The demand for herbal and organic medicines constantly grows amidst the advance world we live where medicinal breakthroughs and technology are also widespread. This might be so because of many people look at herbal medicine as a safer alternative to cure one’s discomforts or sickness. Turmeric, ginger, black pepper to name a few have rightfully gotten a place in the row of herbal medicines. There are still a lot of their kind out there. For example, Ginkgo Biloba? Does it ring a bell to you?

What is Ginkgo Biloba?

Ginkgo biloba is an herbal supplement made from the leaves of the Ginkgo tree, also known as the maidenhair tree which are also native to China but are now grown worldwide (1). Being one of the oldest living tree species in the world, Ginkgo carves a long and remarkable history in traditional Chinese medicine. Years ago, it is believed that this herb is used for royal family to address senility (1). The flavonoids and terpenoids, known to have powerful antioxidant properties, are the two of the most valuable components of ginkgo which improve circulation by dilating blood vessels and reducing the ‘stickiness’ of platelets (2). Asthma, bronchitis, and kidney and bladder disorders are historical uses of ginkgo. It is used as supplement for many conditions which include eye problems, dementia, leg pain caused by narrowing arteries, tinnitus, and other health problems. This herb continues to keep the world in awe because of its many uses. Ginkgo biloba today is touted of its ability to improve memory and slow age-related intellectual decline. It is therefore the purpose of this article to discuss Ginkgo biloba for memory health.

Memory slowly declines as we age. This is but a natural process. But we can do something about it. Hence, maintaining healthy memory and brain sharpness as we age, becomes our concern. A strong interest in the use of Ginkgo biloba as a supplement to prevent mental decline associated with both normal aging and dementia emerges. Ginkgo biloba is categorized as ‘nootropic’ that means cognitive enhancer relating to conscious intellectual activity such as thinking, memory, and reasoning (3). It is used and prescribed as a memory and concentration booster in many countries as an over-the-counter herbal supplement in the US (4). Researches show a very promising effect of this herb to preserve memory.

How does ginkgo biloba work in the brain?

It’s currently believed that certain mechanisms work that are responsible for ginkgo’s benefits: increase in blood flow, including blood flow to the brain; increase in neurotransmitters, chemicals that brain cells use to communicate with each other; increase in energy production in brain cells; decrease in blood viscosity, a measure of the stickiness and thickness of blood; decrease in free radicals which damage brain cells; and protection from aluminum accumulation in the brain which has been linked to neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s (5). Hence, ginkgo biloba boosts brain health and function in several ways. Let us talk about the two of its most outstanding functions. First, it boosts several brain functions by improving blood circulation in the brain. A study in the Department of Radiology, at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine used MRI’s to measure blood flow in 9 healthy men. The study concludes that overall, all regions of the subject’s brains showed a significant change in cerebral blood flow after using Ginkgo (6). And, ginkgo biloba improves cognition and mental performance. It is famous memory boosting herb in nootropics community. Studies have shown Ginkgo helps attention, mood and processing speed (7). One large study at Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia was conducted with 262 healthy adults. A 6-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial shows that using Ginkgo among subjects shows significant improvement in verbal and visual recall and memory (8).

What do studies say about ginkgo biloba?

The 2015 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease publishes a review on clinical trials focusing on ginkgo biloba’s possible role in the treatment of cognitive impairment and dementia. Ginkgo biloba extract called EGb761 is the trial’s focus and review authors reveal that taking 240 mg of EGb761 per day for at least 22 weeks, stabilizes or slows decline in cognition, function, and behavior in patients with cognitive impairment or dementia (9). EGb761 is a standardized extract of Ginkgo Biloba leaves and has antioxidant properties as a free radical scavenger. Another study is conducted. A prospective, community-based, cohort study, PAQUID, gathered data from 3612 participants aged 65 and older without dementia and followed the participants for 20 years. Three groups were compared – 589 subjects reported use of EGb761, which is a standardized extract of Ginkgo biloba leaves while other groups use piracetam or no drugs at all. Data analysis showed that the decline of the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) score in a population of non-demented subjects was less in the group who reported using EGb761 than in those who did not (10). Ginkgo biloba is prescribed for symptomatic treatment of deficits in memory impairment, concentration difficulties and depression from organic brain disease (11). A number of single-dose trials assess the effects of this herb on short-term memory and involve healthy volunteers or elderly patients with mild memory impairment. Studies report that Ginkgo biloba leaf extract can stabilize or improve several measures of cognitive function and social functioning (12). There is an evidence of clinical improvements in patients treated with Ginkgo biloba leaf extract which appears to be similar to clinical improvements in patients treated with donepezil and tacrine (13).

In addition, ginkgo biloba is said to promote recovery from stroke. Researchers want to see if ginkgo biloba can halt the cognitive decline associated with the aftermath of a blood clot in the brain or ischaemic stroke (14). A study is conducted involving randomly assigned 348 people to daily treatment with either 450 mg of gingko biloba extract. The researchers point out that gingko biloba used contained more protective, and fewer harmful, chemicals than the extract that has typically been used in previous studies (15). The test results shows that those given the combination treatment had higher scores for cognitive skills, including memory, and executive function than those given aspirin alone. The patients show greater improvement in neurological deficit– for example, muscle weakness, impaired reflexes, and speech problems, following their stroke (16). Hence, ginkgo biloba protects against the nerve cell death associated with blood clots in the brain, possibly by increasing blood flow in the cerebral arteries (17).

Final Thought on Ginkgo Biloba

While it is true that ginkgo biloba brings about amazing health benefits and one of this is improvement of memory health, it is always imperative to inform your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use especially using such supplement as ginkgo biloba. Doing so will help ensure coordinated and safe care.