Ginkgo Biloba by Mary Shipp


Americans today are taking an active role in managing their health. Many Americans no longer rely totally on board certified medical doctors and pharmaceutical drugs for treating their medical ailments and improving their health. Therefore, the use of herbal and alternative therapies has increased dramatically over recent years. Many people within America and abroad believe that herbs can be used to treat medical ailments. In this paper, I will focus on the herb ginkgo biloba. Should ginkgo biloba be used to treat medical ailments associated with aging? Is it an effective treatment? I will explore those questions and try to answer them.

The ginkgo biloba tree is the oldest living tree species. "The leaves are double- or bi-lobed: hence the name biloba." (The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs, 1999). It is the last remaining member of the Ginkgoaceae family. The ginkgo, also known as the maidenhair tree, has been growing on earth for more than two hundred million years. The ginkgo tree is now cultivated for its nut and its leaves. There is a male and female ginkgo tree. In China and Japan, the nuts from the female tree are considered a culinary delicacy with healing properties.

Extracts of leaves from the ginkgo tree have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over five thousand years. The extract has been used to treat and prevent various medical conditions. The medical form of the herb is made from dried leaves. Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE), a concentrated form of the herb, is obtained by drying and milling the leaves. A complex chemical process then extracts active ingredients from ginkgo leaves. Terpene lactones and flavone glycosides are considered to be the most important of the active ingredient.

There are many claims about the medical conditions might be improved by the usage of ginkgo biloba. It is believed that ginkgo biloba may have a role in treating memory impairments, Alzheimerís disease, circulation


female ginkgo tree



male ginkgo tree

problems, vertigo, tinnitus, intermittent claudication, Raynaudís disease, anxiety, altitude sickness, and varicose veins. Its use as a form of treatment for asthma, sexual dysfunction, depressive disorders, and its use immediately after stroke, are being investigated.

Ginkgo biloba is now a widely used medicinal drug throughout the world. In particular, it is a commonly prescribed drug in Germany and France.


Ginkgo works by increasing blood flow throughout the body and to the brain. It is a potent antioxidant that protects the body from free-radical damage.

Michael Castelman stated in the book The Healing Herbs: "medical excitement over ginkgo comes principally from the herbs ability to interfere with the action of a substance the body produces called platelet activation factor (PAF). Discovered in 1972, PAF is involved in an enormous number of biological processes: asthma attacks, organ graft refection, arterial blood flow, and the internal blood clots involved in heart attacks and some strokes. By inhibiting PAF, ginkgo has been shown to have enormous healing potential, particularly in conditions associated with aging." (278).

One such condition associated with aging is Alzheimerís disease. There have been a number of studies conducted to determine the effectiveness of ginkgo biloba as a form treatment for people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimerís disease. The following is the definition of Alzheimerís disease from the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine: "Alzheimerís disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, a neurologic disease characterized by loss of mental ability severe enough to interfere with normal activities of daily living, lasting at least six months, and not present from birth. AD usually occurs in old age, and is marked by a decline in cognitive functions such as remembering, reasoning, and planning." (Edition 1, 1999, p112)

The following are a few studies conducted on Ginkgo biloba as

a form of treatment for Alzheimerís disease and for memory loss:

The first study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association and is as follows:

"Subjects: Ginkgo ‚ Therapeutic use

Cognition disorders on old age- Care and treatment

Alzheimerís disease ‚ Care and treatment

Objective: To determine the effect of treatment with ginkgo biloba extract objective measures of cognitive function on patients with Alzheimerís disease (AD) based on formal review of the current literature.

Conclusion: Based on a quantitative analysis of the literature there is a small but significant effect of 3-6 month treatment with 120mg to 240mg of G biloba extract on objective measures on formal clinical trials but there are 2 case reports of bleeding complications. In AD, there are limited and inconsistent data that preclude determining if there are effects in noncognitive behavioral and functional measures as well as on clinicians global rating scales. Further research in the area will need to determine if there are functional improvements and to determine the best dosage. Additional research will be needed to define which ingredients in the ginkgo extract are producing its effect in individuals with AD." (Oken 402)

The following is an earlier study that was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Objective: To assess the efficacy and safety of EGb in Alzheimer disease and multi-infarct dementia.

Conclusions: EGb was safe and appears capable of stabilizing and in a substantial number of cases, improving the cognitive performance and the social functions of demented patients for 6 months to 1 year. Although modest, the changes induced by EGb were objectively measured by the ADAS-Cog and were sufficient magnitude to be recognized by the caregivers on the GERRI." (LeBars, Katz, Berman, Itil, Friedman and Schatzberg 1327)

The following study was published in Pharmacopsychiatry:


The efficacy of the ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in outpatients with presenile and senile degenerative dementia of the Alzheimer type (DAT) and multi-infarct dementia (MID) according to DSM-III-R was investigated in a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-center study. After a 4-week run-in period, 216 patients were included in the randomized 24-week treatment period. These received either a daily oral dose of 240mg EGb 761 or placebo. In accordance with the recommended multi-dimensional evaluation approach, three primary variables were chosen: the Clinical Global Impressions (CGI Item 2) for psychopathological assessment, the Syndrom-Kurtest (SKT) for the assessment of the patientís attention and memory, and the Nurnberger Alters-Beobachtungsskala (NAB) for behavioral assessment ac activities of daily life. Clinical efficacy was assessed by means of a responder analysis, with therapy response being defined as response in at least two of the three primary variables. The data from 156 patients who completed the study in accordance with the study protocol were taken into account in the confirmatory analysis of valid cases. The frequency of therapy responders in the two treatment groups differed significantly in favor of EGb 761, with p<.0.005 in Fisherís Exact Test. The intent-to-treat analysis of 205 patients led to similar efficacy results. Thus, the clinical efficacy of the ginkgo bilboa special extract EGb 761 in dementia of the Alzheimer type and multi-infarct dementia was confirmed. The investigational drug was found to be well tolerated." (Kanowski, Herrmann, Stephen, Wierich, Horr 29)

The following is from an article in Geriatrics: "The herbal extract Ginkgo biloba appears to be safe, effective, and economical treatment for memory disturbances that may lead to Alzheimerís disease (AD), according to a group of U.S. researchers who have been studying the effects on cognitive disorders of this drug that is commonly used in Europe." (16)

Finally, The following study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The abstract is as follows: "About 3 to 5 million Americans have dementia caused by Alzheimerís disease (AD) or some other condition. Dementia is characterized by progressive cognitive impairment, including memory loss that causes functional impairment in activities of daily living. AD is the most common causes but it can only be diagnosed when other causes of dementia are ruled out. The biggest risk factor for AD is age and family history may also be important. Neurologic and mental status tests are the best diagnostic tools. Potential treatments include donepezil, vitamin E, selegiline, and Ginkgo biloba. Treatment with antidepressant or behavioral therapy may also be effective." (Larson 1046).

I decided to conduct my own informal research study. I choose three people who had either used ginkgo biloba for themselves or had given it to a family member. I interviewed them in order to determine their findings. The first person I interviewed, I will refer to him as J, is a male in his early forties. J experienced two memory lapses about eight months ago. On two separate occasions, J was not able to complete his sentences because he would suddenly forget what he was talking about. The memory lapses concerned J and he realized that overall there was a difference with his short-term memory. At that point J decided to see his doctor. His doctor listened to Jís description of his memory lapses and, upon performing routine tests, could not determine the cause of the memory lapses. J

was still concerned about the memory lapses and began reading articles on ginkgo biloba. He felt that he had nothing to lose and so he began taking the herb eight months ago.

J has not suffered a memory lapse in the last eight months. He does notice an overall improvement of his memory bur cannot be certain that ginkgo biloba cured him. He was not sure of the cause of his memory lapses therefore, he cannot be certain that the herb had any impact on his memory lapses. But, his not taking any chances, to this day, J continues taking ginkgo biloba on a daily basis.

The second person I interviewed, I will refer to her as E, is a female in her mid thirties. E began taking ginkgo biloba about six months ago. Her daily dosage was 60mg per day. She took the herb for about two months. At that point she decided it was not working and so stopped taking the herb. I asked her to describe her symptoms and asked if there were no improvements at all. E hesitantly admitted that she had not suffered from any major memory problems. She was under the impression that it would just improve her memory.

The third person I interviewed, I will refer to her as N, has a mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimerís four years ago. About two and a half years ago, N decided to give her mother ginkgo biloba on a daily basis. She gave her 120mg per day for about four months. She did not notice a difference in her mother. In speaking with her motherís doctor, he mentioned that ginkgo biloba as well as pharmaceutical drugs might help people in the early stages of Alzheimer. Unfortunately, her motherís condition was too advanced. Due to the circumstances, N decided not to give the herb to her mother any more.



There have been many studies, both in the US and in Europe, conducted on the usage of ginkgo biloba as a form of treatment for ailments associated with aging. Upon reviewing the research that I have gathered, I have not found serious side effects associated with the usage of ginkgo biloba. While the studies do not show dramatic results in patients, they do show some improvement in patients. That is promising news. Further studies are needed to access in greater detail the affects of the herb. It seems that there are many conditions that might improve with the usage of ginkgo biloba. I just might begin taking the herb to maintain my health.



Works Cited



Castleman, Michael. The Healing Herbs, New York: Rodale Press, 1991.

Duke, James. The Green Pharmacy. USA: St. Martinís Press, 1997.

Glisson, James, Rebecca Crawford and Shannon Street. "The Clinical Applications of Ginkgo Biloba, St. Johnís Wort, Saw Palmetto, and Soy." The Nurse Practitioner. June 1999: 28

"Ginkgo Biloba." National Institute on Aging. May 1998: 1.

"Herbal extract may offer safe and effective therapy for memory problems." Geriatrics. January 1998: 16.

Kanowski S., WM. Herrmann, K. Stephen, W. Wierich and R. Horr. "Proof of efficacy of the ginkgo biloba special extract EGb 761 in outpatients suffering from mild to moderate primary degenerative dementia of the Alzheimer type or multi-infarct dementia." Pharmacopsychiatry. March 1996: 47-56.

Larson, Eric. "An 80-Year-Old Man With Memory Loss. (Clinical Crossroads). The Journal of the American Medical Association. February 2000: 1046.

LeBars, Pierre, Martin Katz, Nancy Berman, Turan Itil, Alfred Freedman and Alan Schartzberg. "A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia." The Journal of the American Medical Association. October 1997: 1327.

Moore, Elizabeth. July, 21, 2000

Oken, Barry. "The Efficacy of Ginkgo biloba on Cognitive Function in Alzheimer Disease." The Journal of the American Medical Association. February: 402.

Roberts, Nancy. July 21, 2000, Interview.

Robinson, Richard. "Alzheimerís disease." Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. 1999.

Readerís Digest General Books. The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs. 1999.

Smith, Jay. July 20, 2000