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Health Benefits of Ginkgo Biloba

Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on March 23, 2020

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:

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:

Don’t take it if:

Always talk to a doctor before taking an herbal supplement. It could interact with other medicines or supplements you’re taking.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Capital Poison Center: "Ginkgo Biloba.”

Nuts and Seeds and Disease Prevention: “Antifungal and Lipid Transfer Proteins from Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) Seeds.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Ginkgo,” “Antioxidants: In Depth.”

Mayo Clinic: “Ginkgo.”

New Look to Phytomedicine: "Herb and Modern Drug Interactions: Efficacy, Quality, and Safety Aspects."

The International Tinnitus Journal: “Ginkgo biloba in the treatment of tinnitus: An updated literature review.”

Molecular Vision: “Ginkgo biloba: An adjuvant therapy for progressive normal and high tension glaucoma.”

PLOS One: “Ginkgo biloba extract and long-term cognitive decline: a 20-year follow-up population-based study.”

Clinical Interventions in Aging: “Oxidative stress, aging, and diseases.”

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