If you’re a forgetful person, your friends or family may have told you to try ginkgo biloba. People use the herbal supplement to help with memory loss and other health conditions. But is there proof it works? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Ginkgo Biloba?
Ginkgo biloba is an herbal supplement made from the ginkgo tree. It’s native to China, but it grows all over the world. It’s also called the maidenhair tree.
Ginkgo has been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. The leaves were used to treat brain and circulatory problems and respiratory conditions. Ginkgo nuts were used for cough, fever, diarrhea, toothaches, and even gonorrhea.
It’s now sold mostly as a supplement for memory support or brain health. Ginkgo comes in tablets, capsules, extract, and tea form (raw or roasted ginkgo seeds can be poisonous). People take it to help with:
- Eye problems like glaucoma
- Intermittent claudication (leg pain caused by narrowing arteries)
- Tinnitus (ringing in your ears)
- Blood pressure problems
Some people use it to ward off strokes and cancer and for depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, and other conditions.
What It Does
Ginkgo has antioxidants that cancel out free radicals, molecules that can damage cells. They form when you exercise and when your body uses food for energy. Cigarette smoke, pollution, and sunlight also produce free radicals.
As you get older, your body doesn’t do as good of a job getting rid of free radicals. They attack your brain cells, which can lead to memory loss. One study found a twice-daily dose of ginkgo extract didn't help ward off or slow dementia, or memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease in older adults. Another found those who took the extract had fewer signs of dementia than those who didn’t.
Ginkgo might also help with tinnitus and glaucoma. But human studies show mixed results, so more research is needed.
Lab studies show it improves blood circulation by opening up blood vessels and making blood less sticky. That’s because it has compounds called terpenoids. This is why gingko has been linked to vein and eye health.
Does It Really Work?
It’s hard to say. Some studies -- in animals and in humans -- show ginkgo has positive effects, but others show it doesn’t.
Is It Safe?
Ginkgo is considered safe when taken in moderate doses. Side effects can include:
- Allergic skin reactions
- Heart palpitations
- Upset stomach
Don’t take it if:
- You’re older
- You have a condition that causes bleeding
- You have seizures or epilepsy
- You’re pregnant
- You have diabetes
Always talk to a doctor before taking an herbal supplement. It could interact with other medicines or supplements you’re taking.