What Is Ginkgo Biloba?
Ginkgo biloba (which goes by the scientific name Salisburia adiantifolia) is a natural extract derived from the leaf of the Chinese ginkgo tree, also called the maidenhair tree. EGb761 and GBE are the scientific terms for standardized extract of the green ginkgo biloba plant, which is often noted for its cerebral-enhancing effects.
Ginkgo has been studied for decades in France, Germany and China. And although Chinese herbal medicine has used both the dried ginkgo leaf and seed for thousands of years, today the focus in clinical studies is on the effectiveness of standardized ginkgo biloba liquid extract made from the plant’s dried green leaves.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine and current clinical studies, ginkgo biloba is safe, effective and benefits the body in numerous ways because it exerts protective effects against mitochondrial damage and oxidative stress. It’s been used in Chinese herbal medicine to treat a variety of medical conditions since ancient times, especially circulatory problems and those related to declining memory.
What makes ginkgo so powerful? Ginkgo biloba extract contains two constituents (flavonoids and terpenoids) that have strong antioxidant properties. It’s believed these may help slow down the progression of age-related diseases by combating oxidative stress that usually worsens as someone ages.
While people of all ages seem to benefit from taking ginkgo for various reasons, some results suggest that its cognitive-enhancing effects are more likely to be apparent in individuals aged 50–59 years. According to the University of Maryland,
Scientists have found more than 40 components in ginkgo. But only two are believed to act as medicine: flavonoids and terpenoids. Flavonoids are plant-based antioxidants. Laboratory and animal studies show that flavonoids protect the nerves, heart muscle, blood vessels, and retina from damage. Terpenoids (such as ginkgolides) improve blood flow by dilating blood vessels and reducing the stickiness of platelets.
For people of all ages, its ability to increase vascular dilation and improve health of blood vessels means it supports brain activity, development, detoxifying mechanisms and immune function. Many of ginkgo’s most prominent benefits are tied to brain function like focus and memory as well as mental performance. In fact, according to a report in the International Journal of Phyotherapy and Phytopharmacology, ginkgo biloba is “currently the most investigated and adopted herbal remedy for cognitive disorders and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).”
One theory is that because it can help increase uptake of glucose (broken down sugar) by brain cells, it has the potential to improve the transmission of nerve signals responsible for memory, mood, task completion, heartbeat regulation and eye health — in addition to many other vital functions.
Ginkgo Biloba Benefits
1. Increases Concentration
Research shows that ginkgo can help combat poor concentration, reverse cognitive decline and and heal fatigue. It’s even useful for helping to treat cerebral insufficiency — a condition characterized by chronically low concentration, confusion, decreased physical performance, fatigue, headaches and mood changes.
Many of the brain-boosting ginkgo biloba benefits that researchers have discovered rest on the fact that it’s an effective anti-inflammatory that increases antioxidant activity, lowers oxidative stress and improves circulation — all important factors for maintaining cognitive health.
When researchers from the Institute for Medical Psychology at the University of Munich tested the effects of ginkgo on healthy adults’ mental performance over a four-week period, they found significant differences in self-estimated mental health as well as self-estimated quality of life between those taking ginkgo and the placebo group. This is true even though there were no existing differences between the two groups in terms of general health.
The group taking ginkgo experienced better motor performance and emotional health, and reported no known drug-induced side effects or intolerance. No serious adverse events were observed during the study overall, which suggests that ginkgo is a safe and effective way to boost mental capabilities with little risk.
2. Reduces Risk for Dementia and Alzheimer’s
While not a total cure, overall scientific literature suggests that ginkgo biloba benefits people experiencing cognitive decline, including those with dementia of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Certain studies have found ginkgo can help improve cognitive performance and memory in both older and younger adults but might be especially useful for age-related mental decline.
Most studies have investigated the effects of ginkgo on lowering Alzheimer’s symptoms in patients already undergoing standard AD treatment with cholinesterase inhibitor drugs (ChEIs). But when groups of AD patients taking additional ginkgo supplementation have been compared to those not taking ginkgo-combination therapy over at least a one-year period, significant differences in quality of life have been reported, according to scores on the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale (ADAS-Cog) and Activities of Daily Living (ADL) Scale.
Ginkgo might be able to help people recover from strokes or traumatic brain injuries, too. In extract form, it’s widely used in the treatment of acute ischemic stroke in China. When researchers from Beijing University of Chinese Medicine reviewed evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials involving brain injury patients, they found mixed results but reported that ginkgo biloba extract had positive effects on patients’ neurological impairment and quality of life in nine of the trials.
Some studies have even found that in combination with antipsychotic drugs, ginkgo might be an effective supplemental treatment for people with schizophrenia and serious mental disorders. It also has the potential to improve cognitive function in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) — making it a potential natural treatment for multiple sclerosis — although more formal studies are still needed.
3. Helps Fight Anxiety and Depression
If you suffer from chronically high stress that’s killing your quality of life, nervousness, depression or mood swings, ginkgo might be able to help. Research suggests ginkgo biloba benefits the body’s ability to handle stressors and counteracts the effects of high levels of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline.
Known as an adapotgen herb that naturally raises the body’s ability to cope with trouble and worry, it might be especially helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and possibly seasonal depression, panic attacks and social phobias, too.
4. Fights Symptoms of PMS
Some early research has shown positive effects of taking ginkgo on reducing PMS symptoms, including mood swings, headaches, anxiety, fatigue and muscle pain. It also appears to have beneficial effects on mood and cognition in postmenopausal women and can help improve similar symptoms.
One 2008 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicinecompared the effects on ginkgo biloba in two groups of women that were similar in terms of demographic characteristics and baseline overall severity of PMS symptoms. After a six-month intervention with ginkgo, there was a significant decrease in the overall severity of physical and psychological symptoms in both the group taking 40 milligrams daily of ginkgo extract and the placebo group; however, a higher percentage of the ginkgo group (23.7 percent) had improvements compared to the placebo (8.7 percent).
5. Helps Maintain Vision and Eye Health
While more evidence is still needed, ginkgo appears to be beneficial for eye health since it improves blood flow to the eyes and fights free radial damage that can harm the cornea, macula and retina. It might be especially beneficial for older adults in preserving vision and lowering UV damage or oxidative stress to eye tissue.
Some studies have found ginkgo to be effective at lowering the risk for age-related macular degeneration thanks to its platelet-activating factors and prevention of membrane damage caused by free radicals. Vascular factors and oxidative damage are thought to be two primary causes of vision loss and other age‐related eye disorders, but antioxidant plants and herbs like ginkgo help mitigate these effects.