Next to public speaking, the fear of developing memory loss or dementia is high on most people\’s list of phobias. While Toastmasters may help you get past the terror of speaking in front of an audience, the best way to stave off memory loss is to integrate proven natural remedies into your healthy lifestyle.
Ginkgo has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and it is currently one of the most pharmacologically studied herbs.
The promise of ginkgo
Ginkgo is commonly recommended for preventing Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss, reducing the pain of intermittent claudication (cramping in the legs), lessening symptoms of tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and reversing erectile dysfunction. It is also used for Raynaud’s syndrome (poor circulation in fingers and toes), asthma, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and hypoxia (poor oxygen exchange). The World Health Organization supports the use of ginkgo for several of these conditions and has documented its effectiveness.
Researching ginkgo’s benefits
Memory loss, cognition, and cerebral circulation: in one study, when studies on patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms were given ginkgo supplements for a minimum of six months, the herbal extract was as effective in treating symptoms as the medications, yet patients were free of side effects. In light of these findings, it appears the length of use influences ginkgo’s effectiveness.
Dosage is also important. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of the effects of ginkgo in healthy adults without dementia or other mental deficits found no benefit from six weeks of ginkgo therapy at 120 mg per day. However, in a study where 180 mg was used, clinically significant cognitive benefits in healthy persons were found.
Tinnitus: the research for tinnitus is also conflicting. A recent study of 1,121 subjects conducted via telephone interviews did not report benefits from ginkgo for tinnitus. However, the study failed to use auditory testing to measure outcomes; a lack of accuracy makes this study’s conclusions questionable. Other studies have reported that ginkgo extracts have modest benefits in the treatment of tinnitus. Perhaps conflicting research exists because tinnitus due to circulatory dysfunction would be helped by ginkgo, while cases related to vitamin B12 deficiency, viral infections, or nerve damage would most likely remain unaffected.
Intermittent claudication (IC): the research findings are consistently positive for the use of ginkgo to treat IC and allow pain-free walking with this vascular disease. Still, as with using ginkgo for cognitive benefits, dosage is vital.
Cautions: because of ginkgo’s natural blood thinning effects, it may cause increased risk of bleeding. Therefore, individuals taking blood thinners (Coumadin, Aspirin) or MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) should not take ginkgo. Ginkgo supplements should be stopped at least one week prior to surgical or dental procedures. Pregnant women should also avoid taking ginkgo. In rare cases ginkgo may cause headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, or gastrointestinal upset.
Congratulate yourself. By implementing and adhering to a healthy dietary regimen that includes ginkgo, you can bury that phobia list in the back of the junk drawer, successfully recall where you last left your bike helmet, and get on with life!
Ginkgo’s benefits arise from its influence in four areas:
- It improves blood flow.
- It possesses antioxidant properties to protect cells from free-radical damage.
- It inhibits platelet stickiness and blood clotting.
- It is neuroprotective. Ginkgo seems to enhance the uptake of choline, which is generally deficient in Alzheimer’s patients; it prevents the formation of plaques in brain tissue often found in greater amounts with age and with dementia; and it inhibits the loss of acetylcholine receptors that naturally occurs with aging.
The ginkgo tree
Ginkgo trees constitute a unique class, family, genus, and species (Ginkgo biloba). Fossilized remains of ginkgo trees dating back 270 million years have been found to be recognizably related to the modern ginkgo. Amazingly, some individual ginkgo trees are more than 2,500 years old.