Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is an ancient plant with a long history of use in traditional medicine.
It has been used in China for thousands of years to treat asthma, tuberculosis, hearing loss, nervousness, heart disease, and diabetes, among other ailments.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the active compounds and health benefits of ginkgo, as well as its dosage and safety.
Table of Contents
- What is Ginkgo?
- Health Benefits of Ginkgo:
- How to Incorporate Ginkgo into the Diet:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Ginkgo?
Ginkgo, known scientifically as Ginkgo biloba, is one of the oldest living tree species in the world. This plant is native to China, but it grows in many other parts of the world, including in various parts of North America, Europe, and Asia.
Ginkgo trees thrive in temperate climates, and they can grow over 100 feet tall in certain areas.
Ginkgo is rich in numerous bioactive compounds, the majority of which are found in its leaves. In particular, ginkgo is rich in the following compounds:
- Terpenoids (especially the ginkgolides)
Additionally, ginkgo seeds and nuts have a few beneficial compounds too, such as vitamin C, riboflavin, and other B-complex vitamins, proteins, and minerals (e.g. manganese, calcium, zinc).
Health Benefits of Ginkgo:
Ginkgo is one of the most widely researched herbs in the world.
While ginkgo’s benefits for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have received much attention, there have been many research studies done that show many other potential health benefits of ginkgo.
Many of these studies are clinical trials, which tend to have the highest level of credibility and applicability.
Overall, ginkgo is associated with the following health benefits:
1. May Help with Alzheimer’s Disease
A large number of clinical research studies have made it relatively clear that ginkgo benefits Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. This is in part due to ginkgo’s neuroprotective actions by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain.
In one randomized clinical trial involving 395 patients aged 50 and over, those who took 240mg of ginkgo extract had significantly lower symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia alongside significant increases in cognitive function and mental health outcomes compared to the control group.
In an observational study, researchers looked into the effectiveness of donepezil (a common Alzhemier’s/dementia drug) versus Ginkgo biloba extract in treating Alzheimer’s in elderly patients. After 12 months, they found that ginkgo was similar (if not slightly better) to donepezil in enhancing memory and cognitive function, yet it also had fewer side effects and a better safety profile.
In another clinical trial in 404 patients with either Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia, patients who were given ginkgo extract had significant improvements in memory, mood, and overall daily living functioning compared to placebo. Notably, caregiver distress ratings were also significantly lower in the ginkgo group.
Also, a double-blind clinical trial in 410 outpatients with mild-to-moderate dementia showed very similar results to the study above. Specifically, ginkgo patients had significantly improved Alzheimer’s/dementia symptoms, quality of life, and cognitive function.
However, not all studies showed positive results. A clinical trial in 214 elderly patients found that ginkgo supplementation did not significantly improve dementia or age-associated memory impairment. Moreover, ginkgo did not significantly improve behavioral functioning or aspects of daily living.
Another clinical trial in dementia outpatients showed somewhat inconclusive results for the effectiveness of ginkgo in treating dementia. But they did find that patients who took Ginkgo biloba extract (either 120mg or 240mg/day) had significantly improved cognitive performance and decreased illness severity compared to placebo.
Summary:A multitude of clinical trials indicates that ginkgo may help to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and protect brain health. However, a few studies have had mixed results, which may indicate that dosage and form are important variables. Additional research is needed to verify the exact mechanism of action, as well as the best dosage and form.
2. May Improve Cognitive Function
It’s thought that ginkgo benefits cognitive function in healthy, young individuals.
In one study, 20 healthy volunteers were assigned either a placebo or either 120mg, 240mg, or 360mg of ginkgo extract. The researchers found a dose-dependent improvement in attention span, meaning that higher doses (up to 360mg) seemed to provide better results. Additionally, all doses of ginkgo were associated with significant improvements in memory and cognitive function compared to the placebo.
Another clinical trial in 78 healthy, young people found that a low dose (120mg) of ginkgo led to significant improvements in some aspects of memory, such as working memory and memory quality, but not for attention compared to placebo.
In another clinical trial in 61 healthy participants, Ginkgo biloba extract was associated with significant improvements in working memory, information processing, and executive functioning compared to the control group.
Lastly, one study took 20 healthy, young volunteers and assigned them to take ginkgo, Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), a ginkgo/ginseng combination, or a placebo, with each separated by washout periods.
They found that taking ginkgo alone was associated with significant improvements in memory, attention, information processing, and mood. Moreover, the ginkgo/ginseng combination was also associated with significant improvements in memory, attention, and information processing, but not mood. So, it appears that ginkgo by itself was just as, if not more, effective than combining it with ginseng.
Summary:Several clinical trials show that ginkgo may be beneficial for improving memory, information processing, and brain function. Large-scale human clinical studies would be helpful in showing how effective gingko is in mass populations.
3. May Reduce Anxiety and Depression
In addition to cognitive health, ginkgo may also benefit psychological health, such as decreasing anxiety, depression, and stress.
In one study in 80 patients with post-stroke depression, subjects who were given ginkgo alongside venlafaxine (a drug for depression and anxiety) had significantly lower ratings of depression and improved daily living compared to venlafaxine alone.
Moreover, patients who took ginkgo alongside venlafaxine had higher BDNF (a compound needed for overall brain health) and 5-HT (a compound important for mood and well-being) levels compared to the venlafaxine group. Finally, the combination group needed lower doses of venlafaxine and had fewer side effects.
In another clinical trial in 81 patients with major depression, subjects who were given 120mg of Ginkgo biloba extract alongside electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) showed greater improvements in cognitive function and lower depression compared to ECT alone.
It’s also known that dementia is associated with many mental health disturbances. Relatedly, one study in over 400 dementia patients with mental health symptoms found that treatment with 240mg of ginkgo extract was associated with significant decreases in anxiety, apathy, irritability, depression, and sleep disturbances compared to the control group.
Another study looked into the effects of ginkgo on anxiety, which involved 107 patients with either generalized anxiety disorder or adjustment disorder with anxious mood. The researchers found that participants who took ginkgo (either 240mg or 480mg) had significantly lower anxiety, tension, and aggression compared to the placebo.
Lastly, a randomized-controlled trial in war refugees found that those who received Ginkgo biloba extract treatment alongside psycho-education had significantly lower anxiety, stress, and mental and physical fatigue compared to psycho-education alone.
Summary:Human clinical research shows that ginkgo may work to decrease levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.
4. May Support Heart Health
A few different clinical trials have also shown that ginkgo benefits heart health and related factors.
In one clinical trial in 11 individuals with metabolic syndrome, supplementing with Ginkgo biloba extract led to significant reductions in various markers of inflammation, such as IL-6 and C-reactive protein. Moreover, ginkgo patients had significantly lower markers of atherosclerosis and plaque formation. All of these results suggest a reduction in cardiovascular and mortality risk.
In another study in 8 patients who had undergone coronary bypass surgery, ginkgo treatment was shown to decrease plaque formation and inhibit atherosclerosis (artery narrowing), while also improving blood flow and cholesterol and blood lipid profiles. Furthermore, ginkgo patients had significantly higher levels of superoxide dismutase and other antioxidant enzymes, which suggests further protective effects for heart health.
Next, in a clinical trial on 102 patients with acute ischemic stroke, those who were given ginkgo extract had significantly decreased severity of stroke symptoms compared to the placebo, such as consciousness, language, physical strength, and sensory loss.
Also, a clinical study done on 8 patients who went through coronary bypass surgery discovered that ginkgo treatment led to significant decreases in plaque formation and atherosclerosis. Moreover, ginkgo appeared to upgrade antioxidant activity and improve blood lipid profiles.
Lastly, in a study done on 50 hypertensive (high blood pressure) patients, treatment with ginkgo extract was correlated with significantly lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels compared to the control group.
Summary:Small-scale studies indicate that ginkgo may aid cardiovascular health by preventing plaque formation, reducing stroke symptom severity, and lowering cholesterol. Large-scale trials are needed to confirm these findings.
5. Antidiabetic Properties
Research also suggests that gingko has antidiabetic effects, particularly for individuals with type 2 diabetes (T2D).
In one placebo-controlled clinical trial in patients with T2D, Ginkgo biloba extract treatment was associated with significant decreases in HbA1C (a marker of blood sugar levels), glucose, and insulin compared to placebo. Additionally, the ginkgo treatment group had significantly lower body mass index (BMI) scores and visceral fat after 90-days of supplementation.
Next, in a study on 60 patients with T2D and 60 patients with metabolic syndrome, ginkgo extract supplementation was found to significantly decrease BMI, waist circumference, and visceral fat, while also improving glucose and insulin levels, insulin resistance, and lipid profiles. Lastly, the treatment was associated with decreased inflammation and increased total antioxidant capacity.
Another study looked into the effects of a combination treatment of Ginkgo biloba and Liuwei Dihuang (a traditional Chinese herbal formula) on individuals with T2D with or without early-stage diabetic nephropathy (a potential kidney complication that is often associated with T2D). The researchers found that this combination treatment was associated with significant reductions in Urine Albumin-to-Creatinine Ratio values (a test for kidney damage and impaired function) compared to placebo.
Finally, a clinical study involving 56 patients with T2D found that treatment with ginkgo was associated with a trend towards improving glycemic control compared to green tea (Camellia sinensis) treatment and the placebo group. Moreover, the ginkgo treatment was associated with significant improvements in psychological functioning and decreased stress compared to the other two groups.
Summary:Ginkgo may work to support healthy levels of blood sugar, glucose, and insulin in the body. Additional human studies are needed to further confirm these findings.
6. May Help with ADHD
A small body of research also shows that ginkgo benefits attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
One clinical study in 20 children with ADHD found that children who took up to 240mg of ginkgo extract had significantly lower ADHD symptoms compared to the control group, as well as increases in quality of life, attention, and task performance.
Another clinical trial in 60 children found that ginkgo extract treatment alongside methylphenidate (a common ADHD drug) was associated with greater improvements in ADHD and attention compared to the placebo group.
Summary:Clinical trials have found that ginkgo benefits individuals with ADHD by improving task performance and attention span. Large-scale human trials are needed for further evidence.
7. May Reduce Tinnitus
Lastly, some research shows that ginkgo may reduce tinnitus, particularly in older individuals.
In a randomized clinical trial on patients with tinnitus, ginkgo extract treatment was found to have similar efficacy compared to pentoxifylline (a common tinnitus medication) for reducing loudness, annoyance, and overall suffering/disability. Additionally, ginkgo was associated with fewer side effects compared to pentoxifylline.
In another clinical trial, 33 patients were either given hearing aids, ginkgo extract, or combination treatment. The researchers found that ginkgo treatment alone or in combination with hearing aids was associated with decreased loudness and severity of tinnitus.
Summary:Clinical research shows that ginkgo may help decrease tinnitus severity, although more human clinical research would be useful in further verifying these findings.
Ginkgo appears to be safe for most people when taken orally in moderate amounts.
Potential side effects of ginkgo include headache, upset stomach, dizziness, palpitations, constipation, and allergic reactions.
Ginkgo may also interact with blood thinners and increase the risk of bleeding. On its own, ginkgo increases blood flow and blood thinning, so this can increase bleeding risk when taken with similar-acting medications.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
Lastly, pregnant or breastfeeding women may not want to supplement with ginkgo since it may be unsafe. Specifically, ginkgo has anti-platelet properties that may prolong the bleeding time during labor. Additionally, ginkgo’s effects on the reproductive phases are unclear, so it’s typically best to stay away from such herbs when pregnant or breastfeeding.
According to research, ginkgo extract must be standardized in order to have the greatest effects, as crude ginkgo leaf or low-concentration leaf extracts don’t have scientifically supported benefits.
The two most important constituents in ginkgo are terpene lactones and ginkgo flavone glycosides.
Under these preparations, beneficial doses typically lie in the 120 to 240mg range, although doses of up to 480mg have been used with success for some conditions.
The most well-researched form is EGb 761®, so look for this form of ginkgo on the label when you go to buy a supplement.
How to Incorporate Ginkgo into the Diet:
Ginkgo is most commonly used in supplement form, either as an oral tablet, extract, or capsule. However, it can also be consumed as a tea.
Based on the research, the most likely health benefits of ginkgo come from taking a standardized form as either a tablet, extract, or capsule.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) belongs to the Ginkgoaceae family. Ginkgo trees are identified by their somewhat conical shape with distinctive two-lobed, fan-shaped leaves.
The leaves are a deep green and turn bright yellow in the fall. Additionally, the ginkgo trunk can often grow up to 100 feet tall and eight feet wide.
Ginkgo is one of the oldest living tree species on the planet. Some ginkgo trees can live for hundreds of years, even up to 3,500 years in some cases.
History & Traditional Use:
Ginkgo has been used as a traditional medicinal plant for over 2,000 years in China and other parts of the world.
Ginkgo leaves were often used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and other cultures to treat blood disorders, enhance memory and cognition, improve heart problems, aid lung and respiratory disorders, and improve skin conditions.
Additionally, the nuts and seeds of the ginkgo tree were often used in China and other parts of the worth for culinary purposes, but they were also sometimes used for the medicinal purposes described above.
Ginkgo is a plant with significant historical medicinal usage for a wide variety of ailments. It is rich in many different bioactive compounds, and modern research has shown the many potential benefits of ginkgo, particularly from its leaves.
Ginkgo has the potential to offer protection against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, enhance cognitive function, reduce anxiety and depression, improve heart health, reduce diabetes, lessen ADHD, and decrease tinnitus.
Overall, ginkgo appears to be a safe and beneficial plant that can be incorporated into one’s regimen on a regular basis.