. In this situation, ginkgo may have little to no effect.
Some research indicates that ginkgo may improve symptoms of asthma and other inflammatory respiratory diseases like COPD. Probably due to the anti-inflammatory compounds in ginkgo, which may reduce inflammation of the airways and increase lung capacity. One study in 75 people evaluated the use of ginkgo extract alongside glucocorticosteroid medication therapy for managing asthma symptoms. The levels of inflammatory compounds in the saliva of those who received ginkgo were significantly lower than those who received traditional medication alone.
Ginkgo may improve symptoms of sexual dysfunction due to its impact on blood flow.
Ginkgo biloba leaf extract comes with very few safety precautions or concerns. Due to its powerful blood flow-boosting effects, it is not recommended for people who are on blood thinning medications or have medical conditions that result in poor ability to clot blood.
How to Buy
When shopping for a ginkgo biloba supplement, follow these tips:
- Make sure the dosage is at least 100 mg per serving.
- Make sure the extract comes from the leaves and no other part of the ginkgo tree. While the bark and seeds have shown potential health benefits, the leaves are the most beneficial and most researched.
- Check the ingredient list and avoid any products that have unnecessary fillers and sweeteners.
Drink gingko biloba tea to relax. Look for the dried leaves without any fillers.
How to Store
To store your ginkgo, keep it at room temperature or slightly below and out of direct sunlight.
How to Cook
It is safe to use ginkgo biloba in doses up to 240mg.