Ginkgo biloba extract is obtained from the leaves of the Ginkgo tree, believed to be the oldest living tree, dating back over 200 million years. The Ginkgo tree is native to China, but nowadays you can see it growing all over the world; in Europe, Japan, Southeast Asia, and the USA. Due to its hardy nature and ability to resist both disease and the effects of pollution, Ginkgo trees are a popular choice for planting along city streets. (1) It has been used medicinally for hundreds of years and is now one of the most commonly prescribed herbs in Germany and France. In 1999, Ginkgo was the top selling herbal supplement in the United States, with sales of $148 million. (2)
So, what are the benefits of taking a Ginkgo supplement? What makes it so popular? The answer lies in Ginkgo’s ability to support circulation and platelet health in our blood. This supports good blood circulation to the brain, legs, eyes and ears. Healthy blood flow to the brain supports optimal oxygen levels and healthy mental function, such as mental clarity, focus and alertness. Ginkgo is therefore commonly used to support brain health in the elderly, and in students and executives under mental stress. (3) Several small, randomised controlled studies have found that Ginkgo also supports healthy peripheral circulation. However, larger trials are needed to further explore this relationship. Ginkgo is also an antioxidant, meaning that it neutralises free radicals that cause cell damage.1 Ginkgo supplementation may also provide support for healthy vision.
Ginkgo supplements are made from the leaves of the Ginkgo tree and can be in the form of tablets, capsules, liquids or dried herbs that can be made into a tea. After starting on a Ginkgo supplement you should feel the positive effects after four-six weeks. (3) Ginkgo can be taken long term, as several reviews show it is well tolerated by healthy adults for up to 6 months, provided the recommended dose is taken. (1)
You might be wondering if Ginkgo has any side effects. Although a few cases of headaches, dizziness, nausea and diarrhoea have been reported, Ginkgo is generally fine to be taken by most people. However, it can reduce the ability of blood to clot. This means you should stop taking it at least two weeks before any surgery. Also make sure you tell your doctor that you are taking Ginkgo, as some prescription medicines may interact with it. Ginkgo is not recommended to be taken during pregnancy, breastfeeding or by anyone who is diabetic, suffers seizures or taking blood thinning medication. (4)
By Taryn Scott, M.Tech. (Hom)
Sanofi Consumer Healthcare
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(1) Natural Standard, Ginkgo, 2013, http://www.naturalstandard.com/databases/herbssupplements /all/ginkgo.asp?#history, 19/05/2013
(2) Braun & Cohen. Herbs & Natural Supplements, An evidence- based guide, 3rd Edition, 2010, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, p 523
(3) University of Maryland Medical Centre, 2011, http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/ginkgo-biloba-000247.htm, 19/05/2013
(4) MedicineNet, Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba) – Oral, 2013, http://www.medicinenet.com/ginkgo_ginkgo_biloba-oral/page2.htm, 19/05/2013