Ginkgo Biloba and Brain Function: What The Research Says

Traditional systems of medicine have been using brain-supportive herbs for thousands of years, but do they actually work? Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest trees in the world, and its therapeutic use for neurological health dates back to ancient Chinese medicine.

Creating a bridge between the ancient world and the realm of scientific research, many investigators have examined ginkgo, and it’s constituents to determine if this folk medicine is, in fact, as potent as traditional medicine claims it to be.

In this article, we’ll uncover what ginkgo is, why it’s so effective for supporting brain function, and what compounds set it apart from other herbs on the market.

What Is Ginkgo Biloba?

Ginkgo biloba, one of the oldest species of trees in the world, has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine for a range of ails involving the heart, lungs, and brain. Today, the leaves of ginkgo are widely studied for their potential therapeutic value in cognitive function.

Ginkgo originally comes from China, although you can now find this tree growing all over the world.

The ginkgo tree leaves resemble a fan shape, but some people believe that they more closely resemble the two hemispheres of the brain. According to the doctrine of signatures, herbs resembling certain parts of the body can be used to treat associated ailments in those areas. For ginkgo leaves, the overwhelming research suggests that its bioactive compounds do, in fact, support healthy neurological function.[1]https://www.jstor.org/stable/4257221

Research-Backed Ginkgo Biloba Benefits

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Inflammation is at the root of almost all chronic diseases and health conditions we see today, including degenerative diseases.

Research shows that ginkgo may support your body’s natural anti-inflammatory mechanisms by calming inflammation and suppressing pro-inflammatory chemicals due to its bioactive compounds.

In one study, researchers administered an injection in the brains of rats which caused injury to their brain cells. The investigators wanted to see if ginkgo biloba extract offered any therapeutic potential, so they gave the rats a dose of ginkgo following the injection. The researchers found that ginkgo helped to calm the inflammation in the brain cells and reduced oxidative stress — offering a potential protective mechanism against the brian injury.[2]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28918573/

Contains Antioxidant Compounds

Gingko contains antioxidant compounds, which may help combat oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is known as one of the primary drivers of aging. When reactive oxygen species outnumber antioxidants in your body, oxidative damage can impact your DNA, proteins, lipids, and other macromolecules in your body.

Research in the elderly shows that the antioxidant compounds in ginkgo may provide a therapeutic effect on oxidative stress.[3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3455891/

Specifically, ginkgo contains terpenes and flavonoids, which may prove useful in slowing oxidative damage and neurodegeneration.[4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6694352/

May Reduce Symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimers

Dementia is a term used to describe a range of symptoms that relate to cognitive decline issues like memory loss, communication difficulties, and challenges with performing everyday tasks. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, with an estimated 6.2 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s today.[5]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33756057/

Due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, along with its traditionally recognized affinity for brain tissue, ginkgo has been the subject of research in a variety of studies focusing on neurological disease.

In one meta-analysis of over 20 studies, ginkgo proved beneficial for improving cognitive function in mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease.[6]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26268332/

Another meta-analysis found ginkgo to be helpful in almost all symptoms associated with dementia, with the exception of delusions and hallucinations.[7]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28931444/

Research suggests that ginkgo may be neuroprotective in cognitive disorders and could be a part of a preventative strategy with more clinical trials.[8]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6694352/

Potentially Neuroprotective Against Ischemic Stroke

An ischemic stroke happens when blood flow to your brain becomes blocked, typically from a blood clot, preventing oxygen-rich blood from getting to your brain cells. Without a proper blood supply, brain cells begin to die.[9]https://medlineplus.gov/ischemicstroke.html

Several studies on ginkgo biloba show that this plant has a neuroprotective effect. Research suggests that the compound Ginkgolide B may have a particularly interesting benefit for those who experience an ischemic stroke.

According to the research, Ginkgolide B helps protect brain cells by regulating inflammation, increasing available oxygen, improving the synthesis of NO (nitric oxide), which helps dilate blood vessels, and increasing levels of red blood cells.[10]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26059355/

May Improve Mental Performance

Many people are looking for the latest drug or herb to enhance their productivity and cognition at work or in school. Ginkgo is well known for its beneficial effects on neurodegenerative disease and stroke, but many healthy people take ginkgo for its purported benefits in improving mental performance.

Research shows that in older adults with no cognitive issues, taking ginkgo may improve memory, recognition, and recall.[11]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12404671/

Furthermore, one study found that healthy volunteers taking ginkgo daily reported enhanced overall mental functioning and wellbeing.[12]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14602503/

Reduces Feelings of Anxiousness and Depression

Research in both humans and animals provides evidence that ginkgo may be useful in the treatment of emotional imbalances like anxiety and depression.

In one randomized, double-blind, controlled trial, researchers gave a group of volunteers with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) either a placebo, low dose ginkgo (240 mg), or high dose ginkgo (480 mg). They found that while both doses of ginkgo were effective at helping to calm symptoms of anxiety, the high dose showed significant benefits regarding anxiety outcomes.

Research suggests that ginkgo may provide an anxiolytic effect by impacting GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter involved in calming your brain’s anxiety-inducing pathways.[13]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26059355/

Other research suggests that ginkgo may assist with symptoms of depression while restoring neurological function in the elderly.[14]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26059355/

FAQ About Ginkgo Biloba

How much ginkgo biloba should I take?

The most common dose of ginkgo biloba for adults is between 60 mg and 240 mg daily. When working with a health professional, they may prescribe more or less depending on your unique needs, but the typical dose usually lies within that range.

Does ginkgo biloba interact with other medications?

A handful of medications may interact with ginkgo, including Xanax, Anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs, herbs and supplements, anticonvulsant and anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, statins, diabetes drugs, and potentially ibuprofen, Advil, and Motrin. If you’re currently on medication, speak with your prescribing doctor before trying anything new.

Is it safe to take Ginkgo biloba every day?

Most studies have shown that it is safe to take ginkgo biloba for up to six months at a dose ranging from 60 mg per day to 240 mg per day. With that being said, longer-term studies may prove that taking ginkgo for longer periods of time is safe.

Are there side effects of taking too much ginkgo biloba?

Ginkgo biloba appears to be safe for adults when used in moderate amounts. However, some side effects have been reported, including headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, upset stomach, constipation, and allergic skin reactions. If you notice any unpleasant side effects, discontinue use.

Who should not take ginkgo biloba?

If you are planning for surgery, pregnant, diabetic, or have a bleeding disorder taking ginkgo may interfere with your health. You should also consult with your doctor when taking ginkgo if you’re on prescription medication for heart disease or mental health.

Does ginkgo biloba increase physical energy?

Studies suggest that taking ginkgo biloba in both healthy people and those with neurological issues may improve aspects of cognitive function and improve mood. For some, this may feel like a boost in energy, although the effect is to enhance focus and calm.

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